Priority Number One Under Joe Lhota’s DOT: Sync the Stop Lights

On his radio show this morning, John Gambling asked Joe Lhota what he thinks about congestion pricing and transportation issues generally. Lhota spent the next three minutes (starting at 8:25) explaining that under his administration, DOT would focus on its “core competency.” Bus lanes didn’t make the cut. Bikes? Forget about it.

You could be forgiven for thinking this man never ran the nation's largest transit system. Photo: ##

“You’ve got to ask yourself, what is the core mission, and are you doing it?” Lhota said. “There are tons of things that we need to do to reduce traffic,” he said, “before we get to the draconian stage of congestion pricing.”

Lhota then listed three priorities for his DOT commissioner. First, sync traffic lights to improve the flow of traffic. Second, focus on pedestrian safety. Third, keep the streets in a state of good repair. At least walking is in there somewhere.

He also repeated a campaign promise from the primaries to build park-and-ride lots for suburban commuters at the ends of subway lines in Queens and the Bronx, and said he would promote off-peak truck deliveries. Lhota has previously bashed bike-share planning and said he would reevaluate the city’s plazas and consider removing bike lanes, but didn’t talk about those issues on Gambling’s show this morning. Nor did the former MTA chair mention bus improvements in his transportation vision.

While it was good to hear Lhota talk about pedestrian safety, however briefly, he hasn’t put forward any ideas about how to, as he said, “keep these numbers down.” For someone who used to run the nation’s largest transit system, Lhota’s first general-election foray into transportation policy was a disappointing one. He still has some time to take advice from Nicole Gelinas.

  • Anonymous

    Given the approval numbers with things related to cycling, not fully embracing them is akin to not embracing clean drinking water.

  • Anxiously Awaiting Bikeshare

    It’s a good thing that under JSK, DOT has developed quite the core competency at installing bike lanes, bikeshare, creating pedestrian areas and installing bus lanes.

    For some reason my instinct is that these aren’t the core competencies Joe is referring to.

  • Anonymous

    This should come as no surprise. This is the guy who spent time bashing a bike route in Park Slope just hours before seven of his subway tunnels flooded.

  • Bolwerk

    Hmm, he’s still betting that promising the moon to suburbanites will get him elected. Probably betting a coalition of suburbanites and pro-police state limousine-chaffeured political insiders will buy him the mayoralty.

    I don’t know what universe Lhota is from where CP isn’t a favor to drivers, but it ain’t this one. Like, seriously, who can afford to wait an hour to cross the bridge? $8 or whatever it was is just worth it, probably in saved fuel alone.

  • J

    I love the contrast between this post and the earlier post calling for more bus lanes and better enforcement.

    Also, I believe the DOT’s primary mission is to move people safely and efficiently. Devoting significant efforts to speeding up car traffic has not proven to be an effective way of accomplishing either of these goals, not to mention the fact that it neglects the needs of a huge portion of NYers.

  • R

    If you pay attention to community board meetings you’ll know that “Just re-time the stop lights” is the NIMBY solution to everything. Might I suggest Joe Lhota run for chair of his local board instead of mayor of a 21st century city?

  • Albert

    “using technology…making sure the lights are in sync”?

    OK, sync traffic lights specifically to encourage & enable a constant, relaxed bicycle speed by our new population of everyday cyclists.

  • Alex Knight

    How on earth does the former head of the MTA think of “improving mobility” first and foremost as “making sure the traffic moves”?

  • Anonymous

    Fuck this guy. I’d love a “moderate republican alternative” but not someone full of shit. He should hire Nicole Gelinas ASAP so he can have a conservative educate him on transportation policy. Otherwise, it’ll be 8 weeks of us laughing at this joker.

  • Anonymous

    Clearly, we need more lanes. If only we had more lanes there’d be less congestion.

  • Anonymous

    But aren’t the stop lights already timed? In late night hours, I’ve had many experiences where I’ve taken 1st/2nd to/from the UES/downtown and making practically all the lights.

    Like, are we in fucking suburbia!? Timing the lights . . . SMH

  • Driver

    If they are willing to endure the hour in traffic then they will likely incur the $8 fee as well. If implemented, drivers would likely pay the $8 in addition to the hour in traffic, not instead of it.

  • R

    They are! Bu don’t tell that to the NIMBYs!

  • Bolwerk

    Then the fee needs to be made high enough so traffic moves efficiently. Whatever it should be is science, not ideology.

  • Bolwerk

    The moderate republican, small-R, is the guy I’ll probably vote for if the race is close, Bill de Blasio. The modern large-R Republican Party that was too nuts for a milquetoast pro-big business type like Bloomberg is too nuts for a moderate of the de Blasio mold.

  • Anonymous

    I would’ve liked to have known more about that George McDonald guy running in the GOP primary. He founded the DOE foundation and he used to be a dem. So a pro-business type but who actually cares about the less fortunate.

  • Anonymous

    I would bet all my money that not EVERYONE in that traffic will be willing to swallow the $8. A large number might find it preferable to manage their day differently so they don’t have to pay $8 by making that trip during an off-peak hour.

    As a result traffic will be much less than it is now during peak hours and your driver who is paying the $8 won’t be waiting an hour anymore.

    This isn’t theory (although the theory is so simple a 10 year old would understand it). It has been tried in multiple cities (including Stockholm and London) and it has worked excellently in both places.

  • chris

    Thank god this bald asshole has no chance of winning.

  • Guest

    I seriously don’t get his thinking? Why alienate voters in the Bronx Queens whose neighborhoods would be torn down and flooded with traffic from suburban areas, where the drivers can’t vote for mayor of NYC.

  • Bolwerk

    The Bloomberg path to victory in 2001 was to divide the urban boroughs closely and let Staten Island push him over, and intentional or not it just barely worked.

  • can you even ”
    Sync the Stop Lights” on a two way street?

  • Anonymous

    Yes you can, but only in one direction at a time. So while the lights can be perfectly sync’ed in one direction, people going in the other direction will rage at hitting red lights every 2 or 3 lights. You can vary the direction according to the time of day though, and you can simply make all lights go green at the same time along the road, which isn’t really synchronized but would be probably optimal for both directions.

  • Unsurprising. He lost Staten Island in the primary and has an even worse chance of getting the city-wide numbers he needs without that car-focused borough. He has to talk his way out of the blame for the cash toll on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge rising to $15 when he was in charge of the MTA.

  • Joe R.

    You can in fact sync lights on a two-way street, but only for certain speeds. If you want details, read this: .

    The speeds in turn are dependent upon cycle length and intersection spacing.

    That said, the best solution is removing traffic lights, not synchronizing them. NYC has over 12,000 signalized intersections. This is about ten times as many as most other cities of similar area. It costs a lot of money to maintain all these signals. For all the expense, there are no gains in safety. In fact, signals arguably make things worse by enabling cars to travel at high speeds which would otherwise not be possible if all intersections were uncontrolled. Despite the higher, more dangerous speeds, average speeds are seldom over 15 mph because of the time spent stopped.

    If we can’t or won’t start removing massive numbers of traffic signals, then we need to start using pedestrian and vehicle sensors to ensure lights only go red when something is crossing. This would decrease emissions and result in better compliance with red lights. Any system which requires users to stop for literally nothing is a stupid, inefficient, antiquated system.

  • ” Any system which requires users to stop for literally nothing is a stupid, inefficient, antiquated system.”

    I don’t know about that. I live on an Avenue in Park Slope and they have just abut replaced all the stop signs with traffic lights It seams to me there are a lot less fender benders and I know it is safer for my kids to walk to school.

  • Joe R.

    Stop signs and dumb, timed traffic lights are pretty much the same with regards to my statement of stopping for literally nothing. That’s why both lose their effect if overused. Lights should go red when someone wants to cross the street, and stay red until they reach the other side (but not any longer than that). Same thing is a vehicle is crossing the intersection. That fulfills the safety reason for having traffic lights. Dumb timed signals that go red when nothing is crossing, often for long periods, just foster disrespect for traffic signals in general. Lately on my late night rides I’m seeing more and more drivers treating red lights as yields. I never saw this even a decade ago. It’s a product of the city installing so many dumb, timed signals that it seriously and unnecessarily impacts travel times. I’m not fan of motor vehicles, but at the same time I don’t want them sitting idle needlessly polluting the air, or speeding to make a traffic light which shouldn’t be going red in the first place because nobody is crossing. That’s just dumb, lazy engineering. Lots of places have sensors for traffic signals. They work wonders, especially late nights when traffic is sparse. It’s much less stressful driving (or cycling) knowing you don’t need to worry about light timing or trying to make lights which stay red for long periods. If we want more civil behavior on our streets, we have to start designing things more intelligently.

  • but lights are also timed to keep cars going at a safe speed not faster.

  • Joe R.

    That’s not true. All lights can do is control average speed, not maximum speed. Nothing prevents drivers from speeding in between lights, or speeding to “catch the green wave”. In fact, if you join the traffic stream towards the end of the green cycle, you can drive well above the timed speed until you catch up to the red cycle. The bottom line is traffic signals aren’t traffic calming devices. It’s this common misconception that they are which has resulted in their gross overuse in NYC. Traffic signals primarily serve one purpose-they allow cars to pass intersections at higher speeds than would be possible by lines of sight and reaction time.


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