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Can mapping private & public transportation gridlock reveal opportunities for congestion
pricing & density policies?
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POLYNUCLEATING CONGESTION

 
New York City
2017
Harvard Graduate School of Design

Emergent models of city-building in urbanized geographies have long departed from the traditional notion of the compact mono-nucleated metropolis. In the island city of New York, these new models of urbanization have significantly questioned the relationship between the city center and its outer boroughs, opening up the need to challenge the planning of this mono-centric city into new, more multi-nodal forms of urbanization. Given this framework, the moment is ripe to examine, uncover, and illustrate these issues in compelling cartographic narratives in order to learn from this latent information, and consequently draw design, policy, and planning solutions from their layers.

Cartographic Mapping
 

New York City is facing a congestion crisis in its infrastructure that will only exacerbate as the city continues to grow in population. Examining the broader urban morphologies at its regional scale is vital in understanding how these urban issues have come to be formed in conjunction with policy incentives, and therefore how we as designers might propose alternative urban methodologies to tackle this problem.

 

The cartographic mapping below illustrates how both Private (toll roads) & Public (rail & bus) forms of transit contribute to passenger congestion. The crossing grain of East-West oriented regional transit lines and grided regional highway network intersect with North-South oriented local transit and street grid to create congestion at those specific transfer points on the island of Manhattan. Key transit stations or bridges & tunnels become bottlenecks as regional transportation flows re-orient themselves to the grain of the local network. Because of the widespread unaffordability and cost-of-living of Manhattan, more and more lower-income residents whose jobs are still on the island, commute from farther and farther district boroughs, leading to over-capacity and congestion at these key transportation points of transfer.

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At the same time, regional intersection points of potential transfer in the outer boroughs, where a larger percentage of lower-income commuters reside, remain under-capacity & underutilized. In addition, commuters by private vehicular traffic flows to key toll-free bridges, causing congestion at those crossing points. Meanwhile, private toll & public ticket pricing is policied at rates disproportionate to the traffic volume at those transit hubs and bridge crossings. The two mappings below clearly illustrates these issues: how all private & public transit routes to the mono-nucleated city center end in gridlock, resulting in an unequal & inefficient distribution of transfer congestion in the city of New York.

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Public Transit Congestion

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Transect A:
Suburban-Periphery
Transect A:
Suburban-Periphery
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Private Vehicular Congestion

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Transect A:
Suburban-Periphery
Transect A:
Suburban-Periphery
"All roads lead to
[a congested] Rome"

Visually mapping this data reveals inefficiencies in the economies of current pricing policy and allow us to propose a redistribution of both ticket price & traffic to outer-borough transit hubs in NYC. We propose to toll all bridges & readjust infrastructure ticket pricing commensurate to encourage intended traffic flows. The before-and-after image below shows how this would redistribute congestion more equally to regional inter-borough transfer hubs. In order to incentivize use of these poly-nucleated network hubs, free parking and transit to the city-center from these transfer hubs is proposed, wherein this new cost to the city is offset by the addition of tolls to previously free bridges/tunnels. This proposal would redistribute wealth from those of higher-income who can afford to pay for the new toll routes, to lower-income residents of the outer-boroughs whose costs of commuting to Manhattan is now significantly reduced. 

In addition, illustrating the morphological context around these highly congested transit point-of-transfer hubs exposes the relative lack of density surrounding their sites. This reveals an opportunity to re-visit regulatory zoning mandates around these hubs. Densifying & encouraging new residential growth around these inter-borough transit hubs through affordable & walkable transit-oriented development will cut down on the number of public commuters who need to ‘transfer’ between infrastructures, helping to reinforce the alleviating of congestion at these key points.

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Manhattan Mapping.png
Can mapping private & public transportation gridlock reveal opportunities for congestion
pricing & density policies?