I’m up at Columbia University covering Borough President Stringer’s Transportation Policy Conference, live:
Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia is the keynote speaker. In only one three-year term as Mayor, Penalosa revolutionized the transportation system and public spaces of his city of 7 million (Mayors only get one term in office in Bogota so he had to work fast). This was a big speech for Peñalosa. He even said that he was a little bit nervous about it. The crowd here is large — 600 people — and all of New York City’s major transportation policy players are in the room.
Here’s a bit of what Peñalosa said (insert mellifluous Colombian accent on your own):
"Today, we aren’t just talking about transportation. What we are really talking about is: What kind of city do we want? There has to be a collective decision about how do we want to organize our lives. NYC along time ago, explicitly or implicitly decided that much of the city’s space would be dedicated to cars. This was a decision. It’s not some sort of natural law. Tomorrow we can change this. This is something that we have to decide. Transportation is not a technical matter. It is a political matter."
Applause line: "How about if we took away curbside parking and made sidewalks bigger? I speak in cities around the world and present New York City’s sidewalks as the best, most lively sidewalks in the world. Still, they should be bigger. We did this in Bogota and it worked. New York City sidewalks, they could be much better."
"Manhattan could be one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world. Applause (Editors note: Wow on the applause. This is not a room full of TransAlt and Times Up members, folks. This is a pretty staid crowd). In Bogota we closed the city’s streets to cars. I dream of Manhattan making a Broadway closure for pedestrians permanent. In Bogota we have the Sunday Ciclovía. We close the street on Sundays for bikes and joggers. I dream of this for Broadway for a few hours on Sundays."
"Bicycles are an amazing machine. If we are a democratic society then everyone has a right to safe mobility. But not everyone has access to a car. We have to think of a bike not as something that is cute or nice but a right. Safety for cyclists is a right. In a developing country cycling is a matter of democracy. Bike lanes are important, 20% for bike safety and 80% because it’s a symbol that a citizen on a $25 bicycle is just as important as one in a $30,000 car." Applause.
"Bogota had 30,000 individual bus owners. So we created the TransMilenio Bus Rapid Transit system. The stations are in the middle of the street. When the bus comes four doors open and the bus floor is level with the covered platform. One hundred people can get in and out of the bus in seconds. Two dedicated lanes are going each wa. The system is moving more passengers per km/hour than most transit systems in the world. (Peñalosa shows a slide of automobile traffic completely jammed up next to a freely flowing bus lane). We called it TransMilenio to make it sound sexy. Buses have a bad name. The system is moving more than 1.4 million passengers a day. To pay for it we established a gasoline surcharge and 25% of the gas taxes goes towards financing TransMilenio." (More applause. What? Is this room filled with Communists!?)
"Why not a BRT while we wait for the Second Avenue subway to built? Make a bus that goes much faster than cars! Now Manhattan has beautiful buses but they move to slow. In our old, historic downtown people said the roads are too narrow for buses. We said, "You are totally right. So, now cars can not go downtown anymore." This is done in lots of cities — parts of town where only buses and bicycles can go.
"Forty-second Street as a pedestrian promenade. I think that would be beautiful. Applause.
"What are we working towards? What is our goal? A city where a child can go anywhere safely on a bicycle." (Standing Ovation).
Six hundred people registered for the conference and this auditorium is packed. Scott Stringer just finished his talk. Guess what: Congestion pricing is an applause line now. Stringer: "Cities around the world have shown us what a transportation policy can be. London’s congestion pricing…. Copenhagen’s bike and bus lanes…. Solutions are within our grasp. We are now poised for that change. People will make adjustments if we give them a reason to do so. Congestion pricing and Bus Rapid Transit should be part of this discussion." BIG APPLAUSE
DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall just finished her introductory speech. Thanks to a police investigation nixing subway service over the Manhattan Bridge I missed the first half of it. But I got here in time to hear Weinshall announce one piece of significant news: DOT has agreed to close the Times Square "bow tie" making way for big pedestrian space increases in Midtown’s congested heart. The "bow tie" is the segment of roadway between 42nd and 47th Streets that allows traffic to merge between 7th Avenue and Broadway. After the closure, cars traveling down 7th Avenue will be forced to continue down Broadway. Vehicles traveling down 7th Avenue will have to continue down Broadway. This entire middle section of Times Square will be given over to pedestrians. Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance has long sought this change. It will make traffic flow less complicated and creates a lot more pedestrian space within Times Square. Only a year ago powerful people within DOT were stymying the idea of closing the Times Square bow-tie. Today DOT’s Commissioner is touting the change. The Times, they are a-changing