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Robert Yaro, Pres Regional Plan NY

June 5, 2009 @ 12:00 am EDT


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We had the pleasure of welcoming to our June 5th meeting, Robert Yaro, head of the Regional Plan Association. Robert gave a talk and engaged in Q & A about the important role that Long Island plays in the tri-state region, and the RPA’s goals for the region in general. Introducing the RPA to the meeting, he described its mission as a mix of about 80% NYC regional, and 20% national issues, where the RPA is promulgating the notion of Mega-Regions, linked together by metropolises, such as the Northeast Corridor from Boston to Washington, connected by efficient transportation and
telecommunication systems.

Rail, both commuter and high-speed intercity, is an important component of the RPA’s planning toolset. Founded in 1922 with the goals of improving mobility within the NYC region, it has expanded its view to meeting global and regional environmental goals around the transformation of urban and suburban centers. The RPA’s first plan, published in 1929, envisioned the George Washington and Verrazano Narrows bridges, JFK Airport, the Merritt Parkway, and the Long Island and Palisades Parks and Parkway systems.

The next plan, of 1968, called for the restoration of mass transit systems, through the creation of the MTA, put forth ideas for open space preservation, and the revitalization of urban areas through the focus on a network of centers, both urban and suburban.

The third plan of 1996, called for seamless mass transit and a greensward network through the region. It contained concepts for the JFK and Newark AirTrains, East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal for the LIRR, and the completion of the 2nd Avenue subway.

In talking about Long Island, it is important to remember that it is tied to NYC, physically, economically, and geo-politically. The last 50 years of its development has been car-centered, and it needs to refocus on mass transit. The RPA’s past work for Long Island has involved the Parks and Parkway system, the original concept of a Nassau Hub, LIRR electrification to Ronkonkoma, and the promotion of East Side Access. The current work includes continual support for the completion of ESA, the Pine Barrens commission and management plan, along with the newly created Long Island Sound Stewardship Act.

Mr. Yaro described some of Long Island’s assets as an excellent quality of life, safe communities, and a superior education system from elementary through graduate institutions. A highly skilled workforce, extraordinary natural beauty, the nation’s largest commuter rail network and membership in the NY metro economy that is larger than the GDP of many large developed countries round out the lineup.

The long island paradox, is that there is a brain drain of this skill, and 901 units of government at all levels, one for every 3,000 residents. He posited that it is the last remaining medieval English system of governance left in the Western Hemisphere. Long Island is also out of developable land, suffering from job losses, at the mercy of climate change, hamstrung by housing expense, choked by traffic, and is one of the most segregated areas of the United States.

As a non-profit regional think tank, the RPA promotes long-term, regionally centered planning among elected officials, and planning development agencies. To that end, they have developed Long Island 2035, a vision for Long Island based on the successes of Salt Lake City and Portland, Oregon. It is a plan to help deal with the expected 460,000 new residents and 250,000 additional jobs. It is promoting this plan by working with many regional players, such as NYMTC and the Long Island Regional Planning Commission. Long Island must acknowledge the need for higher density development and get its
politicians to develop a regional focus, rather than hold to the traditional parochial ways. The Empire State Transportation Alliance is an important vehicle to move the plan forward, components of which include the LIRR’s third track program, East Side Access, and regionalizing the balkanized bus systems existing.

Closing with a description of the Nissequogue Action Plan as a blue print for protecting other environmentally significant areas, it contains a set of 110 concrete goals and actions for implementing groups, geared toward incrementally improving the area, which can be replicated across the region.
As usual, the Q&A was pointed, leading off with questioning whether ESA was in jeopardy of not being finished. Robert’s response was that there’s a paradox, if you don’t finish it, then billions in Federal funds already spent towards its construction must be returned to Washington. What the real issue is here is the lack of a complete 5 year capital plan.

The RPA’s opinion of the Lighthouse project was asked. The answer was in general it is a good concept, but incomplete without transit connections.

Once again, another well spent Friday morning with an engaging speaker that is influential on our daily lives and in the directing of our region.


Written by Craig Plunkett