What makes the transportation system of Metropolitan New York unique in the United States, and perhaps in the developed world? You might think it is New York’s extensive rail mass transit network, including both heavy rail (subway) and three commuter rail lines. But similar networks exist in other older major U.S. metro areas such as Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, and San Francisco, and many global cities have even larger rail transit systems, compared with their populations.
In fact, what makes transportation in metro New York unique is something that is in some ways the opposite of extensive mass transit. The large share of its grade-separated, limited-access expressway system that is restricted to passenger cars only, and thus excludes trucks, other commercial and service vehicles, and mass transit vehicles such as buses. Expressways – hugely expensive to site, build and maintain; hugely destructive when built through developed areas; lacking the property tax benefit provided by adjacent land uses; and destructive to the value and use of adjacent land – represent major commitments of social resources. Having many of those expressways restricted to a limited class of road users is a unique and extraordinary privilege, one that puts proposals to allocate a greater share of the space on other mixed-traffic roads to bicycles, buses, trucks and other commercial vehicles in perspective.
To show the extent of this privilege, and its consequences, I asked Susan Zwillinger of 4CGeoworks (Pittsburgh) to produce a cartogram map of the Major Roads and Paths of Metro New York. It is shown below.Continue reading