Talking Transportation with Bob Kiley
Cicala Films provided us with the raw interview they shot of Bob Kiley for "Contested Streets" and we went and excerpted some great soundbites that will make transportation geeks happy and also educate those who want to know more about congestion pricing, what's going on in London, and how it all relates to New York City.
From 2001 to '06, Mr. Kiley served as the Commissioner of Transport for London, the public organization entrusted with maintaining London's public transportation network.
Bob Kiley: [00:00] Streets are the lifeblood, the arteries if you will of the urban body so to speak. So the nature of the streets, how they’re used, how they’re regulated, how those regulations are enforced, how people are encouraged who might not otherwise think of the streets being friendly to use them more aggressively, cyclists for example, or walkers, are important questions for us. So there’s only a limited amount of road space. London is not thinking about building any new roads for a long time to come, so what’s here has to be exploited in a much more creative effective fashion.
Bob Kiley: [00:51] Well for a long time the automobile has been the priority for almost every major urban centre. It’s starting to change. It’s changing here. But only someone very naïve or foolish would say that the automobile is in second place. What’s really important is that the automobile has a certain place in the scheme of things and that the smart and intelligent automobile user actually gets a break. For example, we introduced something called congestion charging here in London which was designed to traffic flows into the centre of the city, as well as to reduce congestion. Congestion is down as a result of that, it’s now two and a half years since it was introduced by some 30%, and traffic flows are down 15%, which is a boon to those who must drive. Now of course those who must drive are paying a £5 charge to get into the city, I think of $9 in the United States for a similar arrangement. And, but it’s… when you stop and think about parking charges, the cost of gasoline in Britain, cost of simply maintaining your car, that’s not such a great amount of money, but it does add to the list of things that automobile payers have to pay. Cycling is on the increase here. It’s more than doubled number of cyclists since I arrived here about four and a half years ago. We’re trying to encourage walking and most people… walking is by far the most popular mode in London. London is a walkable city. There are lots of things to see. Most people of course walk because they have a destination in mind and things to do, they shop, they go to appointments, they go to work. And London is situated in a way where it is possible to walk. Now it’s not always the friendliest city to pedestrians and that we’re worrying about and trying to concentrate on. We will probably be changing the signalling system, the traffic signals, in London at some point. That’s an expensive proposition but we’ve begun the process of studying just exactly how that would be done and we’ve been very mindful of pedestrians as we go about that because there are lots of things that you can do with new technology that couldn’t have been done, say, 20 years ago with traffic signals.
Bob Kiley: [03:30] Well I would say that most business people when they’re surveyed about what it is they would like to see work better, and this is true not only in London but elsewhere, they will mention transportation in… among the top three problems that are a concern to them. And for obvious reasons, if people are having trouble getting to the area where your business is, then you’re not going to have a business very long. So transportation is absolutely critical to most businesses. It’s especially critical for most retailers, or people who render services to a large number of people. Now the question of how do businesses like you get to their places of business, I think most of them would say, any way you can is okay with us, as long as no particular way is hamstrung or bridled in a way that is difficult to do. So an agency like the one I work for is always trying to strike the balance to ensure that no way of getting to a business, either if you’re going there to work or to shop or to avail yourself of the business and services, is so disadvantaged in striking the balance that people actually stop doing it, whatever it happens to be, whether it’s using the automobile, walking or using public transportation. Now there are situations, such as the congestion charge, where congestion and traffic flows were getting to be so intense that in our view businesses were actually being hurt by that. So it made sense for there to be a constraint on automobile travel. There are other cases, take Trafalgar Square here, where Trafalgar Square from my point of view when I first arrived here was a traffic nightmare. And so we undertook a project to basically pedestrianise probably 80% of Trafalgar Square, which is a very large area of land right in the centre of London. There’s still some traffic that actually passes through one part of Trafalgar Square, but basically the part of Trafalgar Square that most people think about is now free of automobiles and is a pedestrian haven.
Bob Kiley: [06:10] But yes, you could take any important gathering point, or potential gathering point, in New York, whether it’s in Midtown or Downtown, and you could introduce constraints into how you get to the place that would make it much better for pedestrians. There have been discussions in the past about trying to make Midtown Manhattan during certain hours at least much more difficult for cars to enter and traverse, a form a congestion charging if you will. And road pricing has been talked about in New York City, that is pricing the central arteries in Manhattan for example, which are the north/south thoroughfares, according to time of day or according to amount of congestion or according to the kind of vehicle that’s been driven, or all three. You can do… the technology is excellent now and that enables you to do all these things, and we’re trying to take advantage of it here. I mean the easy pass in New York City, it started in New York City, it’s now been extended to about 12 or 13 States, is actually… was an early form of exactly this kind of approach. It was designed in the first instance to make it easier to get through the tunnels and over the bridges. But now that same technology can be used for things like congestion charging and road pricing. There’s no reason why that technology can’t be extended for use in congestion charging or road pricing, in other words, to help control traffic. The best way to think about this is, is technology now finally has a place in traffic management so that you’re not just reliant on traffic cops and others who… human beings who try to do the best they can to control traffic. Technology can do a heck of a job. Between overhead satellite technology and the so-called tag and beacon technology which is what the easy pass is, and the use of cameras, you can do a lot to manage traffic, which is what I think people want. Whatever downside there is has to do with privacy and the abuse of information that’s collected, but those are issues which I think can be worked out and are not reasons why you shouldn’t do it.
Bob Kiley: [08:44]
I think between the City DOT, the State DOT and the MTA, and the Port
Authority, we shouldn’t forget about the Port Authority, that those
four agencies working together can figure out how to do this.
They might create a coordinating group that would have a strong leader
that would be endowed with enough power by both the City and the State
to get the job done. I don’t think it means that you have to
have radical structural change for this to happen. In fact I think
that would probably be a mistake because we know how long it takes for
things like that to happen. Somewhere near to forever I think.
I think it’s better to take an idea that people will recognise is
long overdue and say, at least we want to start by not making a hash
out of the existing institutional arrangements, we’ll work with them
and within them and provide some strong political leadership to make
sure these things get done. If I were working with the Mayor of
New York, whoever that might be, I would want to concentrate very much
on this question of serious traffic management using good technology,
and trying to keep the automobile in proper perspective. Meaning
that you have to continue to invest in public transportation, and I
get the sense that there’s been a certain flagging and waning in that
respect in New York City in the last couple of years, at both the State
and the City level. And that… if that… if we repeat the cycle
that led up to the 1980’s disaster in New York City by neglecting
to invest in the fundamental infrastructure of the city, which includes
the road network as well as public transportation, then shame of us
for not learning from history. I’m not assuming that’s going
to happen, but the very first thing I would do is to really tackle this
question of congestion and traffic jams, which drive everyone crazy.
Secondly, I think I would really concentrate on making New York City
a much more walkable city. That means widening sidewalks.
That means pedestrian crossings that are clearly marked and easy for
pedestrians to navigate and very, very, very strong enforcement of that
so that the fines for jumping red lights, for crossing on amber lights
by automobiles, and for that matter cyclists or motorcyclists, are very
strong indeed, they’re not now, they’re huge, so that you don’t
make the same mistake twice if you’re driving a vehicle. I think
going into the schools and encouraging people to use cycles, bicycles,
giving people… you know there are a lot of people, a lot of adults
don’t know how to ride bicycles, and it’s not so hard to learn,
and the city could make bicycle training a possibility. We’re
doing it here, and it really works. We’re training people all
the time. I think we have 18 Boroughs now that are cooperating
with us in cycling training. And the statistics in the early are
going suggest that 80% of the people who take that training actually
end up cycling as a regular practice. So there are a lot of things
like this that can be done. So widening the sidewalks, making
sure that the streets are well cared for, ensuring that the traffic
signalling system is conscious of pedestrians and cyclists, as well
as automobiles. I actually think that New York City does a fairly
decent job of that already, and London has something to learn from New
York City in that respect. So I don’t think it’s doing more
of the same in New York City because I think there’s a question of
really coming to grips with the automobile, not just in Manhattan, but
in the outer Boroughs is pretty long overdue.