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6 Things Cuomo and de Blasio Can Do to Live Up to Their Climate Change Bluster

2:15 PM EDT on May 31, 2017

News broke today that Donald Trump intends to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. Soon after, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio released statements saying they would step into the breach and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with or without help from Washington.

Between them, Cuomo and de Blasio have the power to dramatically accelerate New York City's progress on climate goals. But doing so will require making policy choices that the governor and mayor have shirked or avoided so far.

Achieving targets like an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 is impossible without shifting large numbers of trips from cars to trains, buses, and bikes. Per capita emissions in New York are already far lower than the average American city thanks to our extensive, high-capacity transit system and the compact development pattern it enables. The governor and the mayor have to play to these strengths.

Under Cuomo, however, bus ridership is steadily eroding and even subway ridership is starting to drop. And for all the little steps forward de Blasio makes with bus lanes or bike lanes, he's also taken some big steps backward, like his recent addition of 50,000 placards to the city's supply of traffic-inducing free parking perks.

If they're serious about stepping into the climate leadership vacuum, Cuomo and de Blasio need to start taking some political risks on green transportation policy. Here are a few suggestions about where to start.

3 Steps for Cuomo

Right the ship at the MTA ASAP. New York's transit system is in danger of tipping into a disastrous decline, as serious delays mount and reliability plummets. With a vacancy at the agency's top post, Cuomo has to appoint a proven, independent transit manager to run the MTA, not a political hack. The next MTA boss should be empowered to address the immediate crisis, by scaling up and accelerating investment in the subway's antiquated signal system to improve capacity and reliability, and shifting to a modern fare system so buses can be sped up with citywide all-door boarding.

Get transit construction costs under control so it doesn’t take a whole generation and tens of billions of dollars to build a few miles of subway tunnels. Other cities are building transit projects for much less than what New York pays. Cuomo has to honestly confront the MTA's construction cost problem or else the transit system will never keep up with the demands of a growing city.

Put the full force of the governor's office behind road pricing for New York City. The ability to drive into the center of the city for free is a disaster for traffic and transit in New York. A rational toll system that charges for the most in-demand streets in the nation would cut traffic and have huge knock-on effects: Reducing congestion will speed up buses, clear street space to be more easily repurposed for biking and walking, curb the growth of MTA debt, and, in general, increase the capacity of the region's non-automotive transportation systems. The Move NY toll reform plan has support in the state legislature and Cuomo could put it over the top.

3 Steps for de Blasio

Claim more street space for buses, bicycling, and walking. All avenues with high travel demand should have dedicated busways. There should be a comprehensive citywide network of protected, low-stress bikeways. And car-free pedestrian zones should be expanded in dense neighborhoods. De Blasio's own Office of Sustainability says that buses, biking, and walking need to account for a substantially larger share of trips in 2050 than they do today to meet his sustainability goals. If the mayor is serious about leading on climate, he should be pushing for much faster progress on the NYC streets he controls.

Mayor de Blasio's climate change plan relies on a dramatic increase in in-city bike trips. Image: Mayor's Office of Sustainability
Mayor de Blasio's climate change plan relies on a dramatic increase in in-city bike trips. Image: Mayor's Office of Sustainability

Abolish parking requirements. Minimum parking requirements generate car traffic and make it more difficult to build walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods. De Blasio would need the City Council's help on this one, but NYC can reduce driving by doing away with zoning that forces developers to build parking spots. Housing would become more affordable and more people could live in the greenest city in America. Mexico City is doing it. New York can too.

Abolish parking placards. It's hard to take de Blasio's climate rhetoric seriously when he just gave 50,000 Department of Education staffers a reason to drive to work. Rather than create a bureaucracy that no one believes will actually curb abuse in any meaningful way, the mayor should work to scrap the placard system entirely, and eliminate an inducement for tens of thousands of people to car commute.

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