If de Blasio Had a Coherent Transportation Policy He’d Stand a Chance Against Cuomo

Photo: Mayor's Office
Photo: Mayor's Office

Sandwiched around the terrific news that Prospect Park will soon be car-free forever, it’s been another exasperating week for streets and transportation policy in New York. Mayor de Blasio put out one dud of a traffic management plan, while Governor Cuomo aimed a firehose of petty aggression in the mayor’s direction.

Generally speaking, Cuomo doesn’t occupy the moral high ground in these confrontations, but he’s been able to land more punches since he staked out a position in support of congestion pricing. We still don’t know exactly what Cuomo has in mind, but congestion pricing is a major policy reform that the enlightened political commentariat and a broad coalition of advocates can rally behind.

What New Yorkers need is a mayor who can engage in these tactical fights with the governor while looking out for the public interest. We don’t want to just watch a bloody political melee about how to fix transit and traffic in NYC — we want transit and traffic to get fixed. Unfortunately, de Blasio is almost always off-balance and unable to steer Cuomo’s aggression in a productive direction, even when opportunities present themselves.

Last night I posted a Twitter thread about this dynamic, and why the mayor’s position vis a vis Cuomo would be stronger if he was firmly anchored to basic principles of good urban transit and transportation policy.

We’re knee-deep in preparations for our Streets Ball benefit (get your tickets while you can — it’s a great cause and you’ll have a great time), so instead of translating the thread into an 800-word post, I’m going to embed it all right here. Apologies for the limitations of the format.

  • Joe R.

    In many ways deBlasio is very Trumpian in his thinking. He supports whatever he feels will get him the most popularity at the moment. That in part explains his schizophrenic transportation policy. He’s also a weak leader, and based on some of his views probably isn’t all that intelligent to boot. In other words, he’s a lot like our President.

    Some of his schizophrenic policies just off the top of my head:

    !) He’s overridden community boards opposed to bike lanes, such as he did with Queens and Northern Boulevard lanes, but at the same time he’s making life difficult for cyclists with pointless crackdowns.

    2) He supports green buildings but thinks it’s better if delivery people switch to polluting, dangerous cars instead of clean, relatively safe e-bikes.

    3) He ran on a platform of making more affordable housing but has supported pointless things like the BQX and ferries which are a giveaway to real estate developers building yet more mostly unaffordable luxury condos by the waterfront.

    4) He feels for the tiny number of poor drivers who might get hit with a congestion charge but not the many hundreds of thousands of poor subway riders for who the fare is a bit financial hit.

    5) He supports a millionaire’s tax to help pay for subway improvements but has failed to chastise special interest groups like the UFT who are already lining up for a piece of the revenues.

    6) He supposedly supports Vision Zero, but gave away a bunch of new placards which will only serve to negate any safe street improvements DOT might make. Ditto for not attempting to do the only thing which will really reduce the carnage, which is to radically reduce the number of motor vehicles on the streets. The 25 mph speed limit was just a pointless photo op which in the end will have a negligible effect on traffic violence.

    7) He has failed to reign in the NYPD’s corruption, bad attitude, and general contempt for those they serve. This in turn has undermined a lot of his other initiatives, particularly Vision Zero.

    Basically, it seems to me the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. He’s done some good things, but then supports policy which undermines them.

  • JarekFA

    re: 7. Not just corruption but basic competence. Why does this stuff happen as if this is supposed to be normal. I don’t want to dust off my old Management books from Business School, but mission statements and shit like that are supposed to mean something. What’s your mission if you just park in an active turning lane in an extremely busy intersection for half an hour. Such contempt. But if you ride an e-bike safely and considerately; well here’s a press conference on that menace.

    https://twitter.com/jooltman/status/923302039173468160

  • I would love to believe that Bill de Blasio himself is a single pressure point in the city’s political establishment to target for the sake of transformative change. To some extent, this is true.

    I keep coming back to what happened in the last administration, though.

    We remember Janette Sadik-Khan as a free-roving transformationalist. That’s a bit of a rosy memory, though she was philosophically exactly that. The truth was that, at some point and to a certain extent, progressivism at DOT was curtailed or reserved. The boldest plans emerged from 2008-2010 and implementation was not long after. After that, things were more of the same and proceeded at a plodding pace.

    This administration has been more of the same. No revolutions, and no alacrity, but snail-like progress toward street designs that do work better for us than the 20th Century post-war traffic sewer philosophy. But we’re getting nothing new, and big proposals are being openly scoffed at; you even have de Blasio doubling back on things he seemed to want to explore as a councilperson/Public Advocate.

    The city’s political establishment, in the form of local power brokers, party bosses, and unions/special interests, are pretty much the consistent factor along all of this. The mayor, DOT commissioner and most of the council have all turned over in the interim (or, in the case of many 12-year council seats, are about to flip into prohibitive favorite candidates) but the lip service is the same. Yes, we want to be progressive. Yes, we want to reduce the health hazards of transportation. Yes, we want a quality transit experience for commuters. No, we’re not going to remove parking or restrict cars or implement road pricing or toll the East River Bridges or reconfigure automobile lanespace into bicycle spaces in any sensitive or noticeable situations…

    It’s a little weird. But, the way I see it, it really does line up.

    The one thing that does seem to have changed, in large part thanks to Transportation Alternatives, is that there are more local activists who are pushing for progressive ideas & a lot of these activists have also added their influence to community groups to help balance out NIMBYs. It seems that, as a result, some members of the council and some community boards are more receptive to transformation plans, the media is a little more likely to believe that such plans are status-quo and not “controversial”, and city agencies are a little less reluctant to adopt them. Car-free Prospect Park is a good example of all these pieces working together, though after a maddening amount of time.

    But where is the anti-congestion-pricing pressure coming from? It was there during Bloomberg and it’s here now. The mayor is being a little weaselly in adopting that position for himself, acting like it’s unilateral, but he doesn’t take positions like that if he has enough people making it a problem for him to maintain them. He’ll almost certainly flip if influential political forces want him to flip.

    A good two-part question is, who are the influential forces demanding a weekly denouncement of congestion pricing from the mayor, and why are they hiding behind the mayor instead of making their case to the public? The second answer may inform the first one…

  • JK

    Good, pithy, analysis, but transit does not equal transportation. De Blasio, despite his ample flaws, has a more coherent transportation policy than Cuomo — who to date has had none of any kind. One of de Blasio’s core planks is Vision Zero, a transportation policy. This page may scoff, but de Blasio has invested resources and political capital in Vision Zero and it has produced measurable successes and improvements. What de Blasio lacks is even a rudimentary urban vision which includes land-use, transit and street use. Glaringly, he also seems to lack real empathy for bus riders and not to understand their plight as being what amounts to a civil rights struggle by mainly working class and poor people of color to have access to jobs and services without traveling for hours.

  • Vooch

    BdB has a 98% suburban windshield perspective.

    It’s time to finally ask for a truly urbane mayor.

  • djx

    I’m reminded of what I saw at 54th and 6th a couple days ago. A lot of police cars and officers standing around as security for someone/something. And a car just blatantly blows through a light right in front of them. No action at all from the police who were on every corner of the intersection. And no, it wasn’t an undercover or VIP car. They care zero. That’s Vision Zero for NYPD and the May. Zero interest.

  • djx

    ” probably isn’t all that intelligent to boot”
    This is lame statement.

  • Tobasco Saucy

    NYPD order of enforcement

    1. Stop murders
    2. Stop crimes
    3. Write ridiculous summonses to cyclists
    4. Lunch break
    .
    .
    .
    1124. Vision Zero

  • stairbob

    I’d be shocked (SHOCKED) if it has something to do with parking placard recipients.

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Photo: Crain's New York

Bucking de Blasio, Speaker Candidates Support Congestion Pricing

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Mayor de Blasio is pulling out all the stops to frame congestion pricing as a "regressive tax," even though low-income New Yorkers stand to gain enormously. Not a single contender for council speaker is on the same page as the mayor. In a debate hosted by Crain's this morning, they all signaled support for congestion pricing, with a few caveats.