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issue 7 winter 07-08


Editor-in-Chief Seth Berliner Illustrator/Art Director Elle Marrone

Letter from the Editor Rhapsody’s focus in this issue is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC. PlaNYC is a comprehensive plan to make the city more environmentally friendly and better equipped to provide its growing population with a livable space. In one word, those goals are called “sustainability.” In Rhapsody, you’ll find three PlaNYC pieces: transportation, housing, and open space. In those pieces, the authors express their support for the objectives and also pose a question: Will PlaNYC’s goals be achieved? The goals are attainable, according to Tom, Emma, and Dave; the question is whether New York City will achieve them. And that is the central question of sustainability. Few doubt humanity can live and build sustainably if our will to do so prevails. Will it? -Seth Berliner, Editor-in-Chief

Secretary Elizabeth Case Treasurer Susannah Dyen Publicity Director Ian MacTavish Associate Editors Elizabeth Case Gitanjali Dadlani Emma Jacobs Keerthi Malladi Contributing Writers Elizabeth Case Rain Che Bian Elle Marrone David Vega-Barachowitz Emma Jacobs Tom Breen Contributing Photographer Ian MacTavish

Printed by Art Communication Systems All content © 2007-2008, Rhapsody and contributors


the Columbia and Barnard Urban Journal Winter 2007-08 Issue 7

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The City of Lights or The Big Apple: Thoughts on transportation in two of the world’s leading cities

Elizabeth Case

A Beginner’s Guide to Eating Ethiopian

Rain Che Bian

Rhapsody Features PlaNYC

Open Space Housing Transit

15 6 17

Dave Vega-Barachowitz Emma Jacobs Tom Breen

Local Trends

On the Broadway Catwalk: the Bandana

Elle Marrone

Uptown, Get Down: Harlem’s Dances

Elle Marrone




ig A B e h T r ts o


of L y t i C e h T

tion sporta cities n a r t g n leadin ghts o Thou he world’s of t in two ase

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anhattan’s chief advantage over Paris is not its culture, nor is it the diverse people you can meet here. It is the subway system’s twenty-four hour schedule. If you and your friends decide to go out drink-

and at 2 A.M. on weekends. What an inconvenience! On the other hand, that Manhattan trip requires at least one transfer, which can mean a long walk and a longer wait. A French student traveling from Clignancourt to Tolbiac—both university campuses—has a number of transfers to make before reaching his destination, but the

Weekend schedules in New York are messes of times, numbers, and letters. ing in the East Village, a measly $2 will get you across town and back up to Columbia in a short thirty minutes. A similar situation on the Champs Élysées in Paris would cost about thirty euros and a long wait in the taxi line, because the Paris Metro closes at midnight during the week

Parisian Metro makes transfers quick and easy. On the almost-directly North-South voyage, the fastest way to get to the destination is actually to transfer trains twice. In Manhattan, a similar trip would just involve a hop onto the 1 train. While both New York and Paris are transporta-

tion-based, each city’s system has its own advantages and pitfalls. Historically, the cities and their transit systems developed quite differently. The organization of the two train systems is a function of the growth of the cities themselves: Paris, centrally oriented and circular; and Manhattan, long and skinny, with several central hubs. In New York, the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 called for everything above 14th Street to be on a grid plan, which organized the island and implemented a pattern of vertical expansion. Since the island’s shape calls for vertical attention and not much in the horizontal direction, it lacks crosstown services. Paris was not designed so simply. In the 1100s, King Philippe Auguste built the first wall around the city, demarcating the first of several concentric circles. Because of population increases, Paris has sprouted modern outgrowth, while the ancient city center has been preserved to be much like it was during the Middle Ages. In modern times, a need for efficient travel options within and between the different sections of the city became evident. Continued on page 5

Flushing Ian MacTavish

Winter 07-08




Paris developed a system operated on a radial axis, which has proven to be an efficient mode of peoplemoving. In Europe, moreover, the car fetish never took hold as it did in the U.S., and the French government strongly encourages a cleaner, less energydependent ethos. In addition, France’s transportation department has more money at its disposal due to much higher tax rates. Manhattan’s expansion was more haphazard, planned in an ad hoc fashion by private enterprises as the southern areas of the island became overpopulated. As trains grew crowded in the 1920s, the New York City Transit Commission had received a proposal to expand the subways by more than 100 miles. Had it succeeded, that plan would have provided subway service within a half-mile of any city doorstep. But after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the 438 million-dollar plans were out the window and the New York subway system has had no completed extensions since 1934. That lack of updates is partly the fault of the American car culture that began with Ford’s simple and affordable automobile and lead to uncontrollable sprawl into the hinterlands. The car culture also drove ridership down and disinvesment up, a cycle that continues to this day. So, while the USA may be concerned about the energy crisis, the majority of our cities are not prepared to rely on public transportation systems, and the transportation systems are not ready either. Still, though Paris is ahead of the Big Apple in some ways, New York is home to the best subway system in the United States. However, in New York, a city driven by efficiency, the transportation system is rarely on time. The MTA has been making improvements to ease the nerves of travelers by announcing the status of train arrivals. In addition, the L trains are on the first line to have the CBTC, a system that transfers control of the trains to a computer on board. This new addition will reduce traffic problems and keep trains on time by putting them on a digitally controlled schedule. And yet even where it is improving, New York lags behind Paris. The newest addition to the Pari-


On the Broadway Catwalk: the Bandana

Elle Marrone New York Recycles! Yes, it certainly does and nothing is

sian Metro, Line 14, better known as the Météor (Métro Est-Ouest Rapide), is the first fully automated line. Inaugurated in October 1998, the Line 14 was the first new Metro line in sixty-three years, featuring clear glass platform doors to prevent suicides and accidents. The driverless 14 is smoothest of the Paris trains, and even looks attractive. New York’s L line also has another new piece of subway technology that is old news for Parisians: train-arrival message boards. However exciting the new timers may be for New Yorkers, Paris was ahead of New York from the birth of the Metro. The Vice President of the Musées des Transports of Paris said the Metro has always had pendules; in the beginning, the station manager stood on the platform and announced train arrivals verbally. Now, in almost every Metro station, there is a digital screen counting down the minutes until the next train arrives—on a regular day, trains arrive at two-minute intervals—and indicating traffic delays and nightly closings. But timers are of limited use if you’re late to the platform. How many times have you seen the screen tell you: “Please swipe again at this turnstile?” In Paris, the Navigo has nearly eliminated those problems. Introduced in 2001,

better to demonstrate this trend than New York fashion, emphatically displayed on Broadway between Houston and Canal Streets. Sustainable developers would do well taking lessons from the newest urban craze: the bandana. Who brought it back? Contrary to the ecological fantasy, it was not NYC’s Department of Sanitation. Nor was it the man who brought back sexy (when did that leave, by the way?), though Timberlake wears a silk bandana around his face, from the nose down, on his album spread for FutureSex/LoveSounds. Maybe it was Paris Hilton’s dog Tinkerbell. Or was it the Metrosexual (or the Fab Five that created him)? Or it could have crept in with ‘80s fashion on the head of Axl Rose. Today, the bandana serves multi-functional purposes in New York City. One, it can protect against harmful particles, and dusty or smoggy air (think cowboys in the West). Two, as the temperatures drop, a bandanna is a weak scarf—better something than nothing. Three, handkerchiefs have been used by bboys protecting their skulls when spinning on the floor. Four, lending a hankie to a crying maiden shows your sensitive side. And five, they’re hot, homeboy! Fashion is not simple utility (take that, Frank Lloyd Wright!). Recently inducted into New York’s non-verbal urban language, the bandana stands for young, alternative culture. As properly placed accessories (where is proper is still under debate without a clear victor; see T.I., Pharrell, and Kanye West for more information), they are part of rap’s new sophisticlassy look. When draped out of the back pants pocket, the bandanna is a less-aggressive allusion to the 1990s West Coast gang scene. A diagonal fold and tied at the back of the neck could mean “hipster” (young gentrifiers who move into inner-city neighborhoods in large numbers and establish their own isolated, “indie” culture). With that being said, speak carefully! Now that you have the power, use it wisely! Elle is a Columbia senior

Winter 07-08




the Navigo contains an electronic chip instead of the

finicky magnetic strip that often causes problems in New York. It is the same size as a credit card and is designed to be waved at a sensor installed at the platform gates. Navigo carriers even have a reserved turnstile, while New York riders often get stuck behind that guy who is swiping his card upside down. In addition to the swipe issue, on an NYC weekend, what should take ten minutes takes double or triple that amount of time. Weekend schedules in New York are messes of times, numbers, and letters. The express trains run locally, and often a train from one system is on a track across town. Though the city claims routine construction must be taken care of on the weekends, the question enters your mind: Is this nonsense going to

Happy Hour last forever? This confusion would never happen in the Parisian system— each train consistently arrives at its own track, be it a Sunday or a holiday (and except for when the operators strike). To help speed up train transfers across large stations, an experiment in Paris’s Montparnasse Bienvenue station was put in place in 2003. A moving sidewalk already existed in the station, but a central path was installed that travels at 9 km per hour, in contrast to the normal 3 km per hour. Closed for improvements after some accidents occurred, it reopened in April 2007 and is flowing successfully. While an experiment like the trottoir would be a disaster at the Times Square station because there are just too many people to organize, something as simple as better signage could be

implemented to eliminate confusion and collisions of hurried commuters. Despite New York’s lack of advanced subway material, some highlights make New York unlike any other city. New York’s subway system is the only one with express trains. While Paris’s RER (regional trains) lines serve as express trains inside the city limits, New York is the only city that has four-track lines such as the 1-2-3 and N-R-Q-W lines. These skip-stop lines make New York’s system unique. And while the disappointments about the Parisian system are few, there is one in particular which makes it much less appealing to some people: it closes at midnight and does not reopen until 5:30am. The New York system may be slow, but at least after a long night of partying, the train will take you home.

Elizabeth is a Barnard senior

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A Beginner’s Guide to Eating Ethiopian Local restaurants offer a delightful experience

Rain Che Bian


ver been rebuked for eating with your hands or licking your fingers? Here’s a cuisine that grants you the guilty pleasure of doing both without, well, the guilt. With the entrees served without utensils, the only proper way to eat your meal at an Ethiopian restaurant is to scoop up the food with your hands using pieces of injera–a pancake-like bread that carries a tinge of sourness–and to savor the tangy sauces dripping down your fingers. Depending on your personal taste, maybe that practice sounds barbaric, but I find the organic feel of warm food against my fingers profoundly liberating. And in most Ethiopian restaurants, there’s a comfortingly homey feeling in the atmosphere. The best way to enjoy Ethi-

opian food is to bring a few friends along–the entrees can be shared and served together in gigantic plates that make for a visually appetizing feast. A word of warning: Ethiopian food is spicy. But the spice is precisely what makes it memorable. Using mitmita (a powdery spice), berbere (chili pepper seasoning) and awaze (a thick paste of berbere sauce), Ethiopian dishes tickle the palate with an explosion of flavor. The menu for Ethiopian food can be a bit difficult to decipher. Luckily, most restaurants offer combo meals that give samplings of the classic dishes. Awash – the Ethiopian restaurant at 106 and Amsterdam – for example, allows for the selection of two meat and three vegetable dishes for one- to four-person combos.

The tibs, or grilled meat, is a must-try and is usually in the beef entrees section of the menu; it is also often a reliable indication of the overall quality of the restaurant. Smothered in sauce, spices and sometimes tomatoes and peppers, these grilled beef cubes or strips must be juicy, tender but slightly chewy, and have just the right amount of spiciness to leave a memorable tingling in your mouth. The less experimental would do well sticking to the poultry entrees, which tend to be less spicy and consequently a bit blander to the palate. The doro–Ethiopian for chicken–is usually served on the bone, which requires some will and skill to eat without utensils. A personal favorite is the yebeg, or lamb dishes. Tenderer and more succulent than beef, the lamb cubes are cooked with similar spices as the beef, but tend to be more flavorful. Awash offers yebeg tibs, which contains leg of lamb. The adventurous should try the marrow of the bone in this dish, which carries a piquant taste from soaking up all the spices. Unfortunately, kitfo, a traditional Ethiopian dish

and mildly spiced chickpeas, is also worth trying. Other tasty Ethiopian dishes are the fitfit, spiced vegetables mixed with injera; and the gifilfil, spiced beef strips with injera. Strips of injera taste heavenly in these dishes because of their propensity to soak up sauces and spices. But even if you don’t order fitfit or gifilfil, try the juice-saturated injera under your entrees. Finally, here are recommendations for alcohol and beverage lovers: Ethiopian tea and tej, a honey wine. Ethiopian tea is made with cinnamon, clover, and cardamom, which give the drink a strong herbal taste. Tej is deliciously sweet if served chilled and carries a faint honey flavor – but watch out, it tastes so innocently saccharine that it’s dangerously easy to get drunk on. Now, for those of you feeling sufficiently intrigued, the good news is this: there are two great Ethiopian restaurants, Awash and Massawa, just steps away from campus. If you are already an Ethiopian food addict, you might want to explore other options, such as Queen of Sheba and Meskerem,

Strips of injera taste heavenly in these dishes because of their propensity to soak up sauces and spices. But even if you don’t order fitfit or gifilfil, try the juice-saturated injera under your entrees. usually cooked with raw ground beef, is seldom an option in the combo meal. A specialty of the Gurage tribe in Ethiopia, this dish is held in high regard in the country, but its combination of raw meat and exotic spices tempts only the very brave. Most Ethiopian restaurants also have a large vegetarian selection. The choices are numerous, and I’ll only recount a few from personal bias. Key sir alicha—a dish consisting of red beets, carrots, and potatoes—is conspicuously red and sweet. I also love yatakilt alicha—with cabbage, carrots, and potatoes– mainly for the crunchy cabbage. The shiro, ground

around midtown Manhattan. So take advantage of the city, and explore the joy of eating barehanded. Note that different restaurants may have different spellings of the dishes. The spellings above are all from the menu at Awash.

Rain is a Columbia junior

Winter 07-08


Rusty S#*% Ian MacTavish



streets, old industrial sites, and other areas will assume a friendlier and more environmentally conscious character. By 2030, New York City will be both figuratively and literally a greener place. The first measure of the PlaNYC Open Space initiative is representative of the plan’s emphasis on using the city’s scarce open space as efficiently as possible. It seeks to keep public school playgrounds open to the public outside of school hours. (Currently, nearly 81% of school playgrounds are closed after the school day ends, leaving only 269 open.) The initiative will adopt a similar course with high school athletic fields, opening them to the public after school ends in order to maxi-



Open Space Dave Vega-Barochowitz 13 Housing Emma Jacobs 16 Tranportation Tom Breen 19

Everyone in New York City will live within a ten-minute walk of a city park

by the year 2030. That is the goal New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg set on Earth Day last year, when he presented the “Open Space” component of his PlaNYC initiative. The goal is basic, but the plan put forth to accomplish that goal proposes one of the greatest expansions of the parks system and an environmental initiative which will undoubtedly set the bar for cities nationwide. PlaNYC’s parks and plantings With its tone of sweeping optimism, the plan may be overgoals for the year 2030 extending itself. The plan emphasizes both the details of community needs like pools and playfields, as well as more general Dave Vega-Barachowitz themes like practical and efficient use of open space. It lays a groundwork that addresses longstanding deficiencies in the city’s parks and urban landscape while planning for the one million new residents the city anticipates gaining by 2030. By that time, New York City will acquire, develop, or rehabilitate nearly 4000 acres of parkland across all five boroughs. A host of the city’s regional “destination” parks will be given new life, and city

Open Space

mize their use. These measures will be complemented by the installation of night-lights so that fields can be used longer into the evening. One of the main barriers that has prevented the opening of more playgrounds is that they would come under the operation of the Parks Department, which can inhibit the possibility of the school’s expansion in the future. Still, the positive community impact of public playgrounds as well as the low cost of this conversion ultimately makes it one of the simplest and most logical aspects of the overall plan.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the initiative is the planned completion and rehabilitation of eight of the city’s underdeveloped “destination” parks. It is in these more visible places that PlaNYC’s progress likely will be measured. Of the eight destination parks, the Highbridge Aqueduct and the McCarren Park Pool will probably garner the most attention. These two projects reference the two most significant eras of New York’s open space creation: that of Frederick Olmsted in the mid-1800s and that of Robert Moses in the mid-1900s. The renovations intended for many of the destination parks include ballfields, improved access, and more attractive recreational spaces.

River will gain an amusement park as well as new ballfields and bike paths. PlaNYC exemplifies the spirit of reuse and renewal, especially in its plan to “green” the cityscape. Right now, wealthy neighborhoods are on the whole physically greener and more shaded than poor neighborhoods, which tend to lack the same tree density and attractiveness. PlaNYC seeks to remedy the situation: 23,000 trees will be planted in New York each year, bringing the percentage of utilized planting spaces from 74 percent to 100 percent by 2030. This effort will have a positive effect on the city, as the presence of street trees has been proven to reduce storm water runoff, conserve energy, and reduce air pollution.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the initiative is the planned completion and rehabilitation of eight of the city’s underdeveloped “destination” parks. Beyond such improvements, PlaNYC stresses a spirit of reuse and rehabilitation expressed in a bevy of major “destination” parks currently under construction and which are not listed under PlaNYC. Fresh Kills Lifescape, built atop an old Staten Island landfill site, boasts three times the acreage of Central Park and a revolutionary design by landscape architects Field Operations; the High Line, sprouting atop an elevated railway in Chelsea, will undoubtedly draw countless New Yorkers and tourists alike; and Randall’s and Ward’s Islands in the East

In addition to its street tree program, PlaNYC will create or enhance public plazas in every community. It seeks to do so by expanding the city’s successful Greenstreets program—wherein traffic islands and medians are converted to planted spaces—adding 40 new Greenstreets projects every planting season. To complement the open space initiative, the plan will strive to speed up the process of redeveloping the city’s brownfields—contaminated and abandoned sites found largely in poorer communities. By removing and revising some of the bureauWinter 07-08




source: PlaNYC Report on Open Sapce

cratic hurdles that have inhibited development in the past, the city will speed the rate at which brownfields are cleaned and developed. In 1928, the Regional Plan Association proposed sweeping reforms to the city’s infrastructure. At the time, it seemed that New York’s buildings could not get any higher and the stock market would forever rein prosperity down upon the masses. But the tide soon turned, and the Association’s designs were forgotten during the Depression. Similarly, Mayor BloomHighbridge berg’s green ambitions may fall source: by the wayside as more pressing problems come to the forefront of the city’s consciousness. Nevertheless, for now, one can hope that by 2030, trees will line every New York street and no point in the metropolis will be more than a ten-minute stroll from the respite of a city park.


laNYC’s Housing Report calls for the creation of 265,000 additional housing units—enough to house Boston proper—in New York City by 2030. In articulating a plan to meet that ambitious goal, the Report’s authors make an open appeal to the city’s history for lessons. The planners look to old redevelopment schemes to see how

previous attempts to squeeze still more people into the city have fared. Growth, they say, has historically followed the subways, and they try to project that model into future sustainable communities. The city’s efforts are meant to develop housing in a way that makes sense, given what we know about what has worked in the past and what we expect for the future. The first lesson PlaNYC’s goals for housing for the year 2030


Emma Jacobs

that we have learned from past decades, according to PlaNYC, is that “all growth is not equal.” What the past century has also demonstrated is that all growth is not equitable. In seeking to locate the plan’s projected growth, “We must ask,” the report says, “which neighborhoods would suffer from the additional density and which ones would mature with an infusion of people, jobs, stores and transit [sic]. We must weigh the consequences of Continued on page 18 Mayor Bloomberg source:

Dave is a Columbia sophomore

Winter 07-08




Uptown, Get Down! Harlem’s hip-hop dance legacy


carbon emissions, air quality, and energy efficiency when we decide the patterns that will shape our city over the coming decades.” The city’s new housing plan is an initiative that sees the solution to housing affordability in increasing housing supply. To that end, it seeks to exploit empty pockets in the city’s urban fabric to accommodate additional housing. Besides projects like the controversial waterfront redevelopment plans in Greenpoint-Williamsburg, the city believes housing can be squeezed into more creative spaces: municipal lots used for other purposes. Our Broadway branch library on 113th is the new model to save the city from its housing crisis. Other buildings, like old public schools and hospitals, are also ripe for new uses, according to the report. The planners even explore the possibility of building above transportation infrastructure like the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway or the railyards in Long Island City. The question of who’s going to be able to afford the new housing is up in the air. Financing strategies and special zoning provisions are meant to keep a

portion of the new units affordable and maintain the city’s existing stock of affordable housing, but little attention (or funding) is allocated for other affordability measures. PlaNYC was put together by people who know the basics. The plan is practical. It recognizes the sustainability needs the city faces and seeks to incrementally shift the guidelines for how New York City develops a better landscape. The guidelines are left open so that theory will not run roughshod over the details key to community-appropriate development practices. On the other hand, that necessary vagueness leaves a lot of open ground that will have to be monitored as the city realizes the infrastructure and development of PlaNYC over the next quarter-century. PlaNYC recognizes the lessons past development in New York City offers. The full development of the 2030 plan will reveal the extent to which all of those lessons have been learned. Emma is a Columbia junior

Elle Marrone

oulja who? Forget about the new dance phenomena popping up all over the US (Lean Wit It, Snap, Laffy Taffy…), it was Harlem that brought us into this millennium—and don’t get me started on the history… The Harlem Shake: This dance, supposedly with roots in East Africa, hit the mainstream at the turn of the 21st century. Made popular by the group G Dep, the best examples are their “Let’s Get It” and “Special Delivery Remix,” both guaranteed to have you moving. The premise of the dance is to pop your shoulders one at a time while shimmying your arms. Basically, your forearms shake left to right, hands in a loose fist, and wrists alternate between front-facing (when arm is straight) and pointed inwards (when arm is bent and coming across your waist). While one shoulder pops forward, the other pops back, then the leading shoulder dips back as the other arcs to the front. The Chicken Noodle Soup Dance: “Let it rain and clear it out!” This dance proved, if you weren’t convinced already, that we live in an age of technology and rapid communication. Harlem’s aptly named DJ Webstar (with the help of YouTube) made this song and accompanying dance an overnight hit before the radio even picked up on it.

Reminiscent of those playground days, this fairly simple, catchy song allows for a lot of improvisation. Though it’s received its fair share of flack for its jazz hands and shuffle routine, it gave New Yorkers a few days where we all felt like we were in on some giant secret. The Aunt Jackie: An 80s nostalgia track that a 21-year-old Harlem producer launched on his MySpace page, this song confirms that all is not lost on our generation. Though he looks only 30 years back, rapper Jason Fox shows an appreciation for his elders in this energetic, silly dance that will make you smile. Though everyone who is anyone in NYC has made an “Aunt Jackie” video, the best is the original, in which Fox and crew hang out on a Harlem sidewalk, fooling around and “Aunt Jackie[ing] with it.” The dance: First, the dancer claps his (or her) hands in front and, holding his hands together, brings them in to his chest and back out again while doing a jump-shuffle combo to the side. Later, the dancer switches to a running-man topped off with a spin. Other than establishing Harlem back on top, this piece demonstrates that the hip-hop culture is returning to its roots and, once again, going local. So, next time you are in the club, please, rep your city! Elle is a Columbia senior

Winter 07-08





ired, angry, and frustrated, Brian Block is one of the many New York City commuters who struggle every day with the surprisingly difficult task of getting to work on time. What separates Mr. Block from the rest of the pack, however, is not that he lives in southeastern Queens and works in Midtown, or that his daily commute on a train bursting with passengers can take up to an hour. Rather, it’s that he is the first of a few characters featured in the transportation section of Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC initiative. In PlaNYC, Mayor Bloomberg maps out a comprehensive proposal for solving two critical problems currently plaguing New York City’s transportation system: congestion and state of repair. The latter dilemma is relatively straightforward. In order for New York’s transportation system to flourish, it must be functional, stable, and safe. To make it so, the city plans service upgrades on existing infrastructure. The most exciting and innovative component of PlaNYC, however, deals not with fixing what already exists, but rather with improving road traffic flow and

designing and building new transportation facilities. Toward those ends, the Mayor has proposed the Second Avenue Subway, East Side Access, Metro North to Penn Station, and congestion pricing. Shaped by the problem of congestion, the new facilities promise to relieve some of the wait and stress that inevitably follow large crowds

Transportation PlaNYC’s goals in mass transport for the year 2030

Tom Breen in small places. Indeed, congestion results from just this: too little space for too many people. In 2006, ridership on the subways reached levels not seen since 1952, when the subway network was an additional eight miles in total length. This increasing ridership, coupled with the stagnant capacities of buses, subways, and bridges, inevitably results in longer and more uncomfortable commutes for the Mr. Blocks of New York. For the past three quarters of a century the Second Avenue Subway line has tanta-

lized the east side of Manhattan with its desperately needed but elusive promise of more efficient transport. Quashed time and again by a lack of funding and focus, the subway was first proposed almost 80 years ago. It wasn’t until 1972 that the first tunnels were actually dug, but a citywide fiscal crisis forced construction into an immediate halt. In 2005 the city passed legislation which promises to allocate the funds necessary for another shot at construction. The Second Avenue Subway should provide transportation to the underserved far East Side while providing an alternative for passengers of the overcrowded and slow Lexington Avenue trains. The green line is currently the most crowded subway line in the country, carrying 1.3 million museum-goers, bewildered tourists, and disgruntled lawyers through the heart of Midtown Manhattan each day. The Second Avenue project is expected to be completed in two phases, commencing in 2007 and projected to finish in 2018, with an overall cost of around $7.5 million. Next, East Side Access and Metro North to Penn Station plan to build upon existing transportation infrastructure. According to PlaNYC documentation, nearly half of all Long Island Railroad (LIRR) commuters dropped off at Penn Station every morning work on the east side of Manhattan; while around a quarter of Metro North riders who arrive daily in Grand Central Terminal work on the West Side. Consequently,

around half of LIRR commuters and a quarter of Metro North commuters must find their way across town to their offices every day, thus contributing to the costs and congestion of Midtown Manhattan commutes. East Side Access and Metro North Access to Penn Station—at a total cost above $10 million—will help them finish their commutes underground. Intended to reduce road congestion and garner funds that will in part subsidize this transportation overhaul, congestion pricing is Mayor Bloomberg’s most controversial proposal. PlaNYC’s major proposals— which also include the construction of bike paths, express bus lanes, ferry services, and a Lower Manhattan Rail Link—will require a large amount of funding, the sum of which the city alone cannot reasonably be expected to shoulder. Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan proposes an $8 daily fee for automobiles (with some exceptions) entering or leaving Manhattan below 86th street during the business day, generating a net revenue of $380 million in its first year (with increasing returns over time). These funds in turn would directly support the construction, repair, and maintenance for PlaNYC’s other transportation projects. Congestion pricing will, besides raising money, reduce road and traffic congestion. “On a given workday,” PlaNYC notes, “the Manhattan CBD [Central Business District] is home to nearly 2 million workers Winter 07-08




source: PlaNYC Report on Transportation

from around the region, hundreds of thousands of tourists, and several hundred thousand residents.” This surfeit of people entering, leaving, working, and visiting Midtown and Downtown Manhattan inevitably results in a chaotic mess of vehicles and pedestrians. Such congestion not only floods the air with CO2 emissions released from car and bus tailpipes, but also costs the city $13 billion dollars a year. After the introduction of congestion pricing, traffic below 86th street is expected to decrease by 6.3%, increasing average road speeds by 7.2% and presumably decreasing the amount of money lost to traffic. To say that the proposed remaking of the city’s transportation system is ambitious is an understatement. With total projected costs of $50 million, not to mention the city’s repeated failures to raise sufficient funds for projects of this sort, Mayor Bloomberg’s Transportation PlaNYC is another bold and aggressive attempt to prepare his city for the 21st century. If carried through, these proposals and projects will allow the city’s transportation system to absorb incoming travelers, while at the same time providing efficient, accessible, and safe transport for those suffering souls like Mr. Block, who only want to get to work on time. Tom is a Columbia sophomore

If you are interested in writing for Rhapsody or being part of the production staff, please contact Elle Marrone (

Rhapsody would like to thank Professor Gutfreund for all his support and assistance throughout the years.

Issue 7  

Issue 7 of Columbia University's Urban Affairs journal

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