An urban planning group on Thursday called for a wide range of long-term changes to the New York metropolitan transportation landscape, including congestion pricing, infrastructure banks, public benefit corporations, a regional rail system and an end to 24-hour city subway service.

“Good government begets good infrastructure, which begets good communities. Let’s remember that today,” Regional Plan Association president Tom Wright said Thursday at The New School in Manhattan, where RPA released its fourth regional plan.

With the region immersed in a transit crisis from overcrowding, aging and neglected infrastructure, and political bickering, RPA listed 61 recommendations.

An entrance to MTA's New York Subway at Times Square
A Times Square entrance to the New York Subway. The Regional Plan Association wants big changes to the subway and other regional transit operators. Yong Lim

“This plan is both futuristic and bold,“ said RPA Chairman Scott Rechler, chairman and chief executive of RXR Realty LLC, a former vice chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and now a Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member.

“It is meant to be long-term and will not and should not be adopted right away. Some of these ideas should be put out there and allowed to marinate," said Rechler.

Congestion pricing for Manhattan, now a political football, was a brainchild of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg 10 years ago. While it died on arrival at the state legislature in Albany, engineer and former city transportation commissioner “Gridlock Sam” Schwartz has since run point.

His MoveNY plan would toll vehicles entering Manhattan south of 60th Street and the now free East River crossings into the borough, while lowering tolls on other bridges. Schwartz has said the plan could raise $1.5 billion annually for transit and $15 billion for transit through bonding.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo may submit his own congestion pricing initiative in January, when the legislature reconvenes. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, meanwhile, opposes congestion pricing and favors a millionaire’s tax instead.

While RPA’s fourth plan recommends building eight new subway lines and extensions in four boroughs, it also called for an end to the city’s trademark 24-hour service.

“RPA recommends the [Metropolitan Transportation Authority] adopt policies with a greater tolerance for longer-term outages [as the MTA is already doing for the L train repairs], and evaluate replacing weeknight late-night subway service with robust bus service (when streets are traffic-free),” said the report.

“Having longer windows for maintenance work would help keep the system in a state of good repair in the long term.”

RPA also wants to create a subway reconstruction public benefit corporation whose sole mission is to overhaul and modernize the subway, and to transform the Port Authority into an infrastructure bank with more innovative and efficient operating units.

“Let the Port Authority focus on the financing it does well rather than the operations, which it doesn't," said urban planner Rohit Aggarwala, who chaired the committee on the fourth regional plan.

The group also called for an integrated rail system and regional rail expansion for the tri-state region.

“Outside New York City, our region has three of the busiest commuter rail systems in the country and bus systems that serve millions of local, regional, and long-distance trips,” said the report. “Funding for these systems has not kept pace with growing ridership, and in some cases has been drastically cut. NJ Transit, Metro-North, and the Long Island Rail Road need to scale up operations to serve this increased demand.

“RPA recommends increasing funding to these entities, and reforming their governance structures to promote innovation and coordination.”

Redeveloping underused parking lots near rail stations alone, said RPA, could yield a quarter million new homes for the region.

“Cities such as Bridgeport, Paterson, and Poughkeepsie could become regional centers for new jobs in a range of industries, by building on existing urban assets and revitalizing downtowns with financial and policy support from state government.”

A national park in New Jersey’s Meadowlands, said the report, would protect its ecosystem and also help educate the public about climate-change adaptation.

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Paul Burton

Paul Burton

Paul Burton is the Northeast Regional Editor for The Bond Buyer and the author of the book "Tales from the Newsrooms." He is a sought-after public speaker and has appeared on radio and TV shows, including former CBS News White House correspondent Sharyl Attkisson’s public-affairs program, “Full Measure.”