The MTA’s Capital Quicksand

This article appeared on The Brooklyn Quarterly May 4, 2015.

Image: Neil Reilly
Image: Neil Reilly

The New York City subway system is one of our city’s defining characteristics. The subway is New York City’s circulatory system; without it, the city’s geography, population, and economy would never have reached today’s magnitudes. But the state government, which overtook the subways when they became insolvent as private enterprise in the 1960s, continues to neglect the needs of the system.

In late April, the New York Times ran an editorial to this effect. As everyone who follows the MTA knows, the agency has a $15 billion gap in its next capital budget. Many don’t know, though, that the MTA carries a $34 billion debt load, which grows every year under increased pressure to make debt service payments. The Times piece, which endorsed the sensible Move New York transportation overhaul plan, was tepid when it came to chastising those responsible for the chronic unmet needs of the system.

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Known Unknowns in Policing

NYPDshieldThe City That Became Safe: New York’s Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control by Franklin E. Zimring. Oxford Press, 2011. 257 pp.

Police are nothing new in America, but the national discussion regarding their role in society is growing. The past year has witnessed mass protests spring up in several cities. These have been nearly uniformly handled awkwardly, commonly with asymmetric violence. The spotlight has turned to the officers who forcefully disperse protests as well as the administrators and elected officials who are responsible for their actions and for public safety.

After peaking in 1990, crime in the United States declined tremendously. The drop in crime in New York City, however, dwarfs this improvement. America’s largest city has enjoyed a fall in crime more than twice as long in duration and steeper than the national average. The statistics are no secret, yet a policy-relevant explanation for this anomalous shift eludes scholars. Frank Zimring gives it a try with The City That Became Safe: New York’s Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control. Unfortunately, in this book he falls short. He does not deal sufficiently with the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) stop-and-frisk tactic and his own reasoning leaves his conclusion on shaky footing. Keep reading →