City to Drivers: Pwitty Pwease Don’t Drive in Next Week — And Here Are Some Goodies for You

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg shows off the ad campaign to convince drivers not to drive. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg shows off the ad campaign to convince drivers not to drive. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The city and its transportation partners are about to spend close to a million dollars to beg drivers to stop doing the very thing that is already costing the city billions in lost productivity: driving. Oh, and motorists will get lots of perks if they agree.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced on Tuesday that she will create six new “Gridlock Alert” days to the existing 10 — and spend $500,000 in taxpayer money to tell drivers about them. The new days coincide with the six busiest weekdays of the United Nations General Assembly, Sept. 24-Oct. 1 — which DOT stats indicate create more congestion than the existing gridlock alert days during the winter holidays. Roughly 720,000 drivers enter Midtown on the average day.

The message of that $500,000 ad buy is expressed in the cutline, “Your trip in Manhattan will be up to three times longer.”

“Drivers have a big role to play here,” Trottenberg added. “If you are in traffic, you are the traffic.”

In addition to the taxpayer-funded ads and the cost of additional NYPD overtime on Gridlock Alert days, Citi Bike will sell three-day passes for $12, or half the normal price, and Via will cut fares by 50% for each additional passengers on any pooled taxi ride. (Use the promo code GRIDLOCK to get a cheaper ride into the, um, gridlock.)

Here's the print campaign. Photo: DOT
Here’s the print campaign. Photo: DOT

Trottenberg also said the city would offer $5 parking at CitiField in Queens to get drivers to leave their cars there and take the 7 train into Manhattan. (One problem: That all-day parking deal already exists, but very few drivers are taking advantage of it, a DOT official said.)

Taken together, it’s an ad buy and perks that drivers — who mostly enter Manhattan alone in a car — won’t use or aren’t already using.

Trottenberg defended the public expenditures, saying it never hurts to remind drivers that there are other, better ways to get around:

In the grand scheme of a city budget of $90 billion, it’s not a huge sum, but it’s a fair point. But this is a time to really get the message out. When I was at the U.S. DOT, gas prices hit $5. That was considered in transportation circles as an inflection point when people seriously start to leave their car at home and move to other transportation methods, to public transit, cycling, etc. Gas prices went back down, but there were a certain number of people who stuck with those other modes. The United Nations General Assembly gives us a focused opportunity to get that message out, so we’re hoping this campaign will have some benefits that will encourage some people who haven’t tried mass transit, Citi Bike or shared rides to maybe stick with them.

No matter how much congestion there is, mass numbers of drivers aren’t abandoning their cars or their Uber rides for the stumbling subway or Citi Bike. So after she announced the wheeling and dealing, Trottenberg was obviously asked about congestion pricing, which many believe could not only fix the Manhattan snarl, but also create a funding stream for the subway. You couldn’t help feeling bad for Trottenberg, who works for a car-loving mayor who hasn’t fired this particular silver bullet at Albany, leaving Trottenberg with a carrot-and-stick act that is all carrot, no stick. (Tellingly, the NYPD, which fails to adequately crack down on congestion-causing double-parking or parking in bus lanes did not send a representative to Trottenberg’s presser.)

Clearly, the $500,000 would be better spent on educating voters, not just drivers, of the real villains: the outer-borough and upstate hacks who continue to oppose congestion pricing.

Gersh Kuntzman is Editor-in-Chief of Streetsblog. When he gets really angry, he writes the Cycle of Rage column. They’re archived here.


  • Zero Vision


    “Drivers have a big role to play here,” Trottenberg added. “If you are in traffic, you are the traffic.”

    Drivers have a big role to play here? This sounds A LOT like the DOT approach to Vision Zero which is to print up a bunch of bumper stickers about “Your Choices Behind the Wheel” mattering instead of, say, building streets where drivers who didn’t get the message can’t crush people with their cars.

    Sorry, but the CITY has a big role to play here. Not drivers. The city. This is just dumb. Where are the bus lanes? The pop-up protected bike lanes? The parking restrictions? Sure, we don’t have the real thing that would do the trick – congestion pricing – but the city can do better than running some ads and giving you discounts on a few bucks off if you take Via.

    And what if you have no real alternative to driving? Or what if you get free parking on both ends – thanks for the thousands of placards, Mr. Mayor! – and think that sitting in traffic is a reasonable price to pay? A public service campaign or discount isn’t going to convince you to take the train or ride a Citi Bike.

    And then there’s this:

    “But this is a time to really get the message out. When I was at the U.S. DOT, gas prices hit $5. That was considered in transportation circles as an inflection point when people seriously start to leave their car at home and move to other transportation methods, to public transit, cycling, etc.”

    Gas hitting $5/gallon is not a “message.” It’s a price point that causes people to make different choices, as Trottenberg goes on to say. And if they stick with those choices after prices go back down, fine! But come on. It’s almost as if using pricing to change people’s behavior is more effective than running a bunch of ads on drive-time radio. You can see her doing all kinds of mental gymnastics to make her point and not piss off Mayor Motorhead.

    I agree with Streetesblog. I do feel bad for Trottenberg. She’s smarter than this DOT “plan” to deal with congestion. Unfortunately she’s very clearly hemmed in by a moronic and cowardly boss who won’t get out of his g-ddamn SUV. Meanwhile, New Yorkers – even those who have to drive to the doctor’s office – suffer.

  • crazytrainmatt

    It is mystifying that NYC doesn’t limit incoming cars (e.g. HOV3 on the bridges) during predictable events like this.

    And citibike discounts? How about providing a safe bypass on the east side when NYPD closes the 1st/2nd Aves bike lanes?

  • Albert

    Was just about to post the following when I read your similar comment:

    Wondering if those very bicyclists the city is promoting will again be
    singled out during this year’s General Assembly for a mandatory detour
    over to 3rd Avenue when they try to ride past the UN, while the drivers
    the city is trying to discourage will be allowed to continue right up 1st

  • AMH

    “Public transportation is widely available and an ideal way to travel on Gridlock Alert Days – and every day.”

    It’s absurd, but DOT can’t really do much else without action from above.

  • Andy Stow

    Seriously. Like a popular club that is at its “fire marshal capacity”: only let a car in when one leaves. Set the capacity to keep cars moving about 15-20 MPH.

  • r

    The mayor and DOT absolutely LOVE giving out discounts and promoting Citi Bike precisely because it makes them seem like they’re doing something for cycling without them actually having to do anything for cycling, such as taking parking to provide a truly safe bypass on the east side during this closure.

    Plenty of people have their own bikes and would ride them IF the city provided safe cycle lanes and reasonably secure parking. But those things mean taking space from drivers – those real New Yorkers we’re always hearing about – and we can’t have that.

  • While you are right to suggest that systemic fixes such as pricing and street design are the fundamental solutions, Trottenberg’s comment “If you are in traffic, you are the traffic” is a good statement. This is as close as we are going to get to real leadership, which would look drivers straight in the eye and tell them “you are the problem”. Trottenberg’s comments indicate that she understands the issue, but that she has to frame her comments such that they are acceptable to her boss.

    And what if you have no real alternative to driving?

    This describes a very small portion of New Yorkers, or even of those out-of-towners who work in our City. And note that a blanket dismissal of buses won’t do; buses constitute a real alternative.

    If the only people who drove were those who “have no real alternative” (meaning that they must carry gear that cannot be brought onto the bus or train, or that they have to make too many stops to make a bus/train commute feasible, or that they have a disability that is not accommodated by the subway stations that they’d need to use), then we’d be in fine shape.

    The comment “If you are in traffic, you are the traffic” is directed mainly at the Queens goofballs and Brooklyn bufoons who ignore the subway and bus stops in their neighbourhoods and drive alone into Manhattan, opting to impose the costs of their commute on others, like the sociopaths that they are.

  • ZV

    Words matter and I’m glad she said that, I doubt few people outside of Streetsblog readers picked up on the “You are traffic” comment.

    She’s not the head of the Department of Marketing and Messaging. She’s the head of the Department of Transportation. What she does to fix how traffic moves around matters more than what she says. But I feel bad for her. Her boss has not empowered her to do anything that will even remotely help this city get out of its congestion morass now or anytime soon.

  • walks bikes drives

    Today, on 3rd Ave, there were two delivery vans for Eli Zabars double parked on the avenue in front of the store. There were three open legal spaces along the block, but not right in front of the door. So they double parked instead of taking the spaces because there would have been an extra 10 feet to walk. I could understand a bit more if the spaces opened up while the van was already double parked and loading. But the va s were not leading and there was a driver sitting in one.

  • JohnBrownForPresident

    You know the answer to that…

  • JohnBrownForPresident

    Well written Gersh. I like the anger you bring to SB… kind of like what BikeSnobNYC brought to TA. We don’t need to be ‘kind’ or bow down to bullshit respectability politics from the city or dipshit CB members. Righteous anger is a good thing.

  • JohnBrownForPresident

    I kind of feel bad for PB but then i end up not giving a shit. She chose this – and if JSK were in charge we’d still see changes.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    They’re going to let NYPD close all the east side bike lanes during the UN GA, which utterly defeats the point of offering most people Citibike, or any bike as an alternative.

  • JarekFA

    The outrage is so warranted. Our transportation policies are completely and utterly broken. Just absolute failure on almost every front. And yet, we have this forward facing DOT that posts and promotes all day how they’re trying to help mobility. I mean, fuck. These are not unsolvable problems. There are too many fucking cars! That’s it! Reduce capacity and people will find alternatives. I see on twitter shit like, pop up protected bus lanes in Toronto and Boston that, oh my god, with real fucking right of way, actually work. I see pop-up protected bike lanes in New Orleans and oh my god, they fucking work. But we can’t do a fucking thing without the corner bodega guy saying his shop will go out of business if people can’t drive up in their transit rich neighborhood and get a bacon egg and cheese croissant.

    And the delivery shit show in FiDi is the worst. I’ve got two scenes from this morning here. One, in which we have 3 UPS vans on the sidewalk across the street from a commercial loading zone filled with police placard vehicles. Like — what a fuck you to everyone in FiDi. Our narrow ass sidewalks and streets have to share space with giant ass UPS trucks on the sidewalk. There are tons of other models! They could do a hub and pushcart model. There’s no fucking reason for this. But our city doesn’t do a damn thing. And NYPD doesn’t give a fuck. The other picture is an “instagram” pretty pic of FiDi, also from this morning, but if you look at the right, you see a UPS truck taking up the entire sidewalk. This shit warrants outrage and anger and I’m glad Gersh is willing to bring it. I just with these politicians would shut the fuck up and do something about it. I’m sick of these ribbon cuttings for police parking bike lanes that go 4 blocks while they don’t do jack shit about this abortion of parking policy.

  • Joe R.

    We’ve all heard the phrase “you get more with honey than with vinegar”. If only that were true. When I look back at my life, more often than not I didn’t get my due until went from nice to nasty. Collectively, this movement has been mostly nice for over 40 years. What has it gotten us? A few scraps from cars here and there, and then only after people have DIED. Yes, most of our gains have been paid for in blood. And some of those gains get erased overnight because business owners complain about a few lost parking spots.

    It’s time to get in the trenches. Gersh reflects that nicely. You only get stuff when you rub people’s noses in the sh*t you have to deal with every day. Seriously, how many livable streets projects have been derailed for…..parking? Seriously? People’s lives are less important than car storage? If this is how some of those in change think then make them own it. When they’re up for reelection have graphic posters of traffic violence victims. Maybe something like so-and-so thinks this (insert picture of parked car) is more important than this (insert picture of horribly mutilated traffic victim).

    The problem starts at the top. We have a tone-deaf mayor. He has to go. Maybe have a no confidence vote to get him out of office before his term is up. It’s sad seeing Trottenberg on what is obviously a very short leash. In the long term, our dysfunctional transportation policy will result in a mass exodus, just like in the 1970s. Only with the level of debt we’re carrying, we’ll be worse off.

    There’s nothing which can’t be fixed with a combination of funding and political will. It’s time to tell the placard class the party is over. No, unless you need a placard to do your job you’re not getting one. In no case will you get a placard for your private car, only for the city vehicle you operate. It’s time to tell car owners the party of free curbside parking is over. You want a car, keep it in a garage or your driveway. It’s time to crack down on labor and contracting practices which making capital projects here cost 5 to 10 times as much as they do elsewhere. It’s time to put the NYPD in its place. They work for us, not the other way around. A good start is cutting the force by at least half. This city needs to be run for benefit of the people who live there, not for a handful of privileged classes.

  • Dave

    What about legalizing car theft during that time? There have to be sticks as well as carrots.

  • Robert Engle

    Too bad they don’t have the congestion charge for the city center.
    They could just jack it up to reduce demand during Gridlock Alert days.

  • Bernard Finucane

    If you are in traffic, you are the problem.

  • Andrew

    In my opinion, this is one lost opportunity in all of the congestion pricing proposals: while there certainly is logic in a base congestion pricing plan, there should also be room for short-term additions, at any time and in any location. For instance, any street fair or parade (even outside the usual congestion pricing area) should trigger a localized form of congestion pricing, to ensure that pedestrians and cyclists aren’t overrun by excessive vehicular turning traffic and that buses can get through expeditiously.

  • opafiets

    Here’s my idea for reducing congestion at the Hudson crossings. It is meant to work with congestion pricing, but would not need it to function. See:


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