Transit vs. cars in NYCSomeone anonymously left an excellent pair of comments about NYC mobility on one of my Reason posts on why mobility matters to personal life from a couple weeks ago. It's so good I decided it deserved its own full-blown post for those who don't track comments (the substantial majority, I'm sure). It matches what I heard from my oldest stepdaughter, who just got back from a summer internship up there. She enjoyed the experience overall, but pointed out that most young people have been priced out of Manhattan for Brooklyn (where she lived), and getting around Brooklyn on transit is far harder since all the trains focus on going to Manhattan (and taxis are generally not available for hailing). Visiting friends or meeting up even just a mile or two away in Brooklyn can be quite the trek, evidently.
On to the comments:
"I live in the New York area. There has been no road capacity additions here of any consequence in 40 years and nothing is planned. Any propsal to increase capacity is shouted down as if it were a plot to store plutonium in childrens lunchboxes. Any plan that manages to accrue public support is litigated to death, which seems a rigged game of self-described environmental zealots engaging in a pre-determined conversation with their friends in the judiciary. The result is not a transit paradise -- the fact is that a transit ride to work in NYC is an exercise in living like a canned sardine for the duration of one's commute. Rather, we are enduring a little bit (or a lot) of misery every time we try to get somewhere. The NYC area is, beyond Manhattan, as dispersed as any in America. I have relatives in various suburbs of New York, and it is an exercise in frustration and wasted travel time to visit them. What public policy interest is served by keeping family members living apart separated by traffic is beyond my understanding. The leadership in this area has been conditioned into thinking car = bad, and the author of this blog is dead-on that this sentiment, drilled into our heads by the media and academic elites, is 180 degrees false.
The first thing a person does upon entering the middle class is acquire a car. It's true in China, in Europe and in Queens. The way in which a person wants to live his life requires a car whether transit is an alternative for some trips or not. I cannot take my three kids grocery shopping, then take the groceries with my kids while I drop off one child at a friend's house, and then unload my groceries, hit an ATM machine, pick up my dry-cleaning, head over to a friend's house, then pick up the child I dropped off earlier to take the four of us to a movie, all using transit. This is called "task bunching", and a car renders this possible. Trying to do 25% of what you can do with a car using a bus system and fixed rail -- no matter how comprehensive -- is simply impossible. Transit devotees should take a trip to Queens or Brooklyn and count how many people on a train or bus are actually (1) carrying something or (2) traveling with their children. Answer: not many (and their fellow passengers are grateful). The fact is that people in Queens and Brooklyn do grocery shop and travel with kids, and they generally do so by car. To give you guys in Houston an idea of what running errands on mass transit is like: it requires all the planning and patience currently required to travel by commercial aircraft, all to take your three kids to get lunch. It's about that much fun.
What we are devolving to in NYC is a situation where mobility is being reserved for the wealthy and connected, and mobility degrades over time for the rest of us. Transit has a definite place on a very high-density corridor, but it simply cannot serve as an all-purpose mobility solution. We need constant substantial road investment.
and then continued:
Transit makes sense for trips along a dense corridor terminating at a dense end point. It makes perfect sense that one would prefer transit, for example, from commuting at peak hours into midtown Manhattan from a spot along the mainline rail corridor in NJ. In fact, the density of Manhattan could not exist without fixed rail transit. That same system is virtually useless, however, for every other activity, apart from commuting, undertaken by the people who use it for commuting. The typical suburban rider uses the LIRR or NJ Transit exactly 10 times per week, to get to an from work, and then not at all. Note that these suburban commuters consist of a minority of those in their communities who commute to the dense end point, and not to dispersed suburban jobs, which is where the job growth has been in the NYC area since the 1950s. NYC historically had twice as many jobs as the entire state of NJ. Today that ratio is exactly reversed. I count myself a proponent of transit, but as a piece with vastly improved overall mobility, anchored by improved automobile capacity. It is extremely frustrated to watch road projects scuttled in suburban CT and NJ with the elitist trope: "transit is the future". Beyond a very narrow corridor for a very narrow range of trips, that is simply not the case. Transit has severe limitations that make it a tool for very limited circumstances, as important as those limited circumstances may be."