30 Issues in 30 Days: Traffic Jams

Monday, October 28, 2013

Traffic during a U.N. General Assembly meeting (Andrew Dallos/flickr)

It's Transportation Week on the Brian Lehrer Show's election series "30 issues in 30 Days." See the full 30 Issues schedule and archive here.

Robert Sinclair Jr., manager of media relations at AAA New York, kicks off "transportation week" with a discussion of how the city needs to balance the preferences of drivers over cyclists and pedestrians.

Then, Rachel Weinberger, director of research and policy strategy for Nelson\Nygaard, a transportation consulting firm, talks about the issues facing and the tools available to the next mayor in managing NYC's roads.  She served as advisor on PlaNYC and is the co-editor ofAuto Motives: Understanding Car Use Behaviors (Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2011).



Robert Sinclair Jr. and Rachel Weinberger

Comments [42]

Rob from NY

It is amazing to hear a AAA rep arguing for the Cross-Hudson Freight Tunnel. Where's the money for this? It is going to Cuomo's Tappan Zee Bridge boondoggle that will just contribute to more sprawl, pollution, and obesity and do zero for NYC.

Oct. 29 2013 01:02 PM

@Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

"The bridge toll is now $13.00..."

Actually, non-EZ PASS two axle toll for Verrazano Bridge is $15. So you save $7.50 taking a bridge to Manhattan and then no toll outbound via Holland Tunnel. This is probably what is making all of the volume. The fare beaters trying to save a buck. But in this case, you are so very, very right. If I had it to do again...

Oct. 28 2013 10:38 PM
Kathleen from Hell's Kitchen

Looks like the traffic light is out and everyone desperately needs a
traffic cop! Good place to bear in mind that Escalades kill pedestrians,
cyclists rarely do.

Oct. 28 2013 04:15 PM
Marie from NY, NY

The photo on your website says it all - drivers and pedestrians not obeying the traffic lights or traffic police creating a hazardous situation for all. Traffic police should be have the ability to ticket offenders - walking or riding.

Oct. 28 2013 03:41 PM
C. Richard Wagner from Brooklyn NY

NYC is 5 counties. One has many subways, subways do not have rest rooms, they don't coordinate service late at night, or with buses late at night. Trucks are using our streets and bridges to drive thru, we need a railroad tunnel from St.George(SI) to Bayridge(BKLYN) there is railroad infrastructure at both ends THE SHORTEST ROUTE AT 3 MILES AND IT'S INSIDE NYC SO YOU DON'T HAVE THE PORT AUTHORITY TO DEAL WITH. Last if you want to ride your bike on the streets, you should have a license, either just a bike riding license or a car driving license, which requires you to know traffic laws and obey them. Bike riders without insurance should carry a toe tag, so their remains can be properly disposed of.

Oct. 28 2013 01:27 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

@ RUCB_Alum: The bridge toll is now $13.00, not $11.00, so you should feel good about saving two extra dollars. However, how much gas did you burn in the 2 1/2 hours of sitting on the roads? Probably more than $2.00.

@ xtina: He wasn't giving an "empty suit" answer - just indicating that he sees this from more than one perspective, as do any of us who both have cars and use public transportation. Any individual's perspective is colored by personal experience, including that of politicians.

Brian: Mostly good ideas here. How about passing them on to the "powers that be" so they can take some common sense action that is driven by the public interest rather than action that results only in lining their personal pockets with cash from lobbyists?

Oct. 28 2013 12:55 PM
NSNY from Brooklyn

A few things our city would benefit from:

1. Philadelphia has the Vine Street Expressway. It cuts across town, under the city streets in what would otherwise be the most congested part of town. NYC could use a couple of expressways to cut across town and keep traffic moving.

2. A pedestrian bridge from New Jersey to New York somewhere in midtown or downtown. When I lived in NJ the idea of biking into the city was impossible - options were biking several miles north to the GW where you'd then have to bike several miles back down, or a $10 roundtrip ride on the ferry. More people would stay out of their cars if they had an easy way in from the densely populated NJ neighborhoods along the Hudson.

3. Zero tolerance on our highways and major crosstown roads when it comes to congestion. It's absolutely appalling that first responders can't get through and that some New Yorkers instead use it as an opportunity to speed in-front of the sirened vehicle if they manage to make a path ahead. Same goes for accidents that hold-up traffic on bridges and highways. We can't afford the backup that causes. We should have a zero tolerance policy that ensures such blockages are cleared in minutes.

4. In 1999 I went to Barcelona for the first time. All subway stops has tote boards telling when the next train would arrive. I moved to NYC in 2001. It took until 2012 to have a FEW of these tote boards at select underground stations.

5. We need digital signs in key parts of the city that indicate a blockage or closure. That way traffic on one side of the city can find out that they should take an alternate route in time. It will help mitigate congestion when it's already maxed out. Digital signs on the West Side highway should alert drivers when there is an issue downtown or over at the Brooklyn Bridge, or wherever it may be. We've seen some insane traffic jams this year, the few times I've driven into Manhattan. One Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. the West Side HIghway was a parking lot, I tried taking a side street and heading into the Holland Tunnel instead (I was heading to NJ to the Vet - no dogs are allowed on PT!) - that was a parking lot. There was literally nowhere to go. I took the first parking spot I could find and completely changed my plans for the night.

(Listed in order remembered, not necessarily order of importance.)

Oct. 28 2013 12:25 PM
Christine Berthet from NYC, Manhattan

"how the city needs to balance the preferences of drivers over cyclists and pedestrians" and here is the problem right there! Drivers "preferences" ..not needs. Because in our society this class of over entitled , public resources hogging citizens can pick and choose their most comfortable ways while everyone else is in the gutter or running for their lives.
Bring Lehrer, What about a segment on pedestrians? and on the lack of traffic enforcement?
THAT would interest ALL of us.

Oct. 28 2013 12:22 PM
NSNY from Brooklyn

I'm both a driver and pedestrian in the city. The one consistent cause of traffic that I see are the cab drivers. They drive as if it's their roads and everyone else is lucky to be driving on them. I was behind an almost 5 car pile-up last night because a cab came to a complete stop in the middle of the 2 lane street to pick-up a faire.

They stop their cabs in the middle of a traffic lane to let a pedestrian out - even if they have to help them get luggage out of the trunk. Happened the other night on 6th Ave. - 2 lanes of traffic completely messed-up trying to get around him. My favorite is when they drive between two lanes, always jockeying for the best spot, and you can't get around them. And then after they've cut you off they then drive as slow as they like cruising to find a faire. But you better be ready the second the light turns green - because they'll honk at you if your foot isn't on that gas in time for the light to change.

I see plenty of opportunities for the city to make some money writing tickets!

Oct. 28 2013 12:08 PM
Amy from Manhattan

This is only the 2nd (after disaster preparedness) issue out of the 30 that has any relation to environmental concerns. I don't understand why you're not giving environmental issues more prominence.

And this applies to the plant-a-tree offer for people pledging. Why save it for the last day & not let people know it's coming? Many people might want to wait for that opportunity, & more trees would be planted. Or don't make us wait--make it available all week. Recycled plastic in the Keep Cup is great (are the bags made of organic or recycled material?), but planting a tree is even better.

Oct. 28 2013 12:02 PM
Philip from Kensington

We cannot discuss encouraging people to take mass transit without discussing the capacity of mass transit. Right now, the NYC public transit system can't take any more people during rush hour. Every train and bus resembles a sardine can. If we take another 100,000 people off the roads how are they going to travel? They can't fit on public transit.

Oct. 28 2013 12:00 PM
Jef Klein from Princeton

I live in NJ and commute frequently to NYC and when I can I park in Secaucus at the train station and ride in by train. What is needed are more parking lots in NJ closer to trans-Hudson routes--to keep cars from NJ from driving in. We need incentives such as more parking lots here, and keep them cheaper by at least 30% over the lots in NYC. Also the PATH in conjuction with city should give NJ commuters or tourists a free ride on NJ Transit or their transportation carrier for every 15 rides on public transit that they take into the city. Even if they did something with EZPass also, like giving a free ride through the Holland or Lincoln in their car if they have logged 25 trips by train--something to make train and bus and parking on the Jersey side more attractive. In this way, the time saved driving into the city will be offset by those incentives, and I think more Jerseyans would choose parking and riding that way.

Oct. 28 2013 11:48 AM

@Truth & Beauty,

I agree with your post except for your first point.

As a South Brooklyn resident, you have to understand why people have cars. We have good transportation options down here, but also a lot of cars. That's because there are large numbers of families down here - some containing multiple generations. You could take public transit, but when you have to shuttle Mom, Dad, Grandma and two kids along with bags of groceries and other shopping items, public transportation becomes expensive and no longer a convenience. Also, there is a large number of retirees & the elderly who can no longer take public transit due to physical limitations. Most of all, the streets down here are long and the amenities spread out; in many parts, the nearest supermarket is a mile away.

Oct. 28 2013 11:48 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Bikes blocking crosswalks? What about *cars* blocking crosswalks? I see this much more often. At least you can walk around a bicycle in a crosswalk. A car blocks it completely, & if the car behind the one in the crosswalk is too close, pedestrians can't cross behind the 1st one & have to cross in front of it, watching out for the traffic that has the green light! The law requiring drivers to stop before the crosswalk should be enforced strictly. Right now I'm not sure it's enforced at all.

Oct. 28 2013 11:44 AM
Mitch from Manhattan

I one of those millions of crazy people who live in NYC and work in NJ. Public transportation takes 75 minutes door to door in no traffic, and often much more. I drive because it takes me only 35 minutes (although that can get up to 90 minutes in traffic). The cost is relatively the same - but I hate driving in and out and parking is a nightmare. I would like to see either:
1. Large, long-term public parking in NYC near the bridges and tunnels - this would cut down tremendously on the cars on the streets both driving and parking.
2. Better public transportation. The rest of the modern world has modern public transportation, and I would prefer that here to driving. But, of course, thanks to politics as usual, better public transportation remains a utopian dream.

Oct. 28 2013 11:40 AM
marc in brooklyn

Make the police enforce traffic laws against drivers, which will create a safer city for pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers.

There is usually at least one (if not more) drivers who run the red at every intersection. And then there are the illegal u-turns on red lights. And drivers making their own lane to the right of traffic to get in front of the rest of traffic. And there are the drivers who start driving into the crosswalks and intersections before the light changes to green. And there are the drivers who pull into the opposite lane to pass a car that they deem as driving too slowly. And it goes on and on.

And when police are present, they usually just ignore these violations.

Oct. 28 2013 11:40 AM
Nick from UWS

Steve from New York, NY, the first post, has it dead right. Give me a break.

Oct. 28 2013 11:39 AM
Kate from Hamilton Heights

Has there never been a proposal to have a crosstown subway shuttle uptown, such as at 86th street?

Oct. 28 2013 11:38 AM
Robertt from NYC

Also we need subway service directly to the air ports. That would really ease up on traffic especially during rush hour when most flights leave early evening.

Oct. 28 2013 11:38 AM
Kate from manhattan

I'll stop jaywalking and stop rushing the red lights if BIKE RIDERS will start stopping at red lights and stop wearing ear buds

Oct. 28 2013 11:37 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

The bridges and tunnel fares going INTO Manhattan should be established and increased, except for commercial vehicles registered to a company, with Manhattan residents and taxis exempted. The money should be used to increase and improve public transportation.

Oct. 28 2013 11:37 AM

"Ban trucks of more than 6 wheels and then there would be more than enough room for cars."

If you ban large trucks, how do you get commodities onto the shelves of retailers, especially big supermarkets in the outerboroughs? Remember, those trucks make multiple deliveries to multiple stores. If you ban big trucks, that would mean even more smaller trucks on the streets increasing traffic.

Oct. 28 2013 11:36 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Many issues:

1. Anyone who lives in the City and drives when s/he could use public transportation is creating his/her own problems. Good public transportation should obviate the need for most individuals to drive.

2. That said, public transportation is not as good as it should be. It should be cheaper and faster than driving, but is often more expensive and slower. That's what should be addressed by public transportation officials.

3. NYC gets the majority of its funding from parking tickets! This must stop. For starters, illegal parking is not a high risk traffic offense and, for people who must drive, legal parking is essential. What NYC should do is put up more red light cameras and post more officers at intersections to catch people who make left turns on red lights or engage in other dangerous driving offenses. When people simply must drive in NYC, it should be safer and the only way to achieve this is to ticket and HEAVILY fine people who engage in moving violations. It seems to me that the City is focusing too much on parking tickets because they're like shooting fish in a barrel. It's more difficult to make driving safer by ticketing people who commit moving violations, but that is what will improve driving.

4. It has now become too common for people to text while walking and they create safety issues of their own, both in the street AND on the sidewalk. I think that people who text while crossing streets should also be ticketed.

5. The best way for the City to make money would be to open parking garages of its own, and charge for legal parking, stop issuing so many parking tickets and ticket more moving violations. Period.

Oct. 28 2013 11:34 AM
William from Manhattan

I sincerely hope Bill de Blasio does not undo the visionary and highly effective work of Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan to make NYC safer for pedestrians, cyclists AND drivers while taming traffic and introducing a new expectation of civility on our streets. I hope he will build on the successes of the current administration and go further, with common-sense improvements - perhaps including licensing of bicycles to help ensure cyclists' compliance with traffic laws and accountability when laws are ignored.

Oct. 28 2013 11:32 AM
NIck from UWS

I wish to hell Brian would hold his guests to his questions. When people go off in an irrelevant direction after a question, I wish to hell Brian would have the guts to say "That's not what I asked you. I asked you if you thought more cars in NY would be a good thing." But American journalists don't have the guts to do that like European journalists. They'll just take any answer anyone gives them, because it's all "content". They don't give a shit.

Oct. 28 2013 11:32 AM
Quinn from Queens

I don't want to drive in New York, but I do want to outside of it. Unfortunately the only way to get to the rest of the US from Brooklyn and Queens is driving through Manhattan, entering by the Queensboro, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg; leaving through the Hudson river crossings. I'd take the Verrazano or the Triboro to avoid but they're quite expensive and don't offer too much of a time savings. I like Gridlock Sam's idea of toll equalization.

On weekends, I drive from Queens to Brooklyn, where my place of employment is. I could take the train but my journey increases from 20 minutes to an hour plus. I want more high quality transit links between the two largest boroughs and in general, so adequate funding of the MTA is necessary.

In general, there needs to be more enforcement of regulations, car traffic must be kept orderly.

Oct. 28 2013 11:29 AM
Gerard Hammink from Manhattan

What's the point of the "no turn on red" rule, really? Shouldn't it really be a no turn on pedestrians rule? In Manhattan there's a lot of jockeying between walkers in crosswalks and drivers trying to make right turns. Getting rid of the "no turn on right" rule seems like it would give drivers more opportunity to turn right.

Oct. 28 2013 11:28 AM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn, NY

My suggestion: issue NYC resident stickers to all drivers whose cars are registered in the 5 boroughs, and mandate that only cars with NYC residential stickers are allowed to park on residential streets. This would make parking for residents with cars slightly easier, discourage people from (illegally) registering their cars in other states, and prevent out-of-state commercial vehicles from parking on residential streets at night. On my old block, we had habitual offenders: someone who had a limo business of 5 cars, with New Jersey plates, who would take up precious residential street parking spaces with his limos, and a driver of a semi with Arizona plates who would park on the block. Commercial businesses outside of NYC need to get out of residential parking spaces, and pay for commercial parking spaces.

Oct. 28 2013 11:28 AM
Dan from Lefferts Brooklyn

I would like to see a rethinking of the street cleaning frequency in residential neighborhoods (I'm talking about Brooklyn, but probably similar elsewhere). In Lefferts Gardens, they clean the streets 4 times a week, requiring 4 cars moves a week. On residential blocks the streets aren't dirty enough to require this much cleaning.
This creates a frustrating situation for drivers, extra traffic, people making un safe u turns to park on the other side. On some blocks, people doublepark during street cleaning hours, clogging the streets and blocking bike lanes.

Oct. 28 2013 11:28 AM
Nick from UWS

Brian asked a question. A simple direct question, understandable by any adult. "Do you think more cars in NY would be good thing?" And this man went off into a complete non-sequitir about trucks. What the hell is this? Is there anyone in this world now who knows how to answer a simple direct question with a direct answer?? Are today's adults physically incapable of answering a question?

Oct. 28 2013 11:27 AM

Ban trucks of more than 6 wheels and then there would be more than enough room for cars.

Oct. 28 2013 11:27 AM
keith from NYC

We could enforce a ban on trucks and deliveries during peak hours. I visited more than one European city that only permitted commercial deliveries late at night, like after midnight...

Oct. 28 2013 11:26 AM
Suzanne Mannion from midtown

What about light rail? vision42 continues encouraging turning 42nd St into auto-free, pedestrian blvd with river-to-river light rail. Other proposals for outer boroughs.

Oct. 28 2013 11:26 AM

DeBlasio: "I'm a motorist so I'm very conflicted"??? WTF? So now his personal habits are the deciding factor in how he makes citywide policies? Wow this is a great 5 years NYC has to look forward to. I wonder if he smokes or drinks large sodas, or what actual important policy issues will e decided by his personal proclivities? deBlasio has just revealed himself to be an empty suit with no resume shot into the spotlight by timing and serendipity, he has no executive experience and is not qualified for this position

Oct. 28 2013 11:24 AM
Cathy from Queens

I think the increase in car traffic is unfortunately the unintended biproduct of a successful city. I find it interesting that we have a Mayor that encourages millionaires and billionaires to move to New York, yet believes these people will also take public transportation. Ha! As long as we have people who will pay the premium to drive in the city, our traffic problems will continue. Already we pay the highest tolls in the nation: $13 on the NJ crossings, $15 on the Verazanno, $7 for bridges/tunnels within the city. And then there's parking - upwards of $600 a month! And the car traffic increased regardless. Its a no-win situation.

Oct. 28 2013 11:04 AM
antonio from baySide

Light-rails & streetcars.

And more of them.

Thank you,

Oct. 28 2013 10:57 AM

When I was young, I could drive from my home in Hackensack to my aunt's place in Jamaica QNS in less than 40 minutes. I now live in Middlesex County, last night the drive FROM QUEENS to New Brunswick took 2 AND A HALF HOURS. Most of it in crossing the southern tip of Manhattan to the Holland Tunnel!!

Yes, I could have taken Verrazano to Outerbridge but opted to save the $11. Absolutely unbelievable!

Oct. 28 2013 10:50 AM
Steve from New York City

RBC, it is non-drivers who subsidize roads. The cost of bike lanes in the city is but a small fraction of a small part of maintenance on some bridges, such as the Brooklyn Bridge, which recently underwent a $600 million renovation.

Tolls, taxes, and other fees only pay about 50% of the costs associated with maintaining roads. The rest comes from general funds. And if you factor in asthma, obesity, injuries in car crashes, and other negative externalities, everyone pays the cost of driving whether or not they own a car.

The balance needs to be tipped back to better sidewalks, bike lanes, plazas, and other infrastructure that benefits the majority of people in NYC.

Oct. 28 2013 10:36 AM
Eric from Park Slope

How does one "balance the preferences of drivers OVER cyclists and pedestrians?" That doesn't sound balanced at all. The vast majority of our street area –- by far the largest chunk of public space in New York City -- is given over to drivers, which has enormous external costs. Let's "balance" our streets by making those who congest them -- single-occupancy drivers -- pay their fair share.

Oct. 28 2013 10:33 AM

More people die and are injured because of injuries caused by motor vehicles in traffic by guns. These are preventable injuries and deaths. For some intelligent data on this issue, and what can be done to improve the situation see:

StreetsPAC supports candidates that support safer, livable streets for walkers and bicyclists, and people with mobility impairments. We back candidates that offer alternatives to the car-centric approach favored by AAA. See

Oct. 28 2013 10:30 AM

The balance is that many of these drivers are actually subsidizing bike paths and subways. Most of the drivers are from NJ and Long Island. They pay a premium for driving into the city - via tolls & parking - which are heavily taxed.

My issue with traffic has always been flow. The biggest traffic jam starters are cars that make turns at intersections where there is heav pedestrian traffic. Best example of this is at 42nd Street where cars try to turn right onto 7th Avenue. That turn should be disallowed during rush hour and weekends.

If you want to get rid of cars from the suburbs, you have to increase public transportation options and decrease the cost of public transportation to the suburbs. The reason why so many people car commute into the city is because commuter rail has become so expensive.

Oct. 28 2013 10:24 AM
Steve from New York, NY

Give me a break. The majority of New York City residents and workers, especially in the central business district, do not drive and do not arrive to their jobs in cars. They take subways, ride the bus, walk, and bike. The balance is out of whack in favor of private car drivers, who clog the roads and slow down buses that serve far more people. Car drivers accidentally kill hundreds of New Yorkers every year. Bicyclists injure some, but don't kill. Pedestrians kill no one.


Oct. 28 2013 10:08 AM

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