1. It’s Thursday, January 11, 2018.
2. The Throgs Neck Bridge, where it feels as though I’ve spent a year of my life driving to my parents’ house on Long Island, opened on this day in 1961.
Until the opening last August of the north Mario Cuomo Bridge span across the Hudson River, it was the most recently built major crossing in the New York metropolitan area.
Like many of those other crossings, it’s a cars-and-trucks-only structure. There’s no pedestrian walkway or bike path. There’s no rail line running across it.
That’s partly because Robert Moses, as detailed by Robert Caro in his classic biography, “The Master Builder,” was vehemently anti-mass transit.
He was responsible for most of the major roads in New York City and Long Island. And, indeed, they have no mass transit component to alleviate the commute for the millions who live in the area.
Getting into Manhattan from the areas that surround it remains dreaded by those who do it.
Besides congested roads, the rail links to the city from New Jersey, the northern suburbs and Long Island are antiquated and, too often, dangerous. Bicycling, while improved in the past few years, remains an adventure.
3. All that crossed my mind when I heard about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement that New York City is suing oil companies to collect damages rising from the cost of climate change. In addition, the city’s pension funds are divesting about $5 billion from oil company stocks.
The urgency of ending our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels was brought home to New Yorkers by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Not just the fact that the storm’s damage to coastlines and infrastructure was exacerbated by the effects of climate change. There were also the long lines at gas stations, with prices jacked up $1 or more a gallon as people needed to get around and, in many instances, couldn’t.
Big oil, lobbying people like Moses and others, helped make New York and other large metropolitan areas dependent on its products. It wrecked the air and, when prices spiked as they so often have, messed with family economies.
So I’m supportive of de Blasio’s efforts. Yes, let’s break the addiction to something that hurts our environment, gives incentive to terrorists and autocrats in the Middle East and, every so often, holds our economy hostage.
4. But, as I’ve also said, it’s time to rethink transportation.
Again, until last August, the Throgs Neck was the newest way across a river in this area. And even the Mario Cuomo, as beautiful as it is, doesn’t do everything it should – while there will eventually be pedestrian and bike paths, it doesn’t have a rail or any other mass transit.
I used to think the ideas such as congestion pricing – charging people to get past a certain point in town at busy times of the day – weren’t that great. It seems unfair to people who have to drive into midtown Manhattan to scratch out a living.
But midtown is a mess. At certain times, it’s a nightmare of traffic jams – motorized and human. And that can’t be good for anyone – it’s bad for the environment, for businesses and for the health of people who experience it.
So maybe congestion pricing is worth a try.
It would also be great if there were ideas about new modes of transportation.
New York’s subway is over a century old, and it feels like it every time you ride it. Dark, dirty, slow, constantly breaking down. It’s an amazing accomplishment of engineering – and it’s collapsing before our eyes.
So fixing it is important.
And then other forms of people moving need to be discovered. Is it a network of solar-powered moving walkways and escalators? Is it a series of trams down the major thoroughfares? It is an elaborate network of water taxis from point to point in Manhattan or to other parts of the area?
Is there some idea that’s completely different?
This is not meant to say that cars and trucks should be abolished. There’s plenty of wonderful open highway out there on which vehicles should be allowed to roam. I’d prefer that they run on something other than gas, but I doubt the internal combustion engine will disappear in my lifetime.
But New York City is taking a big first step toward fixing its future with its actions toward the oil companies. Now it needs to think bigger. It needs to test the imagination of urban planners and engineers, and come up with something that reflects the needs of the late 21st century – if not the 22nd century, now just 82-plus years away.