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Unsustainable: Traffic 2018

New York is facing its most serious transportation challenge in decades.

Subway reliability is way down, and the bus system is shedding riders at an alarming rate. And because transit is so unreliable, today New York is accommodating growth in cars, in the form of the tens of thousands of Uber and Lyft vehicles we now find on our streets each day.

It's difficult to even list all the reasons why shifting transportation growth into cars in New York City is a bad thing. Choking the economy with congestion, safety concerns, making slow bus service even worse, poorer air quality - you name it.

For our latest Streetfilm, we spoke with leaders in New York's transportation, labor and business communities to get their take on this alarming trend - a problem "screaming for a solution."

Clarence Eckerson Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • Larry Littlefield

    We may be going back to the old pattern -- subway ridership only increases when there is no other choice, because traffic is so bad, and bus ridership declines continually.

    That's what it was in the 1970s and 1980s, into the 1990s. When the economy was down, auto share went up, because it was easier to drive. As it expanded first more people drove until traffic got bad, and then subway ridership went up.

  • Wild Bill Transit

    True. But also we had "room" on the subways back then. Now we are running packed trains that sometimes are a complete horror in the morning. So moving to transit is going to be harder unless we start making our bus system more efficient and charge drivers their fair share to make transit more efficient.

  • Vooch

    Marty Golden is still loose on the streets of NYC

  • Vooch

    For the pittance of $100 million - NYC could have a Dutch level network of PBLs. This would immediately increase mobility for millions of New Yorkers.

  • RGD

    I would think that a large number of Uber and Lyft drivers would be on the road anyway, even without Uber and Lyft. This is because it is extremely difficult to make enough money to cover much more than the cost of one's car while working for Uber. I have seen numbers.

    Whether Uber or Lyft are helpful really depends on whether the drivers would drive even without Uber or Lyft. Judging from the way Uber advertises, the company doesn't intend for people to drive for Uber as their sole or even primary means of income: they recruit people with the slogan "Hustle on the side." If this reflects a large percentage of their drivers, while they are not completely wonderful, they are substantially better from a cities' perspective than people driving themselves.

    However, most articles assume that Uber Drivers are trying to make the majority of their money (if not all of it) through Uber, or that Uber has automated them away. This makes no financial sense, and it was not the company's intention. This situation is rather bleak for cities. There is a silver lining, but it's not much consolation: if riders elect to use UberPool or LyftLine type services, they can be more efficient at moving people than an equivalent number of taxicabs.

    New York City's roads are already so congested I find it really difficult to imagine anyone choosing to drive, even if the subway has been having difficulty of late. It has never really made that much sense in much of New York City. Chances are, people feel forced into it.

    If it is of any consolation of you, while absolute driving mileage may have increased, looking at the number of miles driven per person tells a different story: the number of miles driven per person per year in the US has been declining since 1995, and the percentage of the population licensed to drive ages 15-50 has been declining since 1983. If it looks bleak, just give it a little bit of time.

    The trend is stronger amongst men: amongst the younger age groups, a lower percentage of men are licensed to drive. That is way different from the traditional trend, which is that a greater proportion of men were licensed to drive than women.

  • RGD

    Your point, of course, still stands: New York City does need street redesigning and investment in Mass Transit, of course.

  • SPQR

    Didn't the de Blasio administration conduct a study early on that said Uber and Lyft cars wouldn't worsen traffic? What a joke!!