The Future of Westchester Transportation

How will you get to work in 2020?



Photo Illustration by Richard Hernández
Illustrations by Carl Wiens

How Will You Get to Work in 2020?

Hang onto those car keys. However...how well can you pedal?

Last year, more than 80 million of us took Metro-North from Crestwood to Chappaqua, from Pelham to Port Chester, from White Plains to Grand Central Station, and everywhere and anywhere else trains could take us. More than 30 million of us rode the Bee-Line Bus System, and millions more rode bikes, walked, or drove along the 3,200 miles of public roads in the county to get around. But what will transportation look like in 2020? Will we guide our cars on new roads and parkways, or will our automobiles be headed the way of the dodo bird?

Change already is underway. Westchester increasingly is becoming a more mass-transit-dependent and eco-friendly county. We are relying less on automobiles and more on trains, bikes, buses, and our own two feet to get where we need to go. According to county data records, most recently updated in November 2008, fewer of us used our cars to get around in 2006 than we did in 2000, 67 percent vs. 71 percent. During that same period, 8,000 fewer of us drove to work while the number who walked to work increased from about 17,000 to 24,000. From 2003 to 2007, Metro-North ridership increased almost 10 percent, and Bee-Line ridership rose almost 7 percent from 2006 to 2007. More than 20 percent of us now use public transit as our primary means of getting to work.

Now let’s hop in the DeLorean and set the dial to the year 2020. Imagine this: construction on I-287 is complete—really! Not only that, it’s 5:30 pm and it isn’t totally jammed. No, cars haven’t disappeared, but the mass-transit options are far more expansive. Maybe you’re cruising along in the high-speed bus lane, or maybe you’ve ditched 287 altogether, opting instead to walk or ride your bike. (To travel across the county, you can use the expanded new bike paths the county will build between the Bronx River Pathway and South County Trailway.)

Say you want to see a show at the Purchase College theater, but you just don’t feel like driving. Click on the county website to link to programs and services that will hook you up to a carpool or another eco-friendly way to get around. Or perhaps you can jump onto one of the county’s new buses (four are in service today and another 95 are in production in Alabama to be ready by the end of this year). Commissioner of Transportation Lawrence Salley reports that two-thirds of the county’s bus fleet will be hybrid sometime around 2014, and the entire fleet will be converted about two years later.

Or perhaps you will opt to use “On Demand” transportation. Just call the county and request a ride to a certain destination. A computer will match you with others going to that same area, and a car will be sent over to transport you all. “On Demand” may be especially welcome in the northern part of the county, where the number of people riding buses on fixed routes is fairly low. “We have a heavy investment in reducing our carbon footprint,” says Westchester County Executive Andy Spano, “and getting people out of cars.”

Expect to see a fleet of hybrid buses on 287’s high-speed bus lane.

And not too many, it seems, into our county. Spano says his aim is to have Westchester grow by no more than 10,000 new residents each year—more than that, he says, will stretch the county’s resources too much. And he’d like many newcomers to move to the county’s major downtown areas because they provide easy access to mass transit and are within walking distance of restaurants, pharmacies, hardware stores, etc. Newcomers might consider buying a condo in New Rochelle or White Plains, which have two of the busiest Metro-North stations in the county.

“It’s all about quality of life, and the quality of life relies on the pattern of development in Westchester,“ says Commissioner of Planning Jerry Mulligan.”

So don’t expect new roads. New roads, Spano notes, will only lead to more cars, and more cars do not make for more efficient transportation or cleaner air quality. But do expect the county’s existing roads to be improved.

Flooding, goodness knows, has long been a big problem on several of our parkways. After a major storm in the spring of 2007, Spano and the County Board of Legislators created a Flood Action Task Force to “review, evaluate, and make recommendations” on how they’d spend money from the $50 million set aside for a five-year program to combat flooding.

However, no matter what the county does, it has one major transportation challenge: “East-west transit is our missing link,” Deputy Planning Commissioner Ed Burroughs declares. So will Westchester 2020 include an east-west line? Your guess is as good as any. Spano says a recommendation for such a rail line was made as early as 1932. Nearly 80 years later, there is still no timetable for construction.
—Eric Lebowitz