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Environmental Initiatives


New York City (NYC)
Transportation, Efficiencies and Environmental Savings


Every time a person chooses to travel by bus or train, he/she contributes to a cleaner environment, because that translates into approximately 700,000 cars kept out of New York City's streets daily. It also means 400 million fewer pounds of soot, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and other toxic substances released each year into the city's air.

NYC largely owes its economic prosperity to an extensively developed transportation system. However, in the past few decades, the city underinvested in development and maintenance of its transportation network. New York City, through its PlaNYC in partnership with MTA and various non-for profit organizations, launched various projects and initiatives to improve transportation flow, increase pedestrian safety, accommodate the ever growing resident population and reduce NYC's carbon footprint.

The city focuses its efforts on development of new and improvement of existing transit infrastructure, promotion of sustainable modes of transportation, reduction of congestion and development of new funding sources.

In partnership with MTA, the Department of Transportation (DOT) launched its first bus rapid transit system - Fordham Road Select Bus Services (SBS). The city has moved ahead with SBS projects on First and Second Avenues. The route is served by the M15 bus, which has carried more than 57,000 weekday commuters. The SBS has greatly improved speed and reliability on the route that had seen declines in speed owing to traffic congestion. Similar service will also be offered on 34th Street in Manhattan and Nostrand and Rogers Avenues in Brooklyn.

What will make SBS a faster and more convenient way of commuting is the dedicated bus lanes, strategically placed stops, real time information displays both on board and at the stops, easy subway transfer and preboarding fare collection. MTA continues to work on its major capital construction projects like the Second Avenue Subway, East Side Access, Fulton Street Transit Center and 7 line subway extension.

The Second Avenue Subway was envisioned as far back as 1920s. However, it never advanced beyond planning and construction estimates stage. The idea was put on hold few times due to the Great Depression, then World War II, than other, more urgent city projects. In 1951 a bond issue of $500 million was approved, but the funds were eventually used to improve the existing transportation system. The current Second Avenue Subway project will be carried out in few phases. It will reduce the overcrowding on Lexington line and include a two-track line along Second Avenue from 125th Street to the Financial Districy in Lower Manhattan. It will also include a connection from Second Avenue through the 63rd Street Tunnel to existing tracks for service to West Midtown and Brooklyn.

The East Side Access project will connect two major Long Island Railroad Lines in Queens to Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan. The 7 line extension project is expected to be completed in December 2013. It is part of the plan to transform the Hudson Yards into a vibrant, mixed use community.

There are ways mass transit can make its operations more environmentally responsible. MTA has made some significant strides in the past ten years to reduce the impact of NYC's extensive transportation network on the environment and launched some sustainability initiatives.

NYC Transit has diverted thousands of tons of traditionally landfill-bound construction waste for recycling. Rehabilitation projects like the Grand Avenue Bus Depot, Central Maintenance Facility in Maspeth (Queens), Stillwell Avenue Terminal (Brooklyn) and Subway Station in Roosevelt Avenue-74th Street (Queens), recycled up to 85 percent of construction debris, including concrete, metal, glass and paper.

As early as the mid 1990s, NYC Transit began installing solar power units with photovoltaic (PV) panels and continues to install them to date. The Gun Hill Road Bus Depot in the Bronx has one of the largest PV facilities on the East Coast on its rooftop - it produces 300KW of energy. The New Corona Car Washer and Maintenance Facility (Queens) has a 100KW rooftop system. The 60,000-square-foot photovoltaic canopy over the Stillwell Avenue Subway Terminal (Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue Station, Brooklyn) produces 250KW of clean power. Finally, the Roosevelt Avenue-74th Street Station, Queens, produces 65 KW of power using two PV systems.

The Grand Avenue Bus Depot and Maintenance Facility has a bus washing reclamation system with a 200,000-gallon underground tank that stores rainwater collected from the roof of the building. The water is used to wash buses, with 80 percent of the wash water being recycled for non-potable uses. The Corona Car Washer and Maintenance Facility has a rainwater collection system to drain rainwater into a 40,000-gallon underground storage tank that's being used to wash subway cars.

Obsolete subway cars are disposed into the ocean to create habitats for marine life and recreational fishing. This initiative is an example of a creative approach to a sensitive issue of responsible disposal. NYC Transit has provided more than 2,500 retired subway cars for this purpose to Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina, Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland. NYC Transit steam cleans the subway cars after stripping them of components that float and decompose. Then the cars are loaded on barges and buried at sea becoming habitats for underwater life.

NYC Transit is replacing its incandescent train signaling lights with highly efficient light emitting diode (LED) Signals. This translates into 60 percent reduction in energy consumption compared with traditional incandescent light. LED lights improve brightness 150 percent, and they decrease greenhouse gas emissions substantially as they lower electrical demand.

MTA is also in the process of replacing incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent bulbs in subway stations and throughout the system and in tunnels. Since each compact fluorescent bulb consumes 15-25 percent of the energy that an incandescent bulb uses, the compact bulb yields 1,300 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide emissions over its lifetime. This translates into $4.8 million savings a year for MTA.

By 2007, NYC Transit completed more than 45 projects to reduce power in its heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems in depots, yards and other facilities. MTA currently saves up to 50 megawatt hours of electricity annually leading to carbon dioxide emissions reduction of 30 tons every year.

NYC Transit is introducing "green" escalators that slow down and reverse to "sleep mode" when not in use. A sensor recognizes approaching customer and the escalator gradually increases its speed. It is estimated that each "green" escalator in the NYC subway system can save 17,122 kilowatts of power a day, a yearly savings of $1,883 per escalator. Also, certain parts of green escalators may last between 11 percent and 33 percent longer than traditional escalators, resulting in maintenance and repair savings.

MTA also created a Storm Water Management Program and Rainwater Collection and "Gray Water" Re-Use programs, which reduce pollutants caused by storm water runoffs and minimize the use of potable water by harvesting rainwater and then recycling it as "gray water" (non-industrial wastewater generated from domestic processes such as washing dishes, laundry and bathing).

Since the 1990s, New York Transit operates an alternative fuel vehicle program for its bus fleet. To date, NYC Transit repowered 671 buses to achieve a 94 percent cleaner burning, acquired 1,300 new buses with diesel particulate filters and retrofitted over 3,200 buses with diesel particulate filters to reduce diesel particulate emissions from engines by 95 percent.

In order to reduce congestion in the streets and provide New Yorkers and tourists with more options for moving around, the city continues to promote sustainable transportation. Taking some of the pressure off the already strained public transit system will also benefit the environment. DOT has already made significant progress in building its bicycle network, improving bicycle parking and installing a record number of bicycle racks in 2009. In the same year the ambitious goal of building 200 bike lane miles in all five boroughs was achieved. Commuter bicycling experienced an unseen growth of 26 percent in 2009 due to the doubling of the number of lanes. In 2009 the city also passed the landmark Bikes in Buildings law. The Bicycle Access to Office Buildings Law aims to increase bicycle commuting by providing cyclists with the opportunity to securely park their bicycles in or close to their workplaces. The Law only applies to commercial office buildings with at least one freight elevator and enables cyclists to apply for bike access to freight elevators.

It is becoming safer to walk through the city because of the Safe Routes to Transit, Safe Routes to School, and Safe Streets for Seniors programs. The city's goal is to improve pedestrian and motor vehicle movement around subway entrances and bus stops to make accessing mass transit easier and more convenient. This will help encourage more walking and transit use, less traffic and cleaner air.

In order to improve mobility and safety, the city launched a major project called Green Light for Midtown. The project created new pedestrian areas on Broadway in Times Square (47th to 42nd Streets) and Herald Square (35th to 33rd Streets). The project was based on a feasibility study and showed that Green Light for Midtown would improve traffic flow on 6th and 7th Avenue and improve traffic safety along Broadway. Both before and after implementing this project as a pilot, DOT collected extensive data on travel times, traffic volumes, pedestrian volumes and traffic accidents in the months just prior and just following project implementation. According to this data, the project delivered on its expectations with some of the key findings being:

  • Injuries to motorists and passengers in the project area are down 63 percent

  • Pedestrian injuries are down 35 percent

  • 80 percent fewer pedestrians are walking in the roadway in Times Square

  • 74 percent of New Yorkers surveyed by the Times Square Alliance agree that Times Square has improved dramatically over the last year.

  • The number of people walking along Broadway and 7th Avenue in Times Square is up 11 percent and pedestrian volume is up 6percent in Herald Square.

The Mayor and DOT recently announced that the changes made to Times Square and Herald Square for the Green Light for Midtown project will become permanent. Now the city is moving forward with permanent area reconstruction projects for both plazas. Construction on the permanent plazas is expected in 2012.

The city also continues its work to develop and expand ferry service in the city. The much awaited new East River Ferry is already operational, with two more ferry services at Greenpoint and at North Williamsburgh scheduled to go in service by summer 2011. Ferry service is a sustainable transportation option for residents of emerging Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods, and will provide a link to some of the NYC’s most exciting recreation destinations.

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