Komanoff’s work may not have made him a celebrity, but his rigor gained him a reputation within the rarefied world of traffic geeks. In 2007, he got a phone call. Ted Kheel, a legendary labor lawyer and one of Komanoff’s heroes, had made it his personal mission to completely rethink New York City’s traffic policy. Was Komanoff free to help?
Now 95 years old, Kheel has been trying to improve New York’s traffic for more than half a century. He is obsessed with the economic damage that cars do to cities—damage that’s much greater than most people realize. In 1958, as the New York City Transit Authority was preparing to raise subway fares, Kheel wrote a paper citing a survey that found that traffic congestion cost more than $2 billion a year. “This vast sum,” Kheel wrote, “equal to $1 a working day for every man, woman, and child in the city, has to be paid by someone, and it is. It is assessed against all of us in the form of higher prices, inflated delivery costs, and increased taxes.” It would be cheaper, he argued, to subsidize public transportation and save the hidden costs associated with driving.
Kheel made the same point a decade later, in a New York magazine cover story arguing against another fare increase: “Any balanced analysis will surely prove that the taxpayer actually pays, for every person who chooses to drive to and from work in his own car, an indirect subsidy at least 10 times as great as the indirect subsidy now paid the mass-transit rider.” Reuters