TRANSIT AND THE ENVIRONMENT
One of the main areas on which NNF currently focuses resources is the promotion of sustainable transportation systems, including adequate use of mass transit. Although creating a sustainable transit system may not seem inherently like an environmental issue, it is very much so. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, which have proved to be energy efficient and beneficial to land conservation. Mass transit is one of the key reasons why. According to the FTA, public transportation can improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save energy, and facilitate compact development, conserving land and decreasing travel demand. But although New York is a leader in mass transit, accounting for an astonishing 33% of all public transportation trips in the nation, the city’s transit system is overcrowded and underfunded, its infrastructure is aging, and its price is constantly increasing. Addressing these problems is very much an environmental concern, and one that NNF has made a priority.
FREE TRANSIT REPORT
NNF’s founder, Theodore Kheel, was an advocate of mass transit for decades before NNF came into being. Some background on his transit involvement is included in the brief biography of him on this website. Additional information, including writings by and about him, can be accessed here. Much of his work in the area was in the nineteen sixties and seventies. However, in 2007, he resumed his advocacy, acting in the name of Nurture New York’s Nature. At that time, he announced a $100,000 grant to determine how the public would benefit if the transit fare in the Manhattan business district were totally eliminated. A little less than a year later NNYN published the results of the study in a report called “Balancing Free Transit and Congestion Pricing”. Free Transit Report (PDF). He directed the report to New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg, with the following introduction:
"Earlier last year, you acknowledged that 'If you were to design the ultimate system, you would have mass transit be free and charge an enormous amount for cars.' The plan that is set forth in the following pages is that ultimate system... The fundamental principle behind the plan is that car travel and mass transit are interrelated, like two sides of an equation, two weights counterpoised on a scale. Ideally, there should be a balance, but instead, our system is enormously, unconscionably out of balance. This report shows how we can correct that."
RECEPTION OF THE FREE TRANSIT REPORT
At the time NNYN’s report was published, Mayor Bloomberg was advocating congestion pricing. As it turned out, neither NNYN’s free transit proposal nor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan were adopted. However, the free transit report was welcomed by transit advocates, weary of ever higher fares, as well as others, and generated considerable discussion of transit pricing issues in the media and blogs.
NNYN subsequently put forth a more moderate proposal, known as the Kheel Plan, in December 2008, as an alternative to the Ravitch plan, which sought to fund a deficit in transit by imposing a payroll tax and increasing fares. Although the new Kheel plan was not adopted either, the two plans developed by NNYN had one important result—they led to creation of a new tool for evaluating traffic pricing options in the city.
THE BALANCED TRANSPORTATION ANALYZER
In developing the components of the original transit plan for NNYN, economist and policy analyst Charles Komanoff assembled and fine-tuned an extraordinarily rich spreadsheet model for evaluating different pricing options for New York City traffic and transit. The model makes it possible to gauge the effect that any given increase or decrease in subway fares or automobile tolls will have on an array of critical parameters such as revenues, traffic congestion, pollution, etc. Known as the Balanced Transportation Analyzer, the spreadsheet model can be used to evaluate any traffic pricing plan for New York City, not just a particular plan put forth by one party. NNF has funded the development of the BTA for over a decade now, adding information to it to allow the transit community and public policy makers, as well as legislators and others, to better understand the costs and benefits of alternative plans.
The BTA has been fully vetted by a wide range of transit experts, and is so comprehensive as to be invaluable to anyone wishing to evaluate options in this area. Governor Cuomo's Fix NYC Advisory Panel cited it as the basis for the panel's conclusions in its Report, and MoveNY also relied heavily on it in developing its Fair Plan for traffic pricing. To learn more about the BTA, which was described as the "best [modeling] tool that I have seen in my nearly 40 years" by renowned transportation expert "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz, visit our webpage devoted to it, which includes a video explaining the BTA, a Powerpoint about it, and the latest version of the actual spreadsheet itself to download.
EDUCATING FOR THE FUTURE
NNF has a history of supporting educational endeavors consistent with its mission, such as the CUNY course on Nature in New York, the CUNY Center on Sustainable Cities, and the Kheel Center on Environmental Interest Disputes at Pace Law School. In keeping with this history, in 2016, NNF made a three year commitment to fund a faculty position for a Kheel Visiting Fellow in Transportation at Hunter and its Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. The former New York City Traffic Commissioner Sam Schwartz, a leading transit expert and advocate, was appointed as the first fellow. Schwartz’s students carried out research projects on critical policy issues such as congestion pricing, generational trends in transportation use, and autonomous vehicles. The second Kheel Fellow, Howard Glaser, formerly a senior policy advisor to Governor Cuomo, taught a course on “Transporting New York: Sustainable Mobility in the 21stCentury”. The current fellow, Charles Komanoff, is teaching the “Political Economy of Congestion Pricing.” In addition to their teaching activities, the Kheel Fellows have held a variety of forums on transit issues at the Roosevelt House and have helped connect students to transit professionals.
In addition to the activities described here, NNF has also made donations to various nonprofits that support transit reform, and employed a consultant for several years who later went on to found MoveNY, a coalition of groups dedicated to transit reform. For news coverage of NNF's transit work over the years, visit our page on Transit Reform Efforts News.