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A Conversation with Lou Riccio

Discussion about the transportation planning with former NYC D.O.T. Commissioner Lou Riccio.

<br> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[intro music]</font> <br> </p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Lou Riccio</i>: [00:07] New York has to really think about what kind of city it wants to be in 10, 20, 30 years, and it can’t think about that without having a really solid comprehensive plan for transportation. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Lou Riccio:</i> [00:30] The link between growth and transportation is inextricable. It’s just the most important thing for a city to understand that if you want to grow, and if you’re not growing, you’re dying, you know, if you want to grow, you need to understand transportation, you need to plan for it.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Mark Gorton:</i> [00:50] When you were DOT Commissioner, what are… like who are you answering to?</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Lou Riccio:</i> [00:54] You can’t ignore the fact that we are in a political arena. The Commissioner lives in that political arena. You report to a Mayor who gets elected, and then there are lots of other politicians. Secondly, you’re in a media intensive arena, and that’s pluses… there’s pluses and minus about that, that we need the media to get the message out, it’s the best way, but you’re also at risk cos the media has their own interest and their own concerns. While I was Transportation Commissioner I, I came to the conclusion that I was not Transportation Commissioner but I was Commissioner of the Department of Transportation. I also realised that I’m not… I wasn’t sure if DOT was a effective organisation, not because the people weren’t good and not because they weren’t doing a good job, but it was a holding company. It was an amalgam of different agencies, Parking Violations Bureau, which was really a debt collection and adjudication, where traffic agents who really law enforcement, or highways and bridges which were professional engineering and construction operation. And we had Staten Island ferry and private buses, which was mass transit. Then we had some planning. And I always believed, still do, that planning, transportation planning should be part of City Planning. That the Commissioner of Transportation should be a Commissioner on the City Planning Commission. I would strengthen the hand of City Planning in making all plans, and I would make the Chairman of the City Planning Commissioner Deputy Mayor, reporting directly to the Mayor. And all of those planners would be working on a beautiful city, making New York City the most liveable, most economically viable city in the world. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Mark Gorton:</i> [02:26] Let’s even talk about Time Square cos it’s a very specific example. I mean right now you have a situation that where people are spilling off the sidewalks into the street. I mean the physical mass of humans can’t fit on the sidewalks all the time. And yet not all the cars can fit there either. So currently who makes the decision as to how space gets allocated in Time Square?</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Lou Riccio:</i> [02:44] Well part of that is DOT and part of it is City Planning and part of it is the local community, certainly it’s always better when the local community comes forward with…</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Mark Gorton:</i> [02:54] Well I know it’s forward with the… again, I know Tim Tompkins who runs the Business Improvement District Business and other, I mean they really have been pushing, you know, a much more progressive pedestrian oriented plan, and they’ve been getting a lot of pushback from DOT. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Lou Riccio:</i> [03:11] Well I think it’s… there’s balances that have to be done. I hope they keep pushing. There are two business areas, Time Square and Harold Square, hearts of New York City’s economic engine. What the business community said, we need more space for people, and this is a wonderful opportunity for New York City to move more aggressively in that area. And we’ve seen a few up Time Square where you can see where they have narrowed the number of lanes, more people walk around. But there’s more they can do. If you’re make incremental changes and you take a lane this year and you wait a few years you take another lane, or not that… a decade, and a decade can happen pretty quickly. All of a sudden you have this wonderful vibrant alive place where people want to be, and people will drive their cars and park it some place, use mass transit and come to that place, because it’s alive, it’s alive with people, it’s alive with activities, it’s alive restaurants, theatre, art, shopping. Other cities recognise them. Other places, even in America, shut down, shut down certain roadways either permanently or, or at certain times of the day. Lincoln Road I believe it’s called in Miami, in South Beach, it’s shut down. It was a depressed business community which had nothing going for it. They shut it down and now it’s one of the most lively exciting places to be. They got rid of cars. Businesses came out in the street and it’s full of life. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Mark Gorton:</i> [04:38] These ideas, taking a little bit of road space and make it into a public space for people to enjoy. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Lou Riccio:</i> [04:43] How about the stretch of Broadway, from Time Square to Harold Square, what if you shut it down? What if you made it just one lane for taxis and buses, you know, and trucks doing deliveries? Who would live there? People would want to live… you can have restaurants come out there at night. You know businesses, they have restaurants at night.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Mark Gorton:</i> [05:01] You talk to a lot of people, they’re… I mean I think most people who don’t spend their whole life thinking about this, think New York’s a big city, it’s got a lot of traffic, what are you going to do?</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Lou Riccio:</i> [05:09] New York City’s no longer an industrial town, we’re a thinking town. And so we’re attracting thinking people. What do they want? They want a beautiful city or they want a comfortable life for their families, they want a place where their kids can go to school, and they want a safe place to get around. So our transportation thinking should be part of a beautiful city thinking. We need to radically shift the way from dependency on the automobile, rethinking our street space. How do we use that street space? 30% of New York’s land area is street space, how do we use it? Are we going to dedicate it to just the cars? The automobile is very inefficient, sucking down one of the most precious natural resources we have, we sell it less for the price of coca cola, and then we burn it, and not only do we burn it, we burn it inefficiently, so we ruin the air and probably the whole global environment. We have to stop that. Clearly we have to stop doing that and move to smarter strategies, strategies that are not only smart for transportation and environment, but are the future of the growth of our city, we have to recognise this city has not grown in 50 years. When I was Transportation Commissioner I looked at where were the holes for transportation. Where were the gaps in mass transit? Why were people in Queens and Brooklyn and Staten Island using their cars? 60% of the vehicles that come across the East River Bridges are coming from within the city. If we want to… if we want to stop people from driving into the city, but encourage more people to come in, we have to provide them with mass transit. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Lou Riccio:</i> [06:37] Four East River Bridges were all built before the automobile. They were all built as mass transit bridges. There were great, great engineering accomplishments for the purpose of moving people. Every train ride will carry ten times as many people as every lane of traffic. When I was Commissioner I proposed that we return the bridges to mass transit, the East River Bridges, and that I ordered my engineers to, in the rebuilding of the East River Bridges, make sure that they’re built solid enough rebuilt so that if future generations decide to put trains back on there, they’ll have the capability of doing that. And I hope that the future generations will consider that. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Mark Gorton:</i> [07:17] You know I actually… I saw a really interesting statistic about… on the exact same thing. It showed different eras in time and the loads that those bridges were carrying. And the peak eras were in the ‘20’s or something. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Lou Riccio:</i> [07:29] It’s cos they… somebody had the bright idea, well let’s get the trains off there and put cars on there and we could bring more people to Manhattan. And clearly as they did that, the amount of people coming into Manhattan went down and down. They still carry incredible amount of people. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Mark Gorton:</i> [07:41] Yeah. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Lou Riccio:</i> [07:41] But not nearly what they could bring. The business community has recognised this now, which is I think a big breakthrough. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Mark Gorton:</i> [07:48] There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of thinking about the effects of congestion. There are people who are professional traffic engineers who seem like they were trained in these techniques of how to move as much traffic as possible. It seems like they have an enormous policy impact on just, you know, how the streets are used in the city.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Lou Riccio:</i> [08:06] Yeah. I wouldn’t put all the onus on the well-trained and well motivated traffic engineers. But like I said, they are called traffic engineers for a reason. They have studied, and they’ve studied well and there is a science, on one hand, yes we need to radical think it. The radical thinking like London is that we’re going to just stop this business of having cars here or if you’re going to drive here, you’re going to pay. Or Shanghai, it just says, well we’re going to grow, we’re going to build our mass transit, we’re going to double our mass transit system. If you put tolls on the East River Bridges and congestion pricing in other parts, could create another source of funds to make transportation financially independent. So the unfortunate reality, there’s a lot of misinformation that if we had a gasoline tax this would be bad. And the reality of gasoline tax, or congestion pricing tax, has been shown throughout the world these are positive things. Every now and then take some real leadership to do some great radical things that are the smart things to do. We have the examples around the world. It’s time to try some of them. And one of the really outrageous things is that it’s… people believe that it’s acceptable to drive fast and badly and change lanes and challenge pedestrians and… and run red lights or stop signs. And that behaviour has to stop, and how do you stop that? Well my idea was we create safety zones. Little zones where you’re told you’re entering a safety zone, all traffic regulations are strictly enforced. You will behave. That if people didn’t behave properly, they would get a ticket. The object is not to give tickets, the object is to get people to behave. My hope is that future Commissioners will take that idea and expand it. And to the point people know I’m entering New York City, I have to behave properly and drive respectfully of pedestrians and other motorists. </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Mark Gorton:</i> [09:55] But there was a while where New York just seemed like, you know, there was graffiti on subway trains, that’s the way it was going to be, like it was a big tough city. And the same thing with… New York City’s resources is supposed to be dirty cos that’s the way it was. But these were solvable problems, and people solved them. And I think a lot of people today think about traffic, well, New York’s a big city, people drive like crazy, that’s just sort of the New York way of driving. But it doesn’t have to be that way.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Lou Riccio:</i> [10:18] It certainly doesn’t have to be. These are solvable problems. Other cities have solved them, and New York City has made progress in many areas, but it needs to be aggressive, particularly I think in the safety area.</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <a href="http://transcriptdivas.ca/transcription-canada/">Transcript Divas Transcription Canada </a>
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