Staten Islanders talk about transportation a lot. After all, we have to be somewhere, and soon – or preferably half an hour ago! Some things we talk (and complain) about appear to be common sense and common knowledge, because we hear them on the evening news or from politicians. But they turn out to be simply not true. So here are three common myths about New York transportation priorities, conflicts, and costs, and the facts hiding behind them.
Myth: We can’t afford bike lanes because there are all these potholes we need to fill.
Fact: Spending for bike lanes comes mostly in the form of federal grants, and is about 1% as large as the NYC Department of Transportation road paving budget. According to the Gothamist, in 2011 $190 million was budgeted for paving and pothole repair. The entire first four years of the bike lane program (2007-2011) cost the city only $2 million. They are not competing priorities because of the vastly larger expense (and amount of labor) needed for repaving compared to painting bike lanes, and because they exist in different departments within DOT. (For the record, the total 2012 DOT budget is $832 million).
Bike lanes may in fact reduce repaving costs and save the city money. Compared to the automobile, a bicycle with a rider does virtually no damage to the street, so a person who switched from driving to biking is reducing his or her impact on the roadway.
Myth: Adding bus or bike lanes to a road means less space for cars.
Fact: Not all road space is created equal. Sometimes narrowing a street improves traffic flow by making it more visually coherent and simpler for drivers to navigate. Other times there is simply extra room that cars can’t use because of a bottleneck elsewhere. Often a street is viewed as busy even though it can support many more vehicles – traffic flow is a non-linear phenomenon. All kinds of places have recently added bike or bus lanes and found that traffic flows the same, or better, as when more space was available for cars.
Above all, people on bikes and bus passengers take up much less space per person than motorists. Adding special lanes for those modes usually leads to more people using them, and fewer people driving – which actually frees up more space for cars.
Myth: Metered parking is bad for business.
Fact: Small businesses like restaurants and grocery stores thrive on customer turnover – many people going in and doing their thing and then coming out and making space for other customers. Curbside parking that is free or too cheap discourages customers from visiting stores on a busy shopping street, because parking becomes hard to find. People linger in their cars or just leave them parked while doing errands outside of the shopping area or going home or to work, “feeding the meter” to stay beyond the allowable time. Encouraging parking turnover by raising meter rates, like is done in the city’s experimental PARK Smart program, may have a positive impact on businesses as it allows visitors to find parking near where they want to shop or dine. It also reduces traffic as fewer people drive around looking for parking.
As it happens, bus and bike lanes may not only help reduce traffic congestion, but also improve the desirability of a commercial area, increasing the number of customers and the income of the merchants.