RPA Releases Fourth Regional Plan for NY-NJ-CT Region

Plan Charts Course For Improved Equity, Transportation & Resiliency

Highlights include radically restructuring the MTA and Port Authority to support creation of a modernized and expanded subway and regional rail network; addressing region’s affordable housing crisis with policies to significantly increase the number of homes, and expanding the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to fund climate change initiatives

New York, NY— Regional Plan Association (RPA), the nearly 100-year old research, planning and advocacy organization focused on improving the tri-state area’s prosperity, infrastructure, sustainability and quality of life, today released its Fourth Regional Plan to help elected officials, policymakers, and advocates plan for the region’s future. Throughout its history, RPA has released once-in-a-generation Regional Plans that have shaped the area’s growth and advocated for the infrastructure and quality of life investments that now support its economic vibrancy.

The plan finds that while the overall tri-state economy is booming, the region is not working for everyone, and major changes are needed to ensure continued growth and more equitable prosperity.

Crime is at an all-time low and people are living longer here than they do in other parts of the country, but at the same time people are being priced out by a lack of  adequate affordable housing, more people live in poverty than a generation ago, the transit system is crumbling, and many communities have not recovered fully from Superstorm Sandy— much less prepared for the next one.

The Fourth Regional Plan provides a vision as well as specific recommendations to reverse this trend, and to create a new type of growth that brings more shared prosperity, equity, improved health and sustainability for the region.

“The region may look great from Fifth Avenue, but in many neighborhoods across the five boroughs, and in places like Paterson, Bridgeport and Hempstead, it doesn’t feel that way. Commutes are longer than ever, housing more expensive, and climate change is exposing real long-term vulnerabilities,” said Tom Wright, President of the Regional Plan Association. “The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. The Fourth Plan shows how we can create a new kind of inclusive growth that fosters equity, sustainability and health, and makes a region that works for everyone.”

“Today, too often, governments think and plan in election cycles,” said Scott Rechler, Chairman & CEO, RXR Realty; Chair, Regional Plan Association, “The Fourth Regional Plan looks out across a generation, and challenges our region’s leaders to think beyond politics, to take a long-range view that is sorely needed to be able to make the types of projects and investments that will help us retain our place as one of the most dynamic, inviting and successful regions in the world.”  

“This region should work for its people, but right now it doesn’t.  All too often it seems we have to settle, to accept high costs, poor service, unresponsive institutions.  But this doesn’t have to be the case,” said Rohit T. Aggarwala, Chair of the Committee on the Fourth Regional Plan.  “The Fourth Plan offers a realistic agenda for making this region work for us all.  We can make housing affordable to all income levels, bring our transit system and roads into the 21st century, and embracing nature even as the climate is changing.  We can create the 21st-century institutions we need to deliver 21st-century solutions.”

The plan was created over the course of a nearly five-year process during which time RPA staff analyzed gigabytes of data, held working sessions with over a thousand experts, hosted dozens of community meetings with thousands of local leaders, engaged with nine community organizations representing 50,000 residents across the region, created hundreds of maps, charts and interactive features, and released a dozen reports.

Only the fourth in the organization’s 100-year history, the plan is organized into four action areas that represent major challenges and areas of opportunity:

Institutions 

Tri-state area infrastructure is congested and failing, and it takes too long and costs too much to fix it, the plan finds.

Housing policies, local land use practices, and tax structures are inefficient and reinforce inequality and segregation. Public institutions are slow to incorporate state-of-the-art technology to improve the quality of services, and truly addressing the growing threat of climate change requires investments far more ambitious and strategic than we have made so far. Solving these existential challenges will require public officials and citizens to reassess fundamental assumptions about public institutions. This transformation is the underpinning for many of the recommendations in the plan.

 

Transportation

Transportation is the backbone of the region’s economy. It is also vital to the quality of life of everyone who lives and works here. But years of population and job growth and underinvestment in both maintenance and new construction have led to congestion, lack of reliability, and major disruptions on a regular basis. Some transportation improvements are relatively quick and inexpensive, such as redesigning our streets to accommodate walking, biking and buses. But the region also needs to invest in new large-scale projects to modernize and extend the subways and regional rail networks, as well as upgrade airports and seaports. These investments will have far-reaching and positive effects on land use, settlement patterns, public health, goods movement, the economy, and the environment.

 

Climate change

Climate change is already transforming the region. Reducing the region’s greenhouse gas emissions is critical, but it won’t be enough. We must accelerate efforts to adapt to the impact of a changing climate.  

Today, more than one million people and 650,000 jobs are at risk from flooding, along with critical infrastructure such as power plants, rail yards, and water-treatment facilities. By 2050, nearly two million people and one million jobs would be threatened.  We must adapt our coastal communities and, in some cases, transition away from the most endangered areas. We will also need to invest in green infrastructure in our cities to mitigate the urban heat-island effect, reduce stormwater runoff and sewer overflows, and improve the health and well-being of residents.

Affordability 

Over the last two decades the tri-state region has become more attractive to people and businesses—but it has also become more expensive.  While household incomes have stagnated, housing costs have risen sharply, straining family budgets and resulting in increased displacement and homelessness. What’s more, the region’s history of racial and economic discrimination has kept many residents away from neighborhoods with quality schools and good jobs. Instead, many live in areas that are unsafe or environmentally hazardous. The region needs quality housing for all income levels in places that have good transit service. It must also invest in smaller cities and downtowns to boost economic opportunities throughout the region.

 

Key Recommendations of the Fourth Regional Plan

The Fourth Regional Plan contains 61 recommendations to help make our region more equitable, healthy, sustainable and prosperous.  The following are key recommendations:

 

Reform the MTA and Port Authority and reduce the costs of building new transit projects.

The MTA and the Port Authority were invented to solve the challenges of their respective eras. If we were to invent agencies to address the challenges of our time, to fix and expand capacity in our region’s transportation network, they would not be structured the same way. 

Specifically, RPA recommends that the Governor of New York establish a new Subway Reconstruction Public Benefit Corporation to overhaul and modernize the subway system within 15 years, thereby creating a transportation system suitable to meeting the needs of the largest, most dynamic metropolitan area in the nation. RPA recommends a series of measures to reduce the costs of building new projects, which is essential to be able to expand the system.

RPA also recommends that the Port Authority take immediate steps to depoliticize decision-making. Longer term, the Port Authority should generate more revenue from the investments it makes with value capture strategies, and create independent entities to manage the daily operations of its different assets (airports, ports, bus terminal, PATH, bridges and tunnels). The central Port Authority body could focus on its function as an infrastructure bank to finance large-scale projects across the region.

 

Modernize and expand subways and integrate and expand the regional rail network.

Our region is running on a century-old subway system, much of which hasn’t been significantly upgraded in the past fifty years. The system is overcrowded and deteriorating at a time of record ridership. RPA recommends the creation of a special entity to modernize the subway within 15 years. Specific modernization steps RPA proposes include accelerating the installation of modern train control, redesigning and renovating stations to reduce congestion, and ensuring that all stations are accessible to people with disabilities. 

In order to expedite needed large-scale capital improvements, the RPA recommends the MTA adopt new policies to create a greater tolerance for longer-term outages as it is already doing for the L train repairs. But instead of closing and bringing line segments back to state of good repair, these closures should be used to thoroughly overhaul and modernize the system.

To keep the subway in good working order, it also recommends that the MTA evaluate ending weeknight late night service, which carries a fraction of the passengers of weekend nights-- and replacing it with buses that would flow freely overnight to allow for longer periods for maintenance.

The plan also recommends 8 expansion projects to bring the subway into neighborhoods with the densities to support fixed rail transit, particularly low-income areas where residents depend on public transportation. 

RPA also recommends expanding Trans-Hudson capacity and regional connectivity with a unified, integrated, expanded regional rail network, beginning with building the Gateway project and extending it through to Queens. With RPA’s regional rail proposal, the transit system will comfortably serve a million more commuters in 2040.

 

Preserve and create affordable housing in all communities.

Affordability is key to giving everyone in the region the chance to succeed. RPA recommends several actions by all levels of government to protect and increase the supply of homes for households of all incomes, and create affordable housing in all communities. Many of these recommendations will facilitate the creation of new housing without additional funding. RPA also calls on cities and states to be more proactive in protecting vulnerable residents from displacement through policies to generate more permanently affordable housing and increase wealth in lower-income communities.

Municipalities should update zoning to facilitate more housing production, especially near transit. Some common-sense changes include allowing accessory dwellings, which could create 300,000 new units regionwide without any new construction. Others include ensuring all municipalities allow multi-family developments near transit stations, so residents can take advantage of technology-enabled vehicles that minimize the need for parking. Developing existing parking lots in this way would yield a quarter of a million new homes in walkable, mixed-income communities near transit.

These new homes can be accessible to all the region’s residents—existing as well as newcomers—by robust enforcement of fair housing protections and a region-wide inclusionary zoning policy, thereby creating diverse, mixed-income communities. 
 

Establish a Regional Coastal Commission and state adaptation funds.

Climate change and rising sea levels know no borders, but climate change adaptation is currently managed at the municipal and state levels, with a complex and overlapping web of bureaucracy and patchwork funding.

RPA recommends that New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey create a Regional Coastal Commission that can take a long-range, multi-jurisdictional, and science-based approach to managing coastal adaptation. The states should simultaneously establish new Climate Adaptation Trust Funds to provide a dedicated stream of revenue for adaptation projects.
 

Price greenhouse gas emissions using California’s comprehensive approach.

The region has already cut GHG emissions, but reaching the goal adopted by all three states and New York City—reducing emissions 80 percent by 2050—will require more dramatic action. RPA recommends strengthening and expanding the existing carbon pricing system, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to include emissions from the transportation, residential, commercial and industrial sectors, as California has done. The three states could eventually join California and other jurisdictions to form a larger and more powerful cap-and-trade market.

The additional revenues that would be generated—potentially $3 billion per year in the three states—could be used to invest in creating an equitable, low-carbon economy and increasing our resilience to climate change.

 

RPA’s Fourth Regional Plan is available at fourthplan.org.
 

History of the Regional Plans  

RPA has published three previous regional plans, in the 1920s, the 1960s and the mid-1990s, that have dramatically affected the way the Tri-State area has developed.  Major policy and infrastructure recommendations implemented from past regional plans include constructing the the regional highway network, instituting the MTA’s first long-range capital plan, creating regional economic hubs in Jamaica, Queens and Stamford Connecticut, developingHudson Yards, and and the protection of open space including the creation of Palisades Interstate Park, Gateway National Recreation Area and Governors Island.  

 

About Regional Plan Association

Regional Plan Association is an independent, not-for-profit civic organization that develops and promotes ideas to improve the economic health, environmental resilience and quality of life of the New York metropolitan area. We conduct research on transportation, land use, housing, good governance and the environment. We advise cities, communities and public agencies. And we advocate for change that will contribute to the prosperity of all residents of the region. Since the 1920s, RPA has produced three landmark plans for the region and is working on a fourth plan due out in 2017. For more information, please visit www.rpa.org or fourthplan.org.