Originally posted by Crain’s New York Business by Jeffrey Friedman:
New York City is facing the music—the music of honking horns from frustrated drivers who are sitting in more gridlock than ever.
It will only get worse because many people feel more comfortable sitting behind the wheel on their commute rather than taking mass transit. Gridlock already is making our roads less safe; the summer had the highest number of traffic fatalities in the past seven summers.
Just as we have adapted since the pandemic, we must adapt to accelerate the return to the office—and we must do it in a way that reflects a balanced approach to overcoming gridlock.
As the city returns as a vibrant, attractive destination for businesses and entrepreneurs, the city has indirectly been asking us to change our behavior. From the conversations around congestion pricing to encourage mass transit to driving during off-peak hours, the city is telling us that traffic is horrible, and we must do something about it,
The paradigm of how offices are used and occupied and how we commute to our offices has shifted, and in return we must shift. If we do, we can ultimately make the city better and safer.
How to ease transportation woes
Schedule flexibility: As more individuals return to the office, we have to get traffic under control. Schedule flexibility is one of the keys to curbing traffic. With the world connected 24/7, the hours become more fluid and our traditional 9-5 presence in the office becomes less important.
Coordinating deliveries: It’s all about the logistics of coordinating deliveries with offices, companies and businesses so that the majority of the deliveries are not being made during peak daytime hours. This will make our streets more manageable and our businesses more efficient, and it will give more time back to the truck drivers who spend hours circling city streets only to end up double parking.
We can use technology to manage deliveries and schedule them in a way that provides a more balanced approach in this new normal. We are seeing this done around the World Trade Center site and other locations. According to the Department of Transportation’s figures, more than 89% of goods coming into the city are delivered by truck, and 80% of the commercial activity in Manhattan’s Central Business District occurs between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
As e-commerce continues to significantly increase, adding further strain on our roads, we need to spread out our deliveries better. It’s worth noting cities from Bogota to London have implemented ambitious overnight delivery programs that have had favorable results.
Flexibility on the train: If we are to get more office workers back into the office sooner, we need to offer greater flexibility on our railroads to the suburbs, where many New Yorkers moved during the pandemic.
For example, Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road still only offer monthly tickets at a discount. The introduction of a flex pass in which users receive a discount on a 10-trip would get the new suburbanites back into the city, increase ridership and encourage schedules to revert to 100% prepandemic levels. It also would help take cars off the road.
The future of work will always include the office. But to what extent depends on our ability to get gridlock under control. We have the tools to do it. All we need is the drive.
Jeffrey Friedman is CEO of Building Intelligence, an New York City-based software company.