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Herbert London
Idle in Manhattan « Back to Story

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The author is right on message, although we may disagree on certain infrastructure strategies, being anti-car is silly, certainly
folks use mass transit to fulfill a need, but drivers have a need to, and the agenda outside of manhattan needs to be on hold, cars benefit folks who love outside manhattan simply but those who cannot afford time to do shopping at grocery 1, and then take the uptown train the next day to pick up 2 tools for that remodeling project, and then grocery store 2, etc

The subway system was designed to be manhattan centric midtown and downtown, not upper east and west side back and forth .

Bikes cannot carry truckloads of goods, multiple passengers, and such especially in bad weather, folks who use bikes would rather use mass transit not cars which they may or may not own,

Sometimes the easiest solutions are the most hard for politicians, consider parking, why not allow folks to park near train stations with dedicated lots on the mta, surely bloomberg's anti-car agenda will block it leading to more congestion, highways have not been built in decades in new york city, sidestreets are used.

Do trains go to nyu medical center , no
trains do not cover many parts of manhattan.

Obviously manhattan is different from much of suburban america, but problems are not limited to it, in parts of brooklyn/queens
nearer even in places like flushing , its hard to park, sometimes zoning does more harm than good, take the upper east side,
zoning is too late, and does more harm,
it has not saved the upper east side, just created short buildings that look out of place, rather we could build rooftop garages and basement garages around outer boroughs and subways in manhattan.
you can't possibly be serious with this article.
James C. Walker.

Most New Yorkers don't even own a car. What is mystifying is why most of us stand for the current state of giving nearly all of our public space away for free to drivers and parkers.

Further, in the U.S., highways only pay for about 65% of their costs through user fees. The rest comes from taxpayer subsidy, including from those who do not drive.

It does make sense that you'd append your nonsense to this opinion piece that consists largely of nonsense. So bravo to you for that.
Anti-car measures almost always tend to make things worse, for everyone. What is so mystifying is why the public ever stands for it, since virtually all of us drive and are negatively affected by anti-car measures and scams that siphon off part of our fuel taxes to pay for under-used public transit boondoggles where the user fees don't come close to paying the real costs. Our organization supports the road USERS, the people that pay for the roads with our taxes, and that is virtually all of us. Take a look and maybe you will join us to work for rational and fair results for the motorists - all of us. James C. Walker, National Motorists Association,, Ann Arbor, MI
Wow - not one citation to a legitimate data source. Do all "senior fellows" have the privilege of writing screeds without any substantiation?
This is the state of academic discourse from the Manhattan Institute these days? Perhaps Mr. London would be better suited to writing editorials for the NY Post, which is one of only two sources he cites. This article ignores facts, distorts truths, and uses hearsay as evidence. This paper wouldn't meet high school academic standards.
Charles Komanoff demolishes this essay over on Streetsblog:

I commute by bike up First Avenue every day around 9:30 AM, passing through that very intersection, and I can confirm that it is simply not possible to count only two bicycles in an entire hour (unless maybe your count was on New Year's Day!). Normally you get at least many in a matter of minutes. This alleged "count" is plainly a flat-out, self-serving lie -- one of several in this ridiculous article. Contrary to your claims, the bike lanes are full of people other than delivery carriers, and they have not increased traffic congestion; recent statistics show that traffic speeds are up in Manhattan. You are pushing out fact-free propaganda, which is pretty shameful coming from someone who professes to be a scholar.
Over the last four years I've seen every conservative institution descend into intellectual bankruptcy. It is dismaying to see the tide of triteness reach City Journal. Where to begin ? I personally have found that traffic is much improved around midtown Manhattan. For me it's become much easier to traverse the area uptown, downtown or crosstown. That's because I am part of the vast majority that traverses the area by foot. Thanks to Bloomberg and Sadik-Khan, I can walk through there without running a gauntlet of slower people and being tackled by faster people, and without being forced onto the roadway by the crush of humanity filling the sidewalks.
This article has just two links, which I guess count as citations in the writer's mind. One is a New York 1 news report and the other is an article from the New York Post.

Neither rise to the level of academic research and one is laughably biased against all things Bloomberg. Apparently, London is as well, which can only explain why he abandoned logic in reason while writing this drivel.
So, let me get your logic straight:

Buckley's campaign platform was a failure simply because it never took hold of the popular consciousness, but Robert Moses' radical restructuring of the city's streetscape, complete division of once-united neighborhoods, and total bulldozing of blocks and blocks of buildings to make way for highways was a success, simply because they set in motion a pattern that would exist for the next 50+ years, leaving current and future New Yorkers to still deal with the consequences. Never mind the historical context or that Buckley's ideas failed at a time when the entire country was going mad for the automobile and had not yet fully realized the consequences of rebuilding cities for automobiles; for London it boils down to whether or not everyone who wants to drive a private automobile through limited public space, can do so as easily as possible.

Is that the value London espouses? It's not facts, data, or free-market solutions, but, "That's the way it's always been and shall always be."
Know what's causing congestion? Too many cars! One would think that City Journal would support market-driven solutions, aka road pricing. And would refrain from publishing such blatantly misguided, ill-informed, and fact-devoid nonsense.
Who wrote this: a high schooler? It's all unsubstantiated generalizations:
- "Any EMT driver..."
- "Most bicyclists..."
- "...wherever bike lanes or pedestrian plazas exist..."

...and on and on and on. Can Mr. London take an essay class at NYU? Or is this article just an excuse to re-hash the tired perspective of a graying populace unwilling to accept that the auto-centric world they engineered 40 years ago is unsustainable and unravelling?
Ghost of Robert Moses September 29, 2011 at 10:44 AM
Like a lot of men of his generation, all rational, fact-based thought simply seems to stop when it comes to discussion of the automobile and urban policy.

As a starting point for this conversation, let's keep in mind that Herbert's generation devastated U.S. cities with their highways, road widenings, suburban sprawl and urban renewal schemes. These are men who love cars and hate cities. These are men whose ideas and public works have produced endless traffic congestion, horn-honking, an obese, car-dependent population, climate change, massive dependence on a vast supply of foreign oil and 40,000 fatalities a year. Their ideas have been proven again and again to have failed. Yet, here is Old Herbert London, making the same tired old arguments from the mid-1960s with no facts, no evidence, no citation.
Wow, that article was completely fact-free! Maybe you should have your vision prescription checked. There are bike-traffic jams in the bike lanes near Houston street during rush hour. Also, cars cause traffic jams, not bikes--lets see the anger directed at the right people. Car congestion is intense on every major road in NYC, and mid-town is most chaotic at intersections where drivers turn across multiple lanes and block the box because there aren't turning bays, a feature of most mid-town bike lanes. It is a well established fact that auto traffic only increases with road capacity, along with externalities like pollution, danger, noise, subsidies and costs; but there is no reduction in travel times. You yourself point to intractable traffic problems 60 years ago, so the solution isn't to wind the clock back, it is to get more people out of cars.
"most New Yorkers resent the usurpation of road space" ? not according to three recent Quinnipiac polls.

the actual data-- city bike counts-- reveal that many bicyclists are using those lanes, and the numbers are rapidly increasing.

this is factless drivel.
Ok -- congestion pricing is just another horrid tax on the tax-burdened middle class. Let's apply that logic to bridge tolls, which surely you must agree is another grossly unfair tax on hard-working people. After all, driving your car on first class infrastructure like suspension bridges and well-paved city streets with elaborate stop light and pedestrian crossing systems is nothing anyone should actually PAY for, but rather, a divine right due all citizens for free! So imagine we take this view to its logical end, and eliminate ALL fees for driving into and around Manhattan. Do you actually think that would IMPROVE traffic in the city?

Of course not: more drivers would stream in, increasing traffic, polluting the air for the majority of New Yorkers who don't drive, and further stressing that infrastructure that the rest of us support with our tax money.

Congestion pricing is the ultimate free market solution to traffic problems: if you want to use it, pay for it. If you don't, don't. The majority benefits, as do those willing to pay, since fewer cars would mean faster crosstown trips, the be-all-end-all of traffic policy, as framed by Herbert London!

As it is, Mr. London wants 2 things that stand in conflict: he wants more freedom to drive in Manhattan (with no congestion pricing or pesky bike lanes or pedestrian plazas) AND he wants to drive faster through the city. Amazing that he doesn't see the problem there.

And finally: double parked cars and trucks do a heck of a lot more to gum up traffic in the city than bike lanes, which occupy less than 1% of the city's designated street space. But I'm sure Mr. London has an argument for why delivery trucks should be free to gum up the streets without penalty -- after all, they're not bicycles!!!
Ironically, the easiest way to get across town is by bicycle.

This, despite most of the space being taken up by people driving machinery that's too big for urban areas getting in the way.
This is riddled through and through with statements that are thoruoughly untrue!

One by one, here are JUST the ones I know of; I'm sure there are more:

1. "The bike paths, or so the thinking went, would encourage more people to ride bicycles to work, thus lessening traffic." This was NOT the thinking. NYC knew full well that overwhelmingly, bike commuters are people who would otherwise take transit, not drive. The main thinking behind the bike lanes was safety.

2. "Car congestion is intense wherever bike lanes or pedestrian plazas exist." "Wherever?" Are you completely crazy, or just a liar? That is complete and total fabrication. Times Square and Herald Square may be congested (as they always were). In many places across the city with bike lanes/ped plazas, the same thing applies; in others, car congestion simply is NOT intense. In fact, just for starters, look at Broadway BETWEEN Times Square and Herald Square--both areas and the space between have both bike lanes and ped plaza--and there is NO traffic congestion, even during rush hour. And there are dozens of other counterexamples.

3. "In reducing space for cars, the bicycle lanes have caused even worse traffic delays than before." Made up. It is unfortunate that somoene as educated as London subscribes to the utterly debunked mob-myth that car traffic follows the same physics as water falling. Water when it's path is blocked, goes down the nearest path of less resistance. TRAFFIC DOES NOT DO THAT. Morons have to stop propagating that myth.

4. "As for the pedestrian plazas . . . more often their chairs stand empty." A patent LIE. I pass SIX of them every weekday at rush hour (and often also in the middle of the day) and they are mostly FULL. And who gives a F what percentage of them are tourists? (Not that London knows that data.)

5. "most New Yorkers resent the usurpation of road space." Completely contradicted by actual opinion polls, that have been, you know, actually DONE.

6. "at First Avenue, where both sides of the street have bicycle lanes" An utter LIE.

Also, how many bike commuters do you EXPECT to see as far downtown as Allen St. from 5:00 to 5:30? You would have seen a lot more if you had watched from 5:30 to 6:00 or 6:00 to 6:30. Or watched at a spot in one of the BUSINESS districts, you moron!

1-6 above are only the claims that I know facts contradict. There are other claims that I believe are false (e.g., that London retailers don't like congestion pricing--I believe they are actually doing better because of it, because of better foot traffic), but I don't have the facts in front of me to directly contradict them.

It is a shame when someone with credentials as impressive as London's pontificates publicly about something he knows little about.
Where is the data? Where is the research? If you had actually done any you'd realize the number of outright falsehoods in this article. You first start out with a straw man: the idea that the goal of complete streets is primarily to speed up traffic. Not true. I live on the East Side of Manhattan, and I can tell you for the safety of my family and myself, I don't want traffic to move any faster than it does currently. Over 200 New Yorkers a year are killed by automobiles. Do we really want more speeding cars in our neighborhoods?

Complete streets make the city safer first and foremost. Data shows that injuries to pedestrians on 8th Avenue have plummeted by nearly 40% since the protected lanes were put in place. And that's just one aspect of the entire rationale behind complete streets. Something else the City Journal fails to note, which is surprising given its NeoCon leanings: whenever traffic subsides in a given area of Manhattan during busy times, new users -- cabs, delivery trucks, out-of-town drivers -- rush in to take advantage. In other words, it's a free market for open space. The result is that traffic abatements during peak usage times are always short-lived. The bigger problem of traffic in Manhattan is that it's an 8-mile long island with millions of people and extremely dense development. There will NEVER be a scenario under which traffic moves quickly at peak usage times in that environment. If your goal is to get traffic moving in Manhattan, the only solution is congestion pricing, since the only thing that will speed traffic is fewer cars. The free marketeers at City Journal should be the first to realize this. But anti-bike lane fervor apparently trumps your other idealogical fixations. But the bigger point is that "faster traffic" is not only a pipe dream in Manhattan, but not at all the point of complete streets.
Traffic congestion can be compared to a Soviet bread line, where people endure shortages of the desired good whose price is capped. As all non-communist societies understand, market pricing is how you eliminate those lines by matching supply with demand. Some will not be able to afford the higher prices, but an efficient market economy makes alternatives available. Market-based congestion pricing would guarantee users access to a clear road, while creating incentives to use transit, or to live closer to work. It also creates the demand and a source of revenue for the city to expand transit and make it more efficient. Why these basic economic laws are smugly ridiculed whenever a car is involved is beyond me, but they certainly have no basis in reason. Just like the unnamed London retailers, there are communists in Moscow who still demand price caps; that doesn't make the sentiment any less ignorant. Drivers who say congestion fees are a rip-off are literally saying a clear road has no value to them. And that - not bike lanes or pedestrian plazas - is the reason you're stuck in traffic.
This is one of the most ignorant pieces City Journal has ever published. Where are the facts? Where is the data? Who says the Bloomberg Administration's transportation and urban planning goal is "to control traffic?" Can you show us a citation Herbert? My understanding is that Bloomberg's DOT is executing its "Sustainable Streets" strategic plan and that plan involves much more than "controlling" traffic... whatever that means. By the way, Herbert: I stood at the corner of Bergen Street and Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn the other day and counted more cyclists using the street than cars. But I realize this does not make for a valid sample or study.
Why should moving cars quickly through a city full of pedestrians be the top priority of government? What of the hundreds of thousands of city residents who do not own cars, and are in fact inconvenienced and imperiled on a daily basis by the unchecked need for speed of automobiles? And what of the millions of outer-borough and suburban transit commuters who are inevitably also pedestrians at some point in their trip?

And please check your facts - while congestion has not been greatly alleviated, NYCDOT figures show that travel speeds by Midtown pedestrian plazas have actually improved, albeit very slightly. Furthermore, census figures reveal that very few outer borough residents actually drive in to Manhattan for work, and to suggest otherwise is simply populist propaganda.
I cycle past Allen St and Houston and then 1st Ave and 30th St every single weekday. I'll wave next time. 1st Ave only has bike lines on the left side, not both sides. The right side has a bus lane, but I don't think you use those either so your ignorance is understandable.
Manhattan has subways and commuter rail galore, in addition to plenty of bus lines. In short, there is absolutely no rational reason to travel by private car around Manhattan. Those who insist on doing so have no right to complain about congestion. Cars have an disproportionate amount of street space relative to the small numbers of people who actually travel by car. If anything, Manhattan should devote a lot more space to both pedestrians and cyclists, even if it comes at the expense of space for autos. Better yet, ban personal autos and taxis from Manhattan altogether so as to let delivery vehicles, buses, and emergency vehicles complete their rounds without delay. Personal cars are superfluous given the myriad of other transportation options. Sorry, but NYC just wasn't designed for the car. Giving 90% of the street space to a mode used by under 10% is unfair any way you look at it. I'm glad JSK is trying to restore some balance to the streets but in my opinion we should go a lot further.
What an insight survey, I love your site.

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Typical - some people don't let facts get in the way of what is perceived as a good idea. My own experience with bike lanes in New York is similar to the author - rarely used, and those bikes that are out and about, aren't using the bike lanes. But, getting rid of these things is going to be impossible - who would be against such a good (though actually terrible) idea?

There are so many outright lies in this article that I don't even know where to start.

Yes, cars in midtown are often stuck in gridlock, but they all have one thing in common: they are going crosstown. I challenge you to find a car stuck in gridlock at, say, 50th and Broadway during morning rush hour. I am there every day and can frequently cross Broadway against the light with ease because there are no cars approaching for a block or two. Seventh has more traffic but to call it "gridlock" is a farce. Traffic moves pretty smoothly until about 44th or 45th, and that is because at that point YOU ARE IN TIMES SQUARE. Any road configuration there would be slow, unless you want all of the attractions there to shut down to disperse the crowds that gather there.

The issue is, as it always has been, crosstown traffic. And the changes to Broadway have IMPROVED crosstown travel times in the vicinity. The strategy you mention but dismiss without any discussion, let alone evidence--eliminating Broadway conflicts--has actually been effective.

"it is also virtually impossible to travel north-south without having to change your route to avoid obstacles." - Lie. Get in a cab during rush hour and go to a point that is both up/downtown and crosstown. Tell me which direction causes you to sit in traffic. If you do get stalled on an avenue I can almost guarantee it isn't because of a bike and the likely culprits are either double parked trucks or drivers who cannot figure out where they want to turn.

"Most bicyclists in Manhattan are delivery carriers," - Lie, at least during daylight hours. And even if it was true, why shouldn't we want to speed delivery of important documents and goods? Many of the city's businesses rely on couriers for intra-city delivery, and the city's restaurant and catering delivery people could not do their jobs as efficiently without bikes.

"and most New Yorkers resent the usurpation of road space." - Lie.

As for your anecdotal evidence of bike lanes not being used, it is exactly that, anecdotal. I have seen plenty of people using the First and Second Avenue lanes in the 30s, including around NYU Hospital. On the subject of First and Houston, may I point out that Houston Street remains, relatively speaking, a death trap for cyclists? To steal your "Ask any..." phrasing, ask any cyclist what they think of Houston Street.

As a final point, I want to add that what often gets forgotten in these silly driver vs. cyclist rants is that the vast majority of New Yorkers (as well as tourists) using the city streets are doing so as pedestrians. And as a pedestrian, the pedestrian plazas and bike lanes are a welcome improvement to the streets of New York.
895,000 people enter central London during the morning peak by rail versus 70,000 by private car, so I'm mystified as to why you say "commuters have learned to live with [congestion pricing], but grudgingly" -- it doesn't affect the vast majority of London commuters.

You also write that "Janette Sadik-Khan [...] continues to argue that the bike lanes are popular, but the claim doesn’t seem to square with observation." Check out Quinnipiac (66% support) or Marist (59%).
So you're essentially saying the car is king and other forms are transit are inferior? Biking in Manhattan is no easy feat and even with bike lines there's often stopped cars, obstacles and any number of other items in them. With the bikeshare program coming into existence the numbers of bicyclists is about to rise significantly. If someone is really fed up with Manhattan traffic there are numerous way to take public transit into the city and avoid it all to begin with.
The mayor is reluctant to admit that his efforts to control traffic have failed because they haven't. The streets are less congested and business along the pedestrian plazas is booming. This is all just fear-mongering and incorrect assumptions and conclusions. I wouldn't expect anything less from the City Journal.
What a bunch of unsubstantiated assertions and fallacies. "Car congestion is intense wherever bike lanes or pedestrian plazas exist." Guess what, the same is true of places with no bike lanes or plazas! The real question is whether things got better or worse after adding the bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and data from actual studies (not two isolated observations like yours) show improvement. Of course, unless you believe the conspiracy theories about the DOT. And did your imaginary EMT friend have fond memories of the traffic in Times Sq. before the plaza? I didn't think so.

The pedestrian plaza in Times Square has been a huge success. Lots of pedestrians use it; it has increased tourism to the area and it has been good for business. The value of commercial real estate has skyrocketed.

As for the bikes, again actual data shows huge increases in ridership in the last few years. Look it up. Contrary to your two isolated observations, I see lots of cyclists every day, and a minority appear to be delivery men. Most just appear to be commuting.

Finally, to answer the question at the beginning of your essay: the easiest (or at least the fastest) way of getting across town is by bike!
Congestion pricing has not failed in London. Air quality has improved, traffic is busy but manageable, there has been a huge investment in public transport and people have shifted onto it. Some sort of control on vehicle use (and eventually ownership) is part of the future of all large cities. There is however a very voluble and successful transport lobby, whose case this article makes eloquently, that argues that people should be able to drive (and park) wherever and whenever they like. This is good populist politics, but not much of a plan. Of course central London retailers are hostile. Essentially they believe that customers should be able to drive to their store's front door, park there, browse and drive off again. However they are unwilling to pay anything close to the real cost of this. Its a matter of fact that, apart from the transport lobby (which includes emergency services), the loudest opposition to traffic management comes from kerb front retailers who rely on car borne business - the kind of customer that pulls into and parks in a bus lane during the morning rush, gets his cigarettes and newspaper and causes a 3-5 mile tailback on a busy trunk road because the buses, taxis and emergency vehicles have been forced out into the main traffic lane to get past - this is not a sustainable business model.
What can I say? Congestion pricing definitely failed in London and it is an elitist regressive plan, similar to Bloomberg himself who really shows no concern for the middle-class, and, Sadik-Kahn's/ Bloomberg's bike lanes are essentially a failure given the amount of real estate the bike lanes have commandeered. Both Bloomberg and Sadik-Kahn are power nuts that need to be crunched!
I left NYC [Manhattan] forever in 1957. Even then there was talk of banning all autos from that borough, forever. It ought to have been done then. Except of course for emergency vehicles, and limos for UN delegates, of course of course. One inciting reason for our departure was that I had grown sensitive to terrible vibes, and sleep, even in a quiet apartment on 85th Street and then near Riverside Drive on 100th Street, was difficult. Subliminal but disturbing. I think it was Coriolanus who remarked, there is a world elsewhere....
Ah well....

Roy, simply observe Manhattan traffic. Better yet, try to traverse the city by car. Driving in Manhattan is the stuff of nightmares. Changing lanes is a risk to the bumper; detours for construction or street fairs abound; cars and trucks are double or triple parked because there is no other option; all slow everything down to a crawl. For an aging out-of-towner for whom a pedestrian visit requires weeks or months of training and a careful choice of shoes, not only traffic, but parking as a serious expense of any visit makes New York a decreasingly desirable vacation destination. For our last visit, parking cost nearly as much as the hotels.
I will vote for any mayoral candidate who promises to put it all back the way it was.

Spurious reasoning from a shoddy analysis.