Recent MTA announcement of fare hikes made millions of New Yorkers upset. The timing could not be worse. The fare hikes are going to put an additional burden on many New Yorkers who are hardly coping with the consequences of the current economic crisis. Instead of attempting to resolve the issue, the state government in Albany imposes additional stress by raising road and bridge tolls and proposing a $1 surcharge for every taxi ride. It looks like the government does not understand the situation and obviously has no long-term plans to resolve it.
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The problem itself is multidimensional. First, there is an energy crisis with oil prices hitting the record high of $145.29 per barrel on July 3, 2008. Second, there is an environmental crisis with enormous CO2 emissions in NYC. According to the NYC report on greenhouse gas emissions, citywide CO2 emissions in 2007 were 58 million metric tons, with 28% contributed by vehicles and mass transit. Third, there is a healthcare crisis: 3.2 million New Yorkers are overweight or obese, which is directly related to insufficient physical activity and high-calorie food, according to the 2005 report of NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Obesity causes heart diseases, diabetes, cancer and stroke, and worsens asthma, arthritis and other conditions. Finally, there is a transportation crisis accompanied by large fare and toll hikes. On May 31, 2009 MTA plans to cut services and push fares. One subway or bus ride will cost $2.50 instead of $2. Tolls will significantly increase as well.
In my opinion, these four crises can and should be addressed together. We can build a comprehensive bicycling infrastructure for daily commute in NYC and launch a campaign that will promote bicycling as a cheap, environmentally-friendly, and healthy mode of transportation. There are a number of successful examples in Europe. Back in the 1970s, the oil crisis and the increased number of vehicles brought about a major challenge for many Western-European cities. To overcome this challenge, they started building comprehensive bicycling infrastructures including special lanes, traffic lights, and parking lots. The leading country was the Netherlands. The results speak for themselves. Most members of the Dutch household own at least one bicycle and use it for daily commute and recreation. In 2001, almost 25% of daily trips in urban areas of the Netherlands were made by bicycle compared to only 0.7% in the U.S. According to the current health data of Organization for Co-operation and Development (OECD), only 10% of Dutch population is either overweight or obese in contrast to the alarming 30% for the U.S. population. By the way, our country ranks #1 in this list of most obese developed countries.
Now is the perfect time for NYC to adopt such a bicycling policy. There is already a strong foundation of non-profit organizations, such as “Bike New York”, that promote bicycling and organize large bicycle marathons. Bicycles are now more affordable than ever. One can buy a folding bike for less than $150 in Walmart. In contrast, one monthly MetroCard will cost $103 starting with May 31, 2009. NYC is one of the densest cities in the world with most of the daily commute destinations being within a short distance. A bicycle is a faster, flexible and more practical mode of transportation, considering the wait times at bus and train stations and traffic jams that are associated with mass transit and vehicles. A folding bicycle can be put inside a bag; it does not require a large storage or special parking place, and can easily be taken into the office, bus or train. A bicycle is obviously an environmentally-friendly mode of transportation simply because it does not emit any CO2, other than as a result of breathing. Bicycling is a great way to exercise and lose weight, keeping in mind that many New Yorkers either do not have enough time to go to the gym or cannot afford it. Bicycling will definitely help to dramatically reduce the number of passengers using buses and trains, especially during rush hours. Fewer vehicles will get on the roads resulting in less traffic. The transportation infrastructure will be less damaged and require less maintenance, which, in its turn, will require less taxpayers’ money.
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