1616: Justin Kalifowitz

Justin Kalifowitz is the Founder and CEO of Downtown Music Publishing. He subscribed to FoT in July 2015.

1) What change do you want to see in the world of mobility by the end of 2016?

Negotiating transportation on the streets of New York is a real­life “choose your own adventure.” Maintaining the lowest car ownership rates in the US, New Yorkers get around on an expansive public transport network, on foot, and increasingly, by bicycle. There are also yellow and green cabs, a range of private car services, dollar buses, car­sharing programs and of course, Uber.

Yet, despite the unique multimodal nature of NYC’s local transport network, State officials in Albany are the ones dictating transport policy and controlling the purse strings. From increasing subway accessibility in transit deserts to adding a single speed camera in front of an elementary school, much of NYC’s mobility planning is subject to a byzantine web of State-­level bureaucracy.

Such politics partially explain why Michael Bloomberg could pass a smoking ban but was unable to get congestion pricing across the finish line. Upon learning of the plan’s demise in 2008, Bloomberg commented: “Even Washington, which most Americans agree is completely dysfunctional, is more willing to try new approaches to longstanding problems than our elected officials in the State Assembly.”

If NYC is to be taken seriously as a leader in transportation innovation, the City will have to secure at least a modicum of autonomy here. An excellent start would be passage of the recently introduced MoveNY plan by the end of 2016.

Devised by former Traffic Commissioner, Sam Schwartz, MoveNY calls for raising $1.5B in dedicated funds for roads, bridges and mass transit. This is primarily achieved through the introduction of a $5.54 toll to use the (mostly free) East River bridges and tunnels that enter the Central Business District (CBD) in Manhattan. As a result, the outer­borough crossings would see up to a 48% reduction in tolls charges, a move that would meaningfully improve traffic flow within the CBD. Additionally, MoveNY would provide precious funding directly to the city for other forms of mobility including increased subway service, expanded bus rapid transit routes, additional protected bike lanes and improved ferry landings across all five boroughs.

So, why now? Besides a substantially better brand than “congestion pricing”, MoveNY focuses on a more equitable pricing structure that has gained grassroots support from concerned citizens, public and private organizations and a range of elected officials. Most recently, Ydanis Rodriguez, the head of the City Council’s transportation committee announced his support for the plan as it would “revolutionize the way our city moves” and would be an opportunity to bring local decision making to the process.

Securing passage of MoveNY will not only have an immediate effect on reducing congestion, but could put NYC on a path towards long­term control of its broader transportation agenda. One that would blur the lines between public and private transport, enabling all New Yorkers to access faster, safer and more affordable mobility options.

2) If you had to drop everything right now and build something that had the greatest impact on mobility, what would it be?

In 2014, the City of New York introduced a Vision Zero action plan, built on the concept that traffic fatalities and serious injuries are fully preventable. The announcement followed a multi­year campaign by Transportation Alternatives (TA), NYC’s leading advocate for pedestrians, cyclists and public transit. If I could drop everything right now to focus on mobility, I would work directly with TA in accelerating the implementation of this plan.

What’s interesting about TA’s advocacy role is that it not only focuses on eliminating 250+ road deaths and 50,000+ injuries occurring annually on NYC’s streets, but it also, importantly, recognizes that to achieve its goals, the City must consider a more holistic approach to transportation.

The result of TA’s efforts was NYC’s introduction of a 63­-step plan chock­ful of mobility-­driven initiatives. Some are obvious, such as reengineering busy intersections or improving street signals. But the plan also calls for other lesser ­known programs such as reforming off­-hour commercial delivery, expansion of the City’s bicycle network, enhanced street lighting at over 1,000 intersections and structural redesigns to heavily congested arterial streets.

Accelerating NYC’s Vision Zero plan would be an incredible achievement for transport on a global level.

The effort would not only help to dramatically save lives and reduce injuries, but would set a clear example for other cities that a coordinated, multi­agency effort focused on street safety can dramatically improve all forms of urban mobility.

Justin Kalifowitz Bio
Justin Kalifowitz is the Founder and CEO of Downtown Music Publishing and a board member of the National Music Publishers Association. Born and raised in New York, Justin is a graduate of the City University of New York­­Baruch College and has been named a Crains’ New York “Forty Under 40” and Billboard Magazine “30 Under 30” Top Executive. Justin is also a Co­Founder of New York Is Music, a coalition dedicated to advancing the importance of music in economic development, culture and education in New York State.

1616 is a compendium of ideas from 16 FoT subscribers about our near-term mobility future. You can read all 16 entries here; you can sign up for FoT here.