Price panel convenes NYC transit experts to explore building ‘More Livable City’

April 12, 2017

Panelists, from left: Alison Conway, Elliott Sclar, Polly Trottenberg and moderator Genevieve Giuliano (Photo by Rob White)
More photos available on Flickr »

By Eliza Gallo

USC Price School of Public Policy Professor and METRANS Transportation Center Director Genevieve Giuliano led a panel of New York transit experts to discuss “Creating a More Livable City Through Transportation” in March, as part of the USC Price Conversations in New York series.

The event included New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg; Elliott Sclar, director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at the Earth Institute of Columbia University; and Assistant Professor Alison Conway at the City College of New York. Together, they painted a picture of a city working to balance population growth, funding challenges and the need for environmentally conscious options like bike lanes and shared-ride cars.

“I live transportation, so when somebody else is interested I really get excited,” said Giuliano, who served as moderator. The discussion was especially relevant in a city that holds one third of the nation’s transit passengers.

Meeting the needs of NY’s growing population

Panelists with USC Price alumni (Photo by Rob White) More photos available on Flickr »

Trottenberg said she often envies California’s ballot initiatives, which have provided L.A. with resources to finance its transit system that New York hasn’t had. Nonetheless, she explained that while New York’s population has grown massively over the past few decades, its auto use has not. Investment in the city’s subway system has helped, and the commissioner said that New York is also looking to improve its bike network, create streetcar lines, and reintroduce ferries — once a staple of the city.

“We do think about what the next generation of transit will be,” Trottenberg noted.

“We are now entering the age of shared mobility,” she added, citing future plans to allot some street space to shared-ride cars.

The impact of online consumption

Meanwhile, Giuliano said that “our enchantment with Amazon Prime” is placing intense new freight pressures on urban transportation systems. “New York City residents have one of the highest rates of e-shopping in the U.S.,” Giuliano pointed out.

“Our cities and our streets are not built to handle these freight flows,” said Conway, who has deployed GIS technology and teams of students to count package deliveries and trucks idling near residential buildings. “E-commerce happened so fast that there was no way regulations could keep up.”

She said the biggest policy issue is that we, as consumers, don’t think about the impact of our online ordering.

Adapting to change and new challenges

Sclar addressed how changing times call for new forms of transit funding.

“You always have silos that were created in a different era for a different set of problems; then you have these issues that start to cut across these silos,” Sclar said. “The way people live in cities and suburbs has shifted. We really have to think about finance models that change the incentives.”

The evening ended with the panel fielding audience questions from the USC Price alumni and students in attendance, on topics ranging from driverless cars to how New York transit will handle increasing climate-change problems like flooding and hurricanes.

“We’re still working on how we make the best investments and protect this extraordinary infrastructure,” Trottenberg concluded.