The Winning Transpo Formula for a Third Term: Sustainability + Populism

sheridan_wide.jpgMr. Bloomberg, tear down this highway. A vision of West Farms Road with housing and shops instead of the Sheridan Expressway. Image: South Bronx River Watershed Alliance.

Following Tuesday’s citywide elections, Streetsblog asked leading advocates and experts to lay out their ideas for the next four years of New York City transportation policy. What should the Bloomberg administration try to accomplish? Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and editor of its excellent blog, Mobilizing the Region, kicks things off with today’s installment.

The headlines after last week’s mayoral contest weren’t kind to the winner. "NY Voters Seen Wanting More Humble Bloomberg," proclaimed Reuters. "Bloomberg Sweats Out Third Term," wrote the Post. The incumbent’s slim margin of victory points to two major takeaways from campaign season in New York City: 1) Mayor Bloomberg is seen as out of touch with everyday New Yorkers, yet 2) was reelected, grudgingly, because the electorate thinks he is doing a decent job.

First up: Publicly support the removal of the Sheridan Expressway as a green jobs program.

Over the next four years, the mayor has an opportunity to rebuild the public’s trust and reverse the perception that he doesn’t care about the average citizen. It’s in his best interest to spend significant time on the latter. A wealthy, assertive politician can seem arrogant to voters in the best of times, and third terms are notoriously difficult for elected officials. If the mayor wants to create a legacy that builds on his existing record, he will have to prove that his policies, including transportation, help working New Yorkers. Here are four ways to help get him there, starting with the most specific.

First up: Publicly support the removal of the Sheridan Expressway as a green jobs program. This highway is a redundant, little used stub running through the Hunts Point community of the South Bronx. For nearly a decade, advocates in the South Bronx River Watershed Alliance (including the Pratt Center, Nos Quedamos, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, The Point, Sustainable South Bronx, and my organization, Tri-State Transportation Campaign) have called on the New York State DOT to remove the highway. Doing so would create 700 permanent jobs and hundreds of construction jobs, improve access to the Bronx River, and open up 28 acres for parks and affordable housing.

Bulldozing acres of parks for the new Yankee Stadium gave the impression that the mayor was more willing to help out developers than the average Bronx resident. Removing the Sheridan would help pay back that debt, and fit naturally with the Mayor’s long-term sustainability agenda, PlaNYC 2030.

Next, the Mayor should commit to boosting New York City’s funding for public transit.

During his campaign, Bloomberg announced an ambitious mass transit proposal. Like any good campaign document, the plan would improve the quality of life in all five boroughs, especially neighborhoods underserved by transit, like eastern Queens. But few of the proposals are under the mayor’s control and all of them require money. At a press conference last week, Bloomberg indicated that he doesn’t intend to boost city funding for MTA operations. He should reconsider. If the mayor wants support from the MTA, he must increase support to the MTA.

Third is to prioritize space for buses on city streets. The mayor should do all he can to ensure timely implementation of bold Bus Rapid Transit projects, as called for in PlaNYC, and help the Port Authority deal with the rogue buses that are increasingly affecting communities like Chinatown and Hell’s Kitchen. Better management will unclog the streets and improve the customer experience. (Believe it or not, those people lined up with their luggage on the sidewalks waiting for the Megabus are voters, too.)

Existing efforts to use city highways in a way that benefits working people in the outer boroughs should be preserved and expanded. Last year, the state DOT caved to politicians and started allowing cars with two or more passengers in the Staten Island Expressway bus lane. This is not only illegal (the lane was approved for buses only, not cars), but also hurt bus riders who are now slowed by greater congestion in the lane. Similar bus lanes should be put in place on highways throughout the city, a boon for New York’s car-free households, which make, on average, less than half as much as households with cars.

And finally, the mayor should recognize the work of NYCDOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan by ensuring that she continues in her post for four more years. Sadik-Khan has become one of Bloomberg’s key spokespeople for PlaNYC. Her message about greening the planet with small changes to city streets resonates with the young, diverse population struggling to afford life in New York. In two-and-a-half years, Sadik-Khan and her staff have transformed a frustrating city agency whose biggest victory was speeding cars through Midtown into an international model for results-based sustainable transportation policy.

Mayor Bloomberg is already known as a skilled manager who gets things done. With a little effort, he can use transportation to expand his legacy as a leader in sustainability who stood up for the working people of New York.

  • fdr

    “Bulldozing acres of parks for the new Yankee Stadium gave the impression that the mayor was more willing to help out developers than the average Bronx resident.”
    Gave the impression?

  • All good stuff Kate.

    The populism part is really important. Most bus riders are not aware of all of his efforts to make their rides faster. He should really take on local opposition to proposals head on. If there are grandstanding councilmembers or state “legislators” complaining about SBS “hurting” small businesses, he should go and take the bus himself. New Yorkers like the hands on approach. He should really get out there amongst the people and explain how his policies directly impact their lives.

    He should go to a taxi line at LaGuardia and ask how many plan to use credit cards. He should go to Times Square and talk to business people enjoying the good weather ask where they would be if they didn’t have the public plaza.

    He needs to stand on the side of those without an institutional voice like a BID, merchants association, neighborhood group…the everyday person that just wants to make better use of mass transit.
    In short, he needs to expose all the people that quietly benefit greatly from his policies and build-up the need from the bottom up for further improvements.

  • Moser

    In addition to green jobs, I would position the Sheridan plan mainly as an affordable housing initiative with sustainable components like good access to transit and the Bronx River Greenway.

  • Yes! Mr. Bloomberg Tear Down This Highway! The Sheridan is ridiculous, it’s a highway to nowhere. Clean up the adjacent brown fields, give the community access to the Bronx River and with the left over skeleton of highway might I suggest something awesome?

    http://www.ssdarchitecture.com/works/residential/big-dig-building/

  • Hear, hear to all these points. Removing the Sheridan is particularly important symbolically, as a sign that we are committed to building cities that are good places for people to live, rather than chopping up neighborhoods to accommodate cars driving through them.

  • J:Lai

    The MTA is facing massive budget shortfalls. Service cuts and fare hikes will be the most noticable consequences, but in the long term it will be the lack of sufficient investment in upkeep and improvement of the capital stock that takes the biggest toll.

    The MTA needs new sources of dedicated funding. Getting them is going to take a combination of public education, political maneuvering, gains in efficiency, creative financing, and probably an operational overhaul.

    There are entrenched interests who will oppose this, both inside and outside of the MTA.

    The best possible legacy that Bloomberg could create, as far as transportation goes, would be to find a way to get those new funding sources. In a perfect world, he would also move the decision making power back to the local NYC and metro region government — e.g. he should undo much of what Robert Moses created when he set up the MTA as an independently run and financed agency.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The MTA is heading for a financial crash, driven by the state legislature and previous administrations (including Bloombergs’ own), and there is little Bloomberg (or anyone else) can do about it. At this point the amount of additional revneue required is far more than the MTA is likely to get — perhaps $4 billion per year.

    He should be pushing bicycles in Manhattan and nearby areas, carpooling and private vans elsewhere, and telecommuting. Why? No money, and it might actually do some good.

    Meanwhile, I’m sure he’ll be more focused on the destruction of the school system more than the destruction of the transit system, since he is more directly responsible.

    Ultimately, either debts are retiree obligations are going away, or public services are. The MTA will either piggyback on a massive national wave of municipal defaults and restructurings, or be able to recover after those obligations are inflated away by a falling dollar. In the interim, the question is what service eliminations do the least economic damage.

    Everyone needs to think about alternatives, not improvements, unfortunately. And as for the Sheridan, the means to the end is to simply stop maintaining it a la the West Side Highway.

  • JK

    Though the Sheridan tear down is a state decision, maybe Bloomberg could make it a little easier for SDOT by having the EDC/IDC pay for a share of the one time tear down and corridor reclamation. Perhaps some bonding could be done via Tax Increment Finance of a portion of development in the corridor. If nothing else it would be a rare example of EDC/IDC actually spending big money on public improvements instead of subsidizing parking decks at big box stores and stadiums. In contrast, no mayor is going to increase operating subsidies for the MTA. The city has big fiscal problems of its own, and no mayor is going to pour money into an agency they do not control.

  • Ann

    JK, You are right that ultimately removing the Sheridan is a state decision, but the project also needs strong city support. The State DOT is not going to select the Sheridan’s removal without a strong push from the city.

  • Raymond Peritu

    The Sheridan is an interstate (I-895) and would proabably need some level of federal approval to tear it down. Then the city would have to de-map it and the state would have to do the same. But it really goes nowhere. IIRC it was originally planned as a much longer highway. Get rid of it, use the corridor for new housing and businesses.

  • I’m gonna have to oppose the tearing down of the Sheridan Expressway due to the concern I have about where trucks heading to the Food Center in Hunts Point and the cars heading to Soundview and Morrisania are going to go.

    In the case of the trucks, many that use the Sheridan Expressway come from the Cross Bronx Expway (mainly from New Jersey and points south of NYC). If the Sheridan is gone, trucks have to navegate through the infamous “spaghetti interchange” to the Major Deegan Expressway, resulting in interlane weaving between the George Washington Bridge upper level lanes to the exit for the Deegan Expwy. Traffic on the Deegan heading to/from the Cross Bronx is a pain (mind you, this is when the Yankees ARE NOT in town!). When the Yankees are in town, traffic is even worse. In addition, trucks would be plaguing residential streets in Mott Haven, which has a similar, if not worse asthma rate than Hunts Point.

    In the case of the cars on the Sheridan, it would affect a few nearby communities. First, you have Morris Park. A neighborhood far from the subway, many drivers from this middle-class community often end up on the Sheridan since the Bronx River Parkway does not have a direct exit to serve Morris Park. If the Sheridan is torn down, these drivers would end up causing more traffic not only on the Bronx River Pkwy, but on other thoroughfares such as Fordham Road and the Bruckner Expwy, which go through more residential communities (like Soundview) than Hunts Point.

    Also, in the cases of Soundview and Morrisania, without the Sheridan as I mentioned before, more residential streets would be plagued with traffic (such as Webster Av and Boston Road).

    In addition, although many point out that not too many Bronx residents own cars, there’s another group of working people affected by a removed highway that cause just as much traffic than private cars, the taxicabs.

  • Steve

    Lennin Reyes is 100% correct! While the proposed pictures are nice to look at and sound great they forget the real day to day impact on the vehicles, truck deliveries, traffic back ups,and most importantly emergency vehicles etc. which if ignored, as the “non drivers” obviously do, then the consequences without it are much worse to your health, quality of life and increased congestion! I live 60 feet from a major NYC highway, so I understand all the ramifications of a highway dividing your community first hand for over fifty years! BUT I wouldn’t tear it down, even if not fullu utilized. Think of it as an emergency safety valve! Save the Sheridan because long range planning and traffic flow must be viewed into the next 50-100 years!

  • Steve

    Sorry for the typo, not fully utilized….

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