Friday, November 19, 2010

Ted Kheel, transportation and civil rights

Ted Kheel passed away last week at the age of 96. Kheel is known for many things, but one thing I'd like to highlight is that he viewed transportation access as fundamentally as a civil rights issue. He believed, rightly, that no one should be excluded from opportunities because they lack mobility.
“Transportation,” he said, “is as much a civil rights issue as housing and education and jobs.”


Kheel also sought a transportation system where cars and transit co-existed, infrastructure was tolled and transit was assisted through a regional commuter tax. Here is a piece celebrating his transportation vision in the New York Times. From the Times:

In the end, much depends on finding that elusive balance between the auto and the train. Drivers and their advocates in politics will always resist attempts to raise bridge and tunnel tolls and to divert a portion of that revenue to mass transit. Typically, they call such efforts unfair. Mr. Kheel saw it differently.

“Ted was not unique on this, but I think he propounded it as insistently as anybody,” Mr. Komanoff said. “The car driver is actually using mass transit, if we stretch the definition of ‘use.’ Without a robust transit system, the road would be so jammed that driving would be nightmarish. All the drivers who would want to be on the road in the absence of a viable transit system would be so much in each other’s way that nobody would move.”

Decades ago, Mr. Kheel proposed banning cars altogether from large areas of Manhattan. That sort of talk faded away. Instead, he came to focus on “balancing the needs of the driver with the needs of the straphanger and the bus rider,” Mr. Komanoff said. “He had no demons, no villains. He was looking for solutions, not pointing fingers.”


Here is a link to a piece by Charles Komanoff celebrating Kheel. Komanoff has worked on the Balanced Transportation Analyzer, which is a spreadsheet that helps analyze the costs and benefits of various financing and toll plans. The BTA is here.
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