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Two For Tierney
Posted by: MichaelW on Friday, August 08, 2008

At his blog, John Tierney writes a brief review of the new book "Traffic" by Tom Vanderbilt, a free copy of which he offers to whomever comes up with the best answer to this question:
What could be done to improve traffic in New York City?

You can suggest anything except for two obvious answers: congestion pricing (the favorite of traffic engineers and economists, but not politicians) and more police officers to enforce traffic laws. We’re looking for creative solutions to specific problems like cars blocking intersections, and for general ideas to improve traffic flow.


If you're so inclined, go ahead and leave your answer as a comment to Tierney's post. There's also a quick traffic quiz you can take while you're there.

As for me, there were two answers that immediately popped into my head.

(1) Build more housing. If NYC were to allow more housing units to built in Manhattan, and they simultaneously lowered taxes to a level equal to or slightly less than what is charged in the surrounded areas typically commuted from, the reduction in traffic would be immense. With more people closer to where they work already (either within walking or subway distance) fewer cars would be necessary. In addition, the tax base would be expanded for the entire city, which should more than make up any lost revenue from the tax cuts (or, you know, the city could spend less, but this is New York we're talking about). Some commuters would still opt for suburban living because they want to have more space, a yard, live close to family, etc. But certainly many would choose to purchase or rent in Manhattan if they could affordably do so. Remove as many restrictions as possible from the building of new units and, voila, you'll have less traffic.

(2) Promote telecommuting. With the technology we have today, there are a great many jobs that don't require the physical presence the employees at a centrally located place. Two of the biggest jobs in NYC, legal work and investment banking, certainly don't require one's presence at the downtown office every day. Most positions that relegate one to a cubicle in a sea of cubicles don't really need you there either, and in fact, it's quite expensive to pay for the office space in the first place. Instead, NYC should provide incentives to employers to allow more telecommuting. Perhaps certain business expenses related to computer and telecommunication equipment, network administration, and internet access could be given extra credit (e.g. double the actual expenses) to write off directly against taxes, or to reduce income. In addition, for every hour an employee telecommutes to work, a standard deduction (e.g. 10% of the hourly wage) could be applied to the business' gross income. And maybe purchases of telecommuting equipment could be done tax free. I'm sure there are other creative ways that telecommuting could be encouraged. The bottom line is that with more people telecommuting, fewer people will be on the road. Fewer people on the road means fewer cars blocking intersections and impeding traffic flow.

I also have a bonus idea to solve the problem, albeit one that's a lot more expensive and quite futuristic: build conveyor-belt roads. Because I'm stuck in traffic a lot (it takes me about an hour to go the 9.5 miles between my home and work), I often think of novel ways to reduce traffic. For awhile I envisioned cars with electromagnetic bumpers which, when engaged on a highway, would create a long train of cars all going the same speed, with any unnecessary stopping or rubber-necking. Virginia Tech has been working on a smart car system for a few years that I thought could be combined with the car-train idea, but I was never able to fully satisfy myself that (a) sudden and necessary stops could be completed without causing a massive accident, or (b) entering and exiting the car-train could be done efficiently.

Then I started thinking about a conveyor belt where each car occupies a segregated parking spot on the belt, and the belt does all the moving. In order to enter a spot, a car would have to drive onto a separate conveyor belt that moved in a circle. The entering car would occupy a pad which is the object that is actually transferred to the main conveyor. When an open space comes along, the pad with the car on it will be transfered from the side conveyor to the main conveyor. Once on the main conveyor, the pad would be shifted to an inside lane depending on your designated exit, which you would select either through the GPS system in your car (relayed by Bluetooth or wireless transmission to the main conveyor's brain), so as to clear the outside lanes for entering cars (and thus avoiding having cars stuck on the side conveyor for very long). Exiting would be accomplished by essentially the reverse process.

The whole idea would probably cost so much it would never be worthwhile, and that's without even addressing the engineering nightmare it likely is. In fact, it might not even be possible from an engineering standpoint. But it's still fun to think about while I'm sitting in traffic.

Maybe next time I'll tell y'all about my idea for luxury commuter buses, outfitted with personalized desks, computers, and televisions so people can work while they're commuting, thus allowing them to spend less time actually in the office. But, I'm still working on that one.
 
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FYI, Wilson Quarterly published an essay by Tom Vanderbilt (essentially taken from his book). Entitled The Traffic Guru, it is a fascinating read.
 
Written By: bains
URL: http://
As someone who lives and works in Manhattan, I must unfortunately burden this discussion with facts.

And the most important facts are:

1. Traffic in Manhattan is caused by delivery trucks. Not commuters, not taxis, not buses. Trucks. So the easiest way to reduce traffic would be to get New Yorkers to stop using stuff delivered by trucks. You know, vanity items such as food, clothing, furniture, medical supplies, etc. (Or, alternatively, get more New York residents and businesses to receive their deliveries at two in the morning rather than at two in the afternoon. Or ask the guys delivering your mattress to use the subway.)

2. Congestion pricing as proposed by Mayor Bloomberg actually taxed vehicles as they LEFT Manhattan as well as when they ENTERED. So the notion that the goal was to keep vehicles out of Manhattan (as opposed to merely raising revenue via taxing a good with almost perfectly inelastic demand — see Fact #1) was, like so much of Bloomberg’s blather over the years, a flat-out lie.

3. New York City is, just to be clear, not one giant domed stadium. We get rain, we get snow. So any proposal premised upon bicycling, walking, seqwaying, etc., is by definition retarded. See also, "trucks."
 
Written By: KipEsquire
URL: http://www.kipesquire.net
Your conveyor belt idea is very much like a system Robert A. Heinlein wrote about in THe Roads Must Roll

Also, there is quite a bit of affordable housing in Manhattan, but a lot of people do not want to live there. The thing is, it only takes a relatively small percentage of people (the suburban commuters, that want that big yard) to create this traffic nightmare that we have here. Maybe we could push to lower the fare for Metro-North and LIRR commuters during rush hours so that it makes much more sense economically to save the gas cost of the commute.

@ Kip, Yes, trucks add to the congestion in Manhattan, but if you ever drive into Manhattan during rush hour, there will be very few trucks in the sea of cars stuck idling on the highways. You don’t see them during the day because they are in lots...
 
Written By: Boogs
URL: http://
Thanks for the link, bains.
As someone who lives and works in Manhattan, I must unfortunately burden this discussion with facts.
NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!
Traffic in Manhattan is caused by delivery trucks. Not commuters, not taxis, not buses. Trucks.
I’ve heard more than one person mention that, but certainly there are more cars on the road than trucks, no? Either way, none of this addresses my totally awesome idea of a conveyor belt road. Facts, schmacts ;)
 
Written By: MichaelW
URL: http://qando.net
Your conveyor belt idea is very much like a system Robert A. Heinlein wrote about in THe Roads Must Roll
Cool! See, I knew it was totally awesome.
 
Written By: MichaelW
URL: http://qando.net
@Boogs: We are talking about congestion WITHIN Manhattan, not congestion INTO Manhattan. Totally different problem/cause/solution/etc.

Going back to "trucks," one thing that might work is banning all daytime curbside parking, including metered parking. That way all those pesky trucks would not have to double park to make their deliveries, which would in turn aid the flow of traffic.

Not recommending it — just saying it might actually achieve the supposed goal of the thought exercise.
 
Written By: KipEsquire
URL: http://www.kipesquire.net
Kip, what would happen if Manhattan (and I presume that when Tierney speaks of NY he’s actually talking about just the island) put in a full-blown one way grid?

Michael, per your original (second) suggestion, my sister for years, worked at Merrill Lynch - she lived north of the city, and had about an hour commute each way(wrong side of the Hudson for the train). It wasn’t until 2003 that she was allowed to tele-commute, and even then only one day a week. By the time she left in 2006, she was up to three days a week. Given that NYC is the hub of the western business world - read large corporations with horrible to mediocre middle managers - tele-commuting is still met with rejection/reluctance.

In other words, a good idea, but until the middle managers in the corporate world realize that requiring your subordinates to look busy, 9to5, at ones desk isn’t the most efficient mode of commerce, tele-commuting will not take hold.
 
Written By: bains
URL: http://
Going back to "trucks," one thing that might work is banning all daytime curbside parking, including metered parking.
Didn’t they used to do that? Or something similar anyway. I know they enforce the correct-side-of-the-street parking pretty ruthlessly (to make way for the street cleaners), I guess I just expected that clearing the commuter lanes for rush hour was part of the same deal.
In other words, a good idea, but until the middle managers in the corporate world realize that requiring your subordinates to look busy, 9to5, at ones desk isn’t the most efficient mode of commerce, tele-commuting will not take hold.
Yeah, I don’t expect these things to happen, although the telecommuting thing will catch on after awhile. The "build more housing" idea will never fly because the current homeowners in Manhattan aren’t going to put up with their property values being reduced so that more people can move in and there can be less traffic (that they don’t really deal with anyway).

Interestingly, though, the federal government is pretty flexible with the stuff and there are an increasing number of employees who are allowed (even encouraged) to telecommute here in the DC Metro area. In addition, a lot of the big government contracts firms allow it as well. My wife actually telecommutes twice per week, and she used to do it thee times per week before my oldest started school. It’s an idea that most big companies will have to include in their business models before too long just owing to competition for workers.
 
Written By: MichaelW
URL: http://qando.net
Yeah, I don’t expect these things to happen, although the telecommuting thing will catch on after awhile.
Yes. The corporate world is finally reacting to the world of small business. My sister, and I, left the corporate world once we realized that we could sell our services at a lesser price, with better services, and more profit.

What to do with NYC traffic? Don’t work there. Remember, Gordon Gecko is a fictitious character and Bill Gates lives in Seattle.
 
Written By: bains
URL: http://
Based on my one long ago visit to NYC, I would think limiting the number of taxis would go a long way to cutting down on traffic. My chief memory is a multitude of yellow cabs on every street, far more of them than anything else, including trucks.

Limiting taxis will of course have the side effect of lowering the number of Russians and Pakistanis at large in New York; I leave it to you to decide if that is a negative or a positive.

Regarding trucks—Imperial Rome did actually limit wagon traffic to night time, with the result that people would complain about the constant noise at 2 AM, but it did apparently cut down on traffic during the daytime, as was intended.
 
Written By: kishnevi
URL: http://kishnevi.wordpress.com/
I’ve been working from home for close to 6 years now. No commute. I work longer hours, have a better outlook on things, get more done... I’ll be hard pressed to ever accept a job that requires me to be in an office again. What’s the point?
 
Written By: meagain
URL: http://

 
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