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Interview with Noah Budnick, Deputy Director, Transportation Alternatives

Interviewee: Noah Budnick, Deputy Director, Transportation Alternatives
Interviewer: Daniel Aldana Cohen2/1/13

Q: So maybe I could first off ask you like about your own experience with the Hurricaine.

A: Well we — at transportation alternatives we closed, we closed the office —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: we made that decision early after the storm to close the office because we have people who work here from all over the metropolitan region.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: And as it turned out this block was actually an oasis in the power grid downtown and we had power.  Whereas we looked across the street and it was totally black and at either end of the block it was totally dark too.  So we were very fortunate and that first day we — a few of us did come in and have put together sort of a disaster plan.  Our systems were all okay here but we wanted to help New Yorkers as much as possible so we updated a couple of our websites with a lot of information for people to sort of links to the sort of latest transit information and then also a lot of information on how many people get up on bikes and figuring out where their local bike shop is and were there bike maps so they can clock their route.  There’s a great website called Ride the City —

Q: Yep, I got the app.

A: — yeah to — yeah so — so we pointed people there and we started the bike Sandy hash tag to get some communication going.  Then that day we also put into place a plan to have — have commuter stations set up —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — in some key places because as it turned out, I think that bike commuting went up by something like 300 percent, the City did some bike counts so we had our bike ambassadors and staff and volunteers, just basically it was a great outpouring of support from a lot of different people that just wanted to help out and help the city get through the storm.  So we had commuter stations with coffee and donuts and bike pumps and quick bike repair and things that were set up in the morning and then in the afternoon in a couple of places around the city and we’re also taking pictures of folks and tweeting those to Bike Sandy which is fun and there’s a nice photo essay on that.  So I don’t know how many thousands of people we helped but it was nice because, , there’s so many people that — that I had talked to.  I was out on the — at the stations during the mornings and there was a lot of people I talked to who, , don’t bike commute on a regular basis and got their bikes out and said I gotta get in or a lot of people said I just need to get out of the house and move my body —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — and get to the normal world.  So, I think — I — I felt like it was people enjoyed being cheered on and it was funny because I also ran into folks that I work with who aren’t, , aren’t regular bike commuters but who know TM really well and so it was, , kind of fun just to see them kind of putting together in their head work that they had done with us in the past to their daily experience and making the best of it.  So, out of, , all of the tragedy that was occurring around the city, I think it was a testament to New Yorkers’ perseverance that folks who could make it through and try to get on with their daily lives really did and it’s also, I think it was a great example of the diversity of transportation choices in the city that makes the city great.  Because New York has so many ways of getting from A to B it makes the city more resilient which is a great lesson from the storm that we’re not just wed to a car or to the subways, that when something goes down we have a backup plan.  So that was really great.  So — so from TA’s like, you — , immediate I — I guess, , that’s immediately our experience.  After the storm, Giant Bicycles reached out to us and wanted to get involved and donate a bunch of bikes to communities that were impacted by the storm.  So we helped them connect with Recycle a Bicycle, a non-profit that has a great warehouse and it was really a good resource for actually putting the donated bikes together.  And then connecting them with a couple of public service groups to help distribute the bikes to needful communities.  So that happened in the weeks after the storm and then on policy level, a lot of advocacy groups really saw how buses helped during the storm, helping people around, the bus bridges that were set up by the,  —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — set up by the DOT, the MTA were really great and , playing off of bus rapid transit and , making buses move faster through the city.  The Governor included those recommendations in his I think it’s called the New York 2100 Plan —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — which was a commission put together after the storm to make recommendations on how to make New York more resilient to future weather.

Q: Uh-hum, great.  And, I mean, like from your perspective what’s the kind of like, what would you say was the extent of these kinds of problems?  I mean were there hedges or boundaries to them?

A: Well,  some neighborhoods certainly were harder hit than others and there’s no denying that and there’s neighborhoods that are still recovering.  I remember hearing on the news was it last week or the week before that there’s still folks in Staten Island —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — they’re doing a heat, it’s crazy.  This is like what five months later?

Q: Yeah.

A: And,  which is devastating and I’m — I guess immediately after the storm, , the entire city was impacted, I think, people were stunned even if they weren’t in the areas directly hit by the storm and with, major parts of the city shut down it — it disabled the entire city because we’re like so interconnected but if one piece goes down then it has ripple effects through — throughout the entire city.  Obviously the transit system being shut down was a massive impact to everybody in New York.  On a lot of levels, it was historic, that was the first time that the subway system had been shut down —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — and it takes three days minimum to do that.  Because it takes a day to shut it down and they’re shut down for a day.  And then it takes a day to get it back up on line.

Q: Yeah.

A: So it’s no insignificant undertaking and to make that decision for the Governor, as the head of the MTA to make that decision was, both the decision and their — there were big repercussions, not only, people couldn’t, most people couldn’t get around or get to work if they wanted to because most New Yorkers take transit to get around.  But it was also interesting to look at how the economy was affected. Obviously the storm had a huge impact on that too but the combination of the storm and the subways —

Q: Yeah.

A: — being shut down really slowed down the economy which was an interesting lesson and a reminder of how the transit system really is the lifeblood of the city that without a well-functioning, well-funded transit system, New York isn’t as pro — productive, people aren’t, going about their routines doing business, going to school, spending money, , keeping the economy going.  So that, that’s I think is a really important political lesson and something that we take with us as we advocate for more transit funding and that the Governor showed a lot of leadership in keeping the transit system safe and in keeping New Yorkers safe by not exposing them to risks by keeping the system during the storm.  Likewise to really help New York’s economy, advance, succeed and grow, the Governor needs to invest in the transit system.

Q: Yeah.

A: To get people more reliable, more affordable transit and just give them more access to, economic opportunity.

Q: Uh-hum.  Yeah, I mean do think that there is still like are there, you know, problems that — that transit – transit-oriented problems came up with Sandy that are still with us?

A: Well, I mean this system is still not 100 percent back since the storm so those thing are having to be I think evaluated — I think that where the MTA is at this point is looking at what’s not back yet and thinking about the next storm and whether it’s worth, , repairing the system only to be hit again or if upgrades need to happen.  And this is all happening within the context of the MTA’s capital plan —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — which is being updated.  It’s not fully funded and the, policy and programmed deliberations of the capital plan happen at the same time as that C4 funding the capital plan so, the MTA is a very smart staff and I’m sure that they’re going to look at what needs to happen.  They had a list of things they needed to do before the storm happened, just in the normal course of —

Q: Yeah.

A: — keeping a 100 year old transit system working —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — 24-7 so there’s that list and then the storm happened and now they’re things that were broken by the storm that need to be fixed and there were vulnerabilities brought to light by the storm that are probably making them reassess everything in between.  So, , they’re working on that and now, as they come up with that list and they put dollars to it, the Governor is going to have to step up and lead the state legislature to come up with ways to pay for all of the needed improvements.

Q: Uh-hum.  I’m so, , you guys have to balance like the cyclists advocacy — advocacy around cy — cyclists and walking and then also transit, right, the mass transit system.  Is that, I mean, in a situation like this or in general, can — can that be tricky to do them all together?  Are the constituencies similar or — or are they pretty — pretty different?

A: In relation to the storm?

Q: Yeah.

A: I think what the, what the storm showed as I was saying before is that having the more transportation options that New Yorkers have, the better off we are.  It’s kind of like a diet, like, , you’re supposed to eat at a very —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — you’re supposed to eat some fruits, you’re supposed to eat some vegetables, , you can eat meat or fats from time to time, so it’s like a — to have a healthy city whether it’s a normal day like today or a day when there’s a super storm coming through, you need to have a variety of transit options so that if something goes down you have a backup.  And I think that was really evidenced during the storm when the subway system went down, people did have — a lot of people did have a backup and they could get on their bikes.  Fortunately there was less transportation demand so, while some people who had to go places could get on a bike or have — have a bus to take them where they needed to go.  A lot of people could walk around their neighborhood and that’s, I think a great thing about New York.  It’s not to be taken for granted is how walkable our city is that we have mixed use neighborhoods where, , on one block you have residential, you have shopping,  —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — a lot of neighborhoods have neighborhood parks so, that within say like a 15 minute walk like a mile radius, a lot of people have what they need and under dire circumstances like a storm I think that that really helps make this city a stronger place. In the course of daily life with all the hustle and bustle, our neighborhoods can be made a lot stronger because things like traffic safety and speeding are serious public safety issues that plague the city every day and need to be improved.  I think that when crisis happens and New Yorkers really come together, the amount of transportation choices that we have really comes back to help out.

Q: Uh-hum.  So, I mean,  I guess when — when talking to your constituents or just amongst yourselves like, how do you guys kind of explain like why the storm happened or what, what do you see as like the kind of it’s — it’s the cause and the cause of why it was so — so devastating.

A: That’s really outside of our purview —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: I don’t think that we have a climate scient–a climate scientist —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — on staff or in the infrastructure experts on staffs.

Q: Yeah.

A: And then whether it is with the storm or in the daily course of living in New York, we often remind people that we do have a 100 year old transit system —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — that it’s a — it’s a system that has been around for over a century and that is running 24-7 —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — to move people around the city and it’s also being upgraded and repaired 24-7 and to,  simply run a 100 year old transit system 24-7 is a complicated and daunting task.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: But to run it and fix it at the same time 24-7 is even more complicated and so that it’s — it’s just to, I tell people that to — to just, reinforce the complexity of the —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — of the system that really keeps the city functioning and also,  as part of the call for why we need more funding from the Governor in Albany and from the Mayor and City Hall and the transit system, sys — system is not going to fix itself and it’s not just your metro card swipe that pays for it.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: Your metro card swipe pays for about half of your ride and the other half is paid for by a variety of taxes and fees, so that’s still barely enough so we need more funding for the transit system and people don’t want — don’t want the ferry route because it’s expensive as it is so that’s why we need the investment from our elected officials.

Q: Uh-hum.  Right.   I am from Toronto and from there New York is like a dream because I think — I think the Toronto system is the  least it’s — it’s the most fare funded system in North America I’ve read it’s about 80 percent, a little over 80 percent and it’s one of the better fares which is crazy, I mean —

A: Oh wow, yeah.

Q: — so it explains like a lot of the problems but it’s going to be tough, so they like push it up, you know?  So, well, I mean do you think that, you said you don’t have climate scientists on staff but, I mean, do you think the storm is changing?  I mean do you feel in the — in the kind of work that you’re that it’s changing the conversation about climate change, issues around climate politics?

A: Absolutely.  Because the city has been thinking a lot more about sustainability —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — in the last five or six years and that’s be — that’s — that’s been on — that — the issue of sustainability has been — has been elevated in the city, people are more aware of it and — (Female:  We have an interview at four in here.  Okay.  And we need a projector too, okay so — ) Can we move?

Q: Sorry?

A: Can we move?

Q: Oh sure, yeah.

A: Have a seat.

Q: It’s good.  Is this like a mini conference room?

A: Yeah.  I actually like this one better.

Q: It’s brighter.  All right, you were saying the sustainability politics have changed.

A: Right.  So sustainability has become a more important issue and people are more aware of climate change and there have been a number of policies and after them laws passed by the city council to try to reduce the city’s carbon emissions —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: Sandy made it real for New Yorkers and it’s to me the, it’s — it’s it — it just, you can create policies and you can pass laws and you can talk about the threats of global warming and the bad things that are going to happen but it’s, I think, for anybody it’s hard to just conceive of the reality of the threat of climate change.  And storms like Sandy and Irene are the reality of that and it’s a very visceral connection that people have and a reminder as to why we do need to make these changes and why climate policy is important.  And I’m proud that New York is a leader on climate policy and has done a lot.  The hard thing is that, as I said, on a policy level it’s hard for us in our daily lives to see the cause and effect and part of the reason is because it’s, it takes New York and all of the cities, all of the big cities around the world to enact these changes to start to make a dent in how — in — in climate change.  But the reason we need to do that is evidenced by storms when they hit the city.  It’s, a very unfortunate reminder so why the city passes laws and why the city feels it really needs to be a leader on climate policy, when dozens of people die and we have hundreds of miles of coastline that are exposed to very severe flooding.

Q: Yeah, you know, I was interesting in comparing PlaNYC to the kind of rhetoric now that it seems that in the PlaNYC in 2007, the — the whole focus is on, I mean the  main focus is on reducing emissions but and — and kind of like basic kind of prevention climate change.  But now it seems now that mainly what I’m hearing in the press and from — from the city it’s like adaptation and resilience.

A: Uh-hum.

Q: And it — it almost maybe that — that takes the focus away from different efforts to reduce emissions.  I mean, is that like a fair assessment, how, you know, how would you feel about that shift?

A: Again that’s outside of our — our purview.  I don’t and I don’t follow the national and international debates about preventing climate change versus mitigating —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — climate change.  So it’s hard to say if maybe there’s a change in the zeitgeist that’s related to that.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: It’s — it’s an interesting debate, people say during all these things are we going to stop climate disasters from helping or should we, focus more on getting ready for the next one.  I think that this storm has made New York feel like we need to get ready for the next one.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: But those things aren’t mutually exclusive either.

Q: Yep.

A: So we’ll do both at the same time.

Q: Yeah.  Do, you know, after Irene and Sandy does it influence the way you guys do messaging or have you thought of trying to focus more on climate?

A: Well there’s a lot of environmental groups in the city that are really great following climate —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — issues and we work in coalition with them and certainly for some audiences, it’s a very important point to hit.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: I think that even for the business community in the city, they’re thinking about with the — resilience of our business centers in the centers and how they would be affected by future storms both in terms of funding and then also how workers can get to and from work so I think that there’s some practical lessons that we talked about in terms of transportation choices that would be interesting — say interesting issues to bring to the attention of,  certain audiences in the city that are thinking about —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — how to make sure that the city is functioning even when —

Q: Yeah.

A: — bad storms hit.

Q: And what about kind of, you know, the issues of let’s say inequality so, like after the storm clearly people who live further out need to work downtown, you know, the effect based on your income can be pretty dramatic on — in terms of the transit.  Is that, did inequality — does that seem like that was an issue that the storm kind of exacerbated or was this like an on-going problem, you don’t see it having changed too much?

A: Well there’s no denying that NYCHA has its belts on the Rockaways and in Staten Island’s got hit devastatingly hard and that they’re also — they’ve been the slowest to recover.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: It doesn’t seem that NYCHA had much of a plan in place to alert people about the storm or to help people prepare for or deal with the —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — system that’s here afterwards.  I haven’t seen the transportation data on where people live and work —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — in general, most New Yorkers live and work in the same borough.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: And what means to me is that surface transportation is — is very important and so buses and safe biking and walking is important whether there’s a storm or not.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: Again I don’t know how people, how — how people in lower income neighborhoods affected by the storms were impacted in terms of getting to work or not.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: What they — I don’t know if you’ve come across that data or if there’s any anecdotal stories on that and stuff.

Q: The hard data I haven’t seen.  The stuff that was coming out after that I — that had sort of struck me was basically, you know, if you were holed up in your home for a few days and you were paid by the hour because you were a wage worker, that’s a pretty bit hit to your paycheck, right?

A: It is.

Q: Whereas if you’re, you know, a salaried employee at a kind of larger firm —

A: Right.

Q: — I wouldn’t say larger firm, if you have a better job basically, you know, you miss a few days everybody understands.  It’s not going to affect your ability, to pay the bills, that sort of thing.

A: Yeah, so — so that has to do with how many transportation options you have —

Q: Yep.

A: — depending on where you do go to work and it also has to do with how fast buildings come back on line and there’s stories about big NYCHA high rises whose elevators were out for weeks —

Q: Yeah.

A: — afterwards and people living on like the 17th floor —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — of a building were without an elevator.  And I — I couldn’t even imagine what I would do if — if I was in that situation —

Q: Yeah.

A: — to get to work every day.  It’s untenable.

Q: Yeah.

A: And so in a situation like that it certainly is — is a disproportionate impact on people.

Q: Uh-hum.  And so, you know, I was wondering like what kind of organization — , I’m sure TA isn’t like a lot of some coalitions but are there some partner organizations that you see as really kind of key to your mission?

A: We work with so many different groups.  We work with a real variety. non-profits and businesses and elected officials, community boards, , faith based groups.  I — I —  it’s —  the civic kind of construction of New York is really rich and I think that what is most important are people who are smart and able to partner to come up with plans that eventually —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — involve a lot of people and serve a lot of people so then you can have a lot of hands on deck to help make something happen and to, , serve that to as many people as possible.

Q: Uh-hum.  And have you guys been focusing more on public transit than you maybe started out?  Like my sense was that it — that I — I’d always heard of it kind of as by reputation basically like a bike — a bike oriented organization but from talking to you and, , reading what’s on the website, it seems there’s more of a transit focus —

A: Yeah and —

Q: — in that respect.

A: — this — is our 40th anniversary this year.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: And our roots certainly are in bike riding but TA was formed out of the environmental movement in the mid-70’s and that was also a time that gave us the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — we’ve worked on traffic safety and transit issues and bicycling issues, , throughout the entire history of the organization.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: And bike riders are awesome activists.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: And because their experience every day in traffic is up close and they have a very intimate sense of how streets work or don’t in the city.

Q: Yeah.

A: But with eight million transit riders in New York, there is a huge political power.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: And everybody who swipes their metro card —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — and everybody else who walks around, on a daily basis is bullied in the crosswalk or, , sees speeding traffic or people running red lights,  and it effects all of us.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: And, , so it’s — so it’s, , not an insignificant issue, traffic safety.  You know, traffic is the number one cause of preventable deaths for kids in New York City —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — and the number two cause for their grandparents.  And traffic deaths are all preventable.  We know what causes them and that means that we can come up with plans to stop them from happening.  And it’s become a very important for TA in recent years.

Q: The traffic safety?

A: Uh-hum.

Q: Yeah, well I mean certainly as someone who — who bikes a lot I think there was a time when I probably would have been, if I had more money a lot of therapists could have done pretty well just from like the rage that it kind of —

A: Right.

Q: — induces.  But I think I’m a little more settled now.  But it, you know, I was also reading — I read a couple of interviews where you sort of talked about how having had a bike accident you — you kind of became more of a transit user afterwards —

A: Uh-hum.

Q: — and it just kind of changed — changed your awareness.  This was all before TA or did, I mean is this — do you see that connection kind of between that and TA stuff, like more integrated approach?

A: In — in my own personal awareness?

Q: I mean that so — so that now the way that you describe it, it sounds like, you know, very clear that you’re — the — the idea is to have like a number — a number of options —

A: Uh-hum.

Q: — but that might not be so obvious if you tend to spend most of your time doing — doing one or the other.

A: You mean getting around in one way or another?

Q: Exactly.  And then seeing the — the need as to create kind of not to really focus on making one better but to kind of have just like always — to always have multiple choices?

A: Right.  Oh that’s interesting.  I don’t know — I don’t know if its American frame of mind that transportation in America is monolithic —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — and, and in most parts of the country transportation equals driving —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — and that means that anytime you think about going from A to B you — there’s — there’s only way to do it —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — and that’s driving so we’re not in — it’s, it’s not a cultural norm to think about transportation choices.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: And New York and other cities across the country in the last, two decades or so have invested more in transportation choices for different reasons over the years but what’s — I think what’s permeating the zeitgeist now is a change in American, I mean like in urban values and norms to say that transportation is not monolithic as —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — , people had believed for decades that before that and — and there is — there are a number of — more than one way to get from A to B and that having more than one way to get from A to B is a very good thing.

Q: I mean do you think — does this differ like does this differ according to kind of class, I mean it seems like, do you feel like it’s something like Sandy’s aftermath as well, you know, the options if you have more in terms of, you know, driving or taking a cab like it the — the — the way that the transit system is resilient will — will depend on kind of the resources that you have, so how many options are there, right?

A: Yeah, that’s an interesting questions and what we — we haven’t dug into is looking at the relationship between income class and transportation choices and, it would also be interesting to look at that relationship and like any public service like the relationship between —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — income and class and like education choices or —

Q: Yeah.

A: — food choices, I mean there’s — actually there’s great research in New York City showing that lower income neighborhoods typically have less access to fresh healthy food —

Q: Yeah.

A: — called food deserts.  And we’re — we’re — and so we’re starting to look a little bit at a similar thing with transportation.  I think it would be a fascinating issue to dig into because one thing that’s interesting is that most transportation choices in New York City are not that expensive.

Q: Yeah.

A: You know biking, walking, taking the bus, taking the subway, all relatively affordable for most of us and, even like taking a cab or a car service once in a while is — is pretty attainable.  So except on the very edges where costs isn’t — I’m — I’m just hypothesizing —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — but if on the very edges if cost is not an issue, what are the other factors related to income and class that do affect how many transportation choices a community has?

Q: Uh-hum.

A: Because it would be an interesting question to try — to try to get out.

Q: Yeah.  I guess with the shift, like just a bit more of the sort of more macro politics, I mean, in the state of the state address Cuomo talked about climate change —

A: Uh-hum.

Q: — and this kind of green bank idea.  I mean do you see the state as being now maybe like the — the main kind of growth area for sustainable funding — sorry funding for sustainable transit?

A: Well I didn’t hear the state of the state but in generally speaking the — the state is what funds the MTA.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: The Governor holds the purse strings to the transit system.  The MTA can’t create its own taxes or fees to raise more money, it has to balance its budget by law and then to do that it can do two things.  It can raise the fares and tolls and it can cut service.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: So to make it more resilient and to really make our transit system more green and environmentally friendly it does take investment and that investment has to come from the Governor.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: So it is always good to hear his leadership on that —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — and I think people are eager to see where he takes it what ideas he puts forward to increase funding for the system.

Q: Uh-hum.  Yeah, and in PlaNYC there was an idea that you could, you know, the congestion charge —

A: Uh-hum.

Q: — didn’t quite work out but there’s probably, sign of it at the state level.  I mean is there a sense now that maybe that’s some — that’s that kind of thing could be — could try that again or,  —

A: That’s right.

Q: — you see failure and now meant to kind of kill that idea for a while and they need to look at other options.

A: I mean since PlaNCY road pricing has come back three times and it’ll — it’ll happen eventually.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: It’s a matter of leadership.

Q: I mean do — do you see that as kind of a key part of the — as sort of the transit — the future — the future of transit?

A: I don’t know what the Governor is thinking about — about — I’m — the — whatever it is the — they system, I forget the exact number, it’s like five billion or eight billion dollars short on the capital budget and,  the operating budget is also very tight so, the — the need for money is very great and there are a lot of different ways to come up with sustainable funding for the system.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: So we don’t want to be overly prescriptive —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — and in that end, if we want to do is look to the Governor for leadership and make sure that he puts together, the best minds to come up with a good plan that’s going to just continue and provide the funding that the system needs.

Q: Uh-hum.  And in terms of the city so with the mayoral election coming and after Sandy, I mean are there key things that you’re looking for — for candidates that you’ll — you’ll be asking them to kind of make commitments on?

A: Yeah first is to just continue expanding Select Bus service which is the city’s bus driver transit system. In terms of transit service that’s the one part that the city has direct control over.  It’s a partnership between the city DOT which is run by the mayor and the MTA which is run by the governor.

Q: Yeah.

A: And Select Bus has really proven to be a very successful initiative.  It’s bus speeds.  I think its increased bus speeds between 8 and 20 percent depending on the line.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: These projects can be implemented in about 2 years and the neighborhoods where — that are underserved by transit, getting a Select Bus system up and running in two years is a blink of an eye compared to the 80 years that it takes to build a subway —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — , a subway tunnel and get subway — subway running.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: It’s also much more cost effective to put in bus rapid transit.  We think that the — that the city could get these systems up and running even faster than two years.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: They do a lot of community outreach which is good.  The planning also is just a little slow so, taking,  on average putting up one system every two years is — is too slow and I think the next mayor could set a goal of say putting up two systems every two years —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: —  , average one a year even faster than that because with the growth of the population and the job growth that coming back to the city, bus service is going to be more important than ever, especially since jobs are moving out Manhattan —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — and the subway system is essentially designed to move people in and out of Manhattan but what about people who work in Willows Point, Queens or people who work at Hunts Point or central Brooklyn —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — how are they going to get there from, if you — if you say you live in Sunset Park and you work in Brooklyn Hospital–

Q: Yeah.

A: — which is in Flatbush, how do you get from here to there?  I don’t see if I could go into that and it’s kind of crazy so — so bus rapid transit and it’s like bus service are really critical to just keeping peoples’ commutes sane and — and giving people,  connecting people to jobs and opportunity and — and providing them access and, , it’s directly within the — the mayor’s control so in terms of the next administration that’s very important —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — initiative to improve.

Q: Yeah so that would kind of a key — I mean you’re happy with the bike lane situations and the city growing?

A: Yeah and so, in relation to — I was thinking in relation to Sandy but —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — there’s, we want to know where the next mayor and the next city council are going to, where they want bike lanes.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: Biking is rapidly increasing in New York City. More and more people are riding.  Public opinion is very much in support of bicycling.  Bike Share is coming online this year and so you’re going to have another monumental increase in bike ridership coming to the city.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: So city hall needs to really keep pace and continue to serve New Yorkers who are recently wanting to get around the city on two wheels, whether it’s biking to work or just for neighborhood trips and enjoyment with our families.  So, continue to expand a network of protected bike lanes around the city is — is critical as well.

Q: Great.  So, are there questions I didn’t ask or issues that you think are important to the kind of, transit or TA with respect to Sandy or anything else that came up?

A: It’s been — I mean a lot of what we do I — I don’t, I guess I’d be curious if you see connections to Sandy but, in terms of all the traffic safety work that’s happening here —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — whether it’s better policy investigation of traffic crashes and more targeted police enforcement or things like 20 mile an hour neighborhood zones and safe streets for seniors, safe routes to school, you —  that — I think that those are critically important to New York City, I don’t know how much they have to do with Sandy or not.  I think there’s a connection that you — that you’re– you’re looking to draw there and I’m just kind of mentioning some of our other top line issues.

Q: Uh-hum.  Yeah well, from our perspective especially looking, reading stuff that’s written in this kind of sociology of climate change, I sort of feel that, it seems a lot of main — one issue with climate politics is that it tends to be seen as both very abstract and kind of narrow but, not connected — not very closely connected to peoples everyday life.  And so one of the things I like — I wonder about in my research and things I could do journalistically to write about how can you kind of basically like assert the connection between climate politics and some of these — some of these other realms of life and it seems that like in issues of like transit, housing, anything to do with kind of like kind of better, denser living in a way that’s — that’s fair is — is potentially a way of bringing — bringing closer to home like the various different things that are connected to climate changes.  Why is it important to deal with it?  How, it’s not such like a gigantic leap to be involved in climate politics —

A: Uh-hum.

Q: — because so many of the things that — that would be good for climate politics are more or less kind of happening anyways or are like on the table in a pretty concrete way?

A: One thing that I think about is that during crises, it’s — there’s this interesting body of research emerging showing that closer knit, stronger communities are more resilient to crises –

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — and survive crises better.

Q: Yeah.

A: And the classic example that I most recently read in The New Yorker was about the heat wave in Chicago from a few years ago —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — and did you see that story?

Q: Yeah actually that’s — that — the guy who wrote it Eric Klinenberg he’s the Director of the Institute —

A: Okay.

Q: — which we’re a part of.

 

A: So — so — so the way that I think about that example of transfer to Transportation Alternatives issues and storms like Sandy and climate change is that so — so — so, if the thesis is that stronger knit communities are more resilient and they’re more resilient to cataclysmic events.  And so there are a lot of ways to make communities stronger.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: And I would put forward that things like better public space, more — streets that are more friendly for walking, biking —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: —  more pedestrian friendly neighborhoods.   neighborhoods where the public realm invites people to walk down the street, where people of all ages can be out and enjoy it and , experience it whether they’re walking or biking or on the bus, in the, in the mix of their neighborhoods, makes communities stronger.  And so the more we have better public space with pedestrian plazas and traffic calming through bike lanes and speed bumps and 20 mile an hour speed limits, , the more we invite people out onto the street to just experience their neighborhoods in person —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — to be around their neighborhood — neighbors, to get to know their neighbors and build relationships with them.  And so by, , these, , transportation focus policies that are looking at affecting the public realm, I would hypothesize that those do make communities stronger and tighter knit and that that would also serve the purpose of making them more resilient to —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — future storms.  That would be an interesting thing to look at.

Q: Yeah definitely.  It also, I think it implies thinking about yeah, transit as a something — transit you — you can’t measure that in terms of like how long does it take for a bus to come or how many people slow down on a bike, these things are obviously important but it implies like a broader idea of what the outcome is right, of like a more public oriented transit system.

A: Oh and you could also — if you looked at the percent, the modes split in the percentage of a population that gets around by transit.

Q: Yeah.

A: , that’s — that’s the outcome of more frequent bus service,  and — and better train service.  If you have high quality bus service a lot of people take the bus, right?

Q: Yeah.

A: And if you have shitty bus service, nobody takes the bus and then —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — the agencies say well nobody takes the bus so nothing can help service.

Q: Yeah.

A: Like no one ever takes the bus because the bus service sucks.

Q: Yeah.

A: So, so — so,  by improving transit service and you’d get more people taking public transit and they’re in that public space of being around other people —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — may — it might be interesting to look at like, in a place like New York we have very high transit usage and — and to compare it, and then take some measurement of kind of like the, of — of — of how tight knit a community is —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — and relate that to a place where there’s low transit ridership and see how that correlates to how tight knit that community is.

Q: Uh-hum.  That’s interesting. I thought I’d just ask Eric, , because a lot of this stuff is based — he did this big study in Chicago after the heat wave —

A: Uh-hum, yeah.

Q: — and so he did this comparison of these two neighborhoods and I wonder if he — I wonder if he remembers — he’s from Chicago if he has a sense of whether the transit use is also different there.

A: Yeah.  It’s — yeah Chicago has pretty decent transit use.

Q: But it can depend, like I don’t know about — I’ve — I’ve never been there.  But I think of Toronto there just, there are neighborhoods that I mean like, I don’t — they’re not just connected with other ones.

A: Yeah.

Q: And that the more downtown ones are now gentrifying more to that, there’s like streetcars everywhere —

A: Right.

Q: — so can get around pretty easily.

A: And so — so take New York, Staten Island has the lowest transit use of any borough and its Staten Island where it seems like it’s been the slowest to — to recover from Sandy.

Q: Uh-hum.

A: There was a news report that I heard two weeks ago where this guy was saying that he was living in a tent with a heater because he didn’t — he still didn’t have heat —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — since the storm.   it’s very anecdotal but , is that a coincidence that in the neighborhood that is the most,  car centric, most auto centric —

Q: Uh-hum.

A: — neighborhood with the lowest share of public transit ridership and biking and,  and has been the longest to recover from the storm.

Q: Uh-hum.  I think — I worry that the whole electric car idea is a — is a major missed opportunity dealing with climate change.  And then there’s also these — these schemes now which I think are getting pretty popular in environmental community to do a kind of carbon like a tax — carbon tax but in dividend than is — instead of the government investing it in sustainability, just kind refund it by kind of like equal checks to everyone.  Which, as a populist move that kind of makes sense but like if you live in a poorly connected exurban or suburban community you can’t, people getting checks is not going to create a transit system or retrofit their — it’s just not going to create is a sustainable neighborhood so it seems like it’s like a major miss to raise the money that you could use to kind of really change the built environment and then just instead give it — give it to people which is like the last thing you can do individually with dollars is like change the built environment.

A: Right.

Q: It has such a big effect, so.

A: That’s why leadership is so important.

Q: Yeah absolutely.  Great, well thanks a ton.

A: Yeah, this was a very good talking and good luck with this.

Q: Thank you.

[Tape off]

 

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