Transit in New York: Green and Getting Greener

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority for New York State just unveiled a remarkable report, Greening Mass Transit & Metro Regions. It's the product of a Blue Ribbon Commission chaired by Jonathan Rose, an NRDC board member and President of the Rose Companies, a company that manages top-notch green development projects. Jonathan was joined by other friends from the fields of transportation and the environment, including Ashok Gupta of NRDC (my boss), Emil Frankel of the Bipartisan Policy Center and Janette Sadik-Kahn of the New York City Department of Transportation.

Many of the concepts in this remarkable report would yield improvements in transit service, energy-efficiency and environmental quality for the New York City region, and metro regions across the country should adopt similar ones. While I urge you to take at look at the nearly 100 in the report, these recommendations really stood out for me:

  • Capture 2/3 of all new vehicle miles traveled (VMT) generated in the region through 2030;
  • Promote clustered development throughout the region, seeking to draw 2/3 of new development to within 1/4-mile to 1/2-mile of transit access;
  • Draw 80 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050;
  • Adopt Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver standards where possible, and develop new green design guidelines based on LEED where this is not possible;
  • Develop a climate-adaptation decision matrix to identify options for protecting infrastructure; and
  • Test and implement weight-reduction and regenerative braking technologies.

I saw the last recommendation in action on Copenhagen's Metro trains last fall, and the energy savings are substantial. And the first two are particularly noteworthy for other transportation agencies. I think all agencies should set lofty goals to get the competitive juices flowing, generating innovations that help shift traffic from cars to public transportation, and I think all agencies should realize that land development and transportation are de facto linked and so policy should also be linked by setting objectives for driving development with public transportation investments.

Last but not least, with this report MTA goes on record favoring strong federal policy, including calls for:

  • A $1 trillion green stimulus bill;
  • Authorizing and reforming transportation policy for 2010-2015 with a total of $1 trillion of investments;
  • Requiring greenhouse gas reductions by adapting California's new S.B. 375 law to the federal level;
  • Raising the federal gas tax 40 cents over five years and then shifting to mileage-based user fees; and
  • Establishing a carbon emissions avoidance market and dedicating 25 percent of revenues to transit.

All in all, this report is worth a read, and it's thoughtful insights and recommendations are worth serious consideration, both by metropolitan regions and by federal policymakers.