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Car Culture

DOT’s Missed Opportunity on the Manhattan Bridge

11:11 AM EDT on October 16, 2006

On Friday, Department of Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall stood up in front of 600 people at Borough President Stringer's Transportation Policy Conference and said that her agency was serious about reducing car use in New York City. It was a great policy speech.

Then on Sunday morning I flipped on the radio and heard that the lower roadway of the Manhattan Bridge would be closed for repairs for a year. Throughout the day on Sunday and then again this morning, the local media has faithfully repeated this message from the City:

The Department of Transportation is urging drivers to use alternate routes and roadways, even though the upper level of the bridge will remain open during construction.

Today's message to area commuters would have been a great opportunity for the City to begin implementing the new policy direction that Weinshall put forward on Friday. In addition to urging drivers to use alternative routes and roadways, DOT should also be urging drivers to use the many alternative modes that are available to commuters crossing the East River—rail, buses, bicycles, ferries, and the under-utilized Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Unfortunately, DOT is not seizing on this opportunity.

Is this nitpicking? I don't think so. In the end, it is the moments like this that count far more than a big policy speech at Columbia University. Today, the city's message on the Manhattan Bridge closure is being repeated ad nauseum throughout the region's various news channels. DOT has the ear of the region's commuters. The agency has the chance to let the region's car commuters know, in a subtle, non-threatening and entirely helpful way, that with the Manhattan Bridge's car-carrying capacity greatly reduced there are better ways to transport themselves into Manhattan than by car. So, why isn't DOT doing that?

It is one thing to make a great policy speech. It is a far different thing to implement policy. A policy speech doesn't mean that much if the content of that speech doesn't filter down into the day-to-day culture, communications and operations of city government. Commissioner Weinshall needs to make that happen.

Photo: GoCarlo

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