The Day the Traffic Stopped

Despite Mayor Bloomberg’s best efforts, one of the city’s most important quality-of-life issues is terrible and getting worse—we’re talking about traffic. The failure to get congestion pricing passed in Albany—thanks to the reliably unprincipled Shelly Silver—does not absolve the city and state from confronting a challenge that threatens to become a crisis as the city’s population grows by a million residents over the next 25 years.

You don’t have to wait 25 years, however, to see how clogged streets are having a negative impact on the daily lives of New Yorkers. Even on the weekends, large areas of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens grind to gridlock. And during the week, it can easily take 45 minutes to get crosstown by car or taxi during business hours. The culprits are easy to spot: double-parked cars and trucks that go unticketed; trucks blocking the box at intersections; and general chaos wherever Con Edison or Verizon decide to open a manhole.

It’s not just New Yorkers who pay the price. Business travelers, foreign dignitaries and tourists are all stuck in traffic, their good impressions of the city marred by the high cost in taxi fares, aggravation and lost business hours. And at a time when tourism from overseas is booming, the last thing the city wants is those tourists not coming back because they spent their holiday weekend sitting in traffic and inhaling bus fumes.

While it’s unlikely Mr. Bloomberg will make another run at congestion pricing in the remainder of his term, there’s a lot that can be done. Double-parking can be cut down by aggressively towing cars and trucks from midtown streets. Blocking the box should be punished by heavy fines—if not handed out in person, then mailed to offenders after a photo is taken of the license plate. The price on our parking meters and muni-boxes should, at the very least, be doubled—as it stands now, the $1-an-hour, $1.50-an-hour amounts seriously underprice the value of a parking space. The idea that someone can park all day for less than $10 on a Manhattan street is absurd.

Things are no better below ground. Subway cars and stations have gotten grimier, and subway service is plagued by unannounced service changes and delays. (You may have noticed that on the weekends, Brooklyn subway service essentially shuts down—without much explanation or concern emanating from New York City Transit employees.) We’d like to see the mayor convene a meeting with the M.T.A.’s executive director, Lee Sander; New York City Transit’s president, Howard Roberts; the commissioner of the city’s Department of Transportation, Janette Sadik-Khan; and representatives of Senators Schumer and Clinton to come up with a plan to crack down on bureaucratic waste and stop the downward slide in service, cleanliness and communication. For example, it was reported this week that New York City Transit spent $1 billion installing new elevators and escalators which often spend more time being repaired than actually working. Does anyone need to ask why fares keep increasing?

A world-class city deserves a world-class transportation system, allowing the free flow of traffic and people above and below ground. The Day the Traffic Stopped