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New Congress Will Move On Transportation

The election of a new governor and the Democrat's takeover of both the House and Senate bode well for funding of transportation projects in New York City. The bottom line is that New Yorkers can seriously talk about not only the two megaprojects that are furthest along in obtaining critical federal funding -- the Second Avenue subway and linking the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal -- but also a second set of projects whose prospects have been less luminous.


While it was expected that the Democrats would likely take control of the House, adding Senate control by even the one-vote margin that the Democrats gained adds considerably to the influence of New York in the new Congress next January. Senator Charles Schumer headed the Democratic Senate fundraising committee and brought in $23 million more than his Republican rivals. As New York Magazine pointed out, the Democrats taking over the Senate "was all Chuck." And as Schumer himself said in the New York Times, "Now when I say to one of my colleagues, New York needs something, or I need something, they'll be more amenable." Schumer, who has strongly supported funding for transportation projects as well as homeland security, will thus be in a enhanced position to secure funding for top transportation projects such as the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access (the LIRR connection to Grand Central), which recently won a full-funding agreement from the Federal Transit Administration that will cover about 40% of the project's construction costs. The project is now expected to be completed by 2013.

Construction on the first leg of Second Avenue Subway is expected to begin later this year. The $3.8 billion first phase that includes stations 96th, 86th and 72nd Streets is funded and will be completed in 2013. Schumer's influence will be essential to obtain federal funding to continue the new line the length of Second Avenue to downtown Manhattan .

Schumer has also been a strong supporter of a new Hudson River rail tunnel to double the number of trains coming from New Jersey into Penn Station. The $6 billion two-track tunnel has gained Port Authority and New Jersey Transit funding but will need federal monies as well.


On the House side, Representative Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan) becomes the top-ranking Northeast Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Nadler has long championed a cross-harbor freight tunnel between Brooklyn and either New Jersey or Staten Island. The freight tunnel is intended to reduce truck traffic into the city, reducing both congestion and air pollution from trucks. The City's Economic Development Corporation produced a draft environmental impact statement in 2004. In 2005, however, Mayor Michael Bloomberg withdrew his support for the tunnel. The new governor, Eliot Spitzer, has only urged further study of the project. But with Nadler gaining a more influential position in Washington, he can return a greater focus to the freight tunnel.

Democratic control of Congress also means that Spitzer may have an easier time making good on his transportation priorities. If he chooses to endorse the controversial rail link between JFK airport and lower Manhattan , he may have an easier time getting Congress to allow unused Liberty Bonds to be converted for the purpose. Spitzer might also be able to get those funds used for other purposes if he can gain the support of Schumer and others to do so.

Bruce Schaller, who has been in charge of the transportation topic page since its inception in 1999, is head of Schaller Consulting, which provides research and analysis about transportation. He is also a Visiting Scholar at the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University. 

Putting Cars Behind

Transportation policy today means how to reduce car use.

Transportation is not an end in itself. Very good transportation will not make us happy. It is a means to a kind of city. So what we really are talking about with transportation is what kind of city do we want. What is a good city?

There is a wonderful Danish urbanist, Jan Gehl, who says that a good city is like a good party – people do not want to leave. It is a city where people want to be out of their houses. We have to go out into the public space to work or to buy groceries, but the good city is the one where people want any pretext to be in the parks, on the sidewalks, in the cafes.

We have to chose between a city that is friendlier to cars or a city that is friendlier to people. I am not a car hater, but if you are with a three-year old walking next to an eight-lane highway it is clearly not a pleasant environment to be in. The slower the traffic, the narrower the streets, the wider the sidewalks, the more pleasant the city.


Adam Smith told us that each person seeking his own benefit will yield the best results for society. In the case of cities, that does not work. We cannot let every individual decide if they want to live next to a wide sidewalk or a narrow sidewalk, or what the height of the building will be

There is often a contradiction between private rationality and social convenience. What is good for the bee is not always good for the beehive. It is very logical for someone to try to use a private car. It is more comfortable than public transportation, you don’t get pressed next to people who don’t smell as you would like. But if everybody does the same thing at the same time, society will collapse. There has to be a collective decision on how we want to organize our lives.

What city model are we creating? Who benefits? What is our objective – efficient mobility for all and a certain kind of city, or do we simply want to minimize traffic jams?

Transportation is the only problem in developing countries that gets worse as we get richer. If we had three or five times the income per capita that we have today, we would have much better health, much better education, much better culture, but with our current model of transportation we would have much worse problems if we had more money.

Transportation cannot be solved with money. It has to be changed with changes in our way of life. This is why it is so difficult.

Almost by definition, a Third World city is one where only a minority of people own cars. And so all investments in road infrastructure are very regressive. We are taking money away from schools, from libraries, from parks, in order to solve the traffic jams of the upper income people.


How would New York be if we had a magic wand? How wide would sidewalks be? Why not have districts just for pedestrians? If we could do anything, what is our vision of New York for 2300? What is our dream for at least 100 years from now? Is it the same as today? Are we going to have the same FDR Highway in front of that beautiful river – just like that, nothing else?

What would make a New York where children could feel better? Today we talk about London in the 1800s as a horrible environment. It was polluted. People lived in overcrowded housing. Yet at that time, it was considered the most advanced city in the world. I wonder if, in 200 years, people will talk about our cities as horrible environments. When we tell a three-year-old child anywhere in the world, “Watch out -- a car,” the child will jump in fright -- and with good reason because more than 200,000 children are killed by cars every year.

Today we still talk about the wolves because a few children during the Middle Ages in Europe were eaten by wolves. In any month today, there are more children killed by cars than were eaten by wolves all through the Middle Ages. But we have come to think that that’s totally normal. As soon as our children come out of their houses, we are afraid they might get killed. After 5,000 years of cities, is that where we are?

How would our lives change if we were to enter a pedestrian street 40 miles long, one, two or three blocks away from our house? If we could just go jogging, riding a bicycle, children could go play? It would tremendously improve our quality of life.

Whenever people use public transport, as in New York, it is not because they love the environment. It is because there is some kind of severe restriction on the use of private cars, either because they have congestion charges, such as in London, or because it is very difficult to park, as in New York or Hong Kong. In Bogotá, we started a restriction that 40 percent of cars have to be out of the streets during peak hour every day.

Traffic jams provide another way to restrict car use, not the most intelligent one perhaps. If we want to achieve density in public transport use, traffic jams should not be seen as a problem.


Bogotá has a similar population to New York – about 7 million inhabitants – and if you fly south from New York you will hit Bogotá. It would take us about 150 years with very good growth rates to have the income per capita that New York has. Regardless of the relevance of our experience to New York, it is important to consider the Third World urban challenge because over the next 30 years, there will be more than 2 billion new inhabitants in Third World cities. The world’s sustainability depends to a large degree on what is to happen in the Third World.

When I arrived at City Hall in Bogotá, there was a proposal to put seven elevated highways over the city. In my opinion, that would have destroyed the quality of life and would have not solved anything. Instead, we decided to restrict car use and invest in public transport. We were able to build schools and housing projects because we did not invest in these seven elevated $5 billion highways. There were hundreds of community projects done by the people -- nurseries, community pools, libraries.

Space for People

And we created a lot of pedestrian spaces. Is public space in the Third World a frivolity? I would say no. Public space is fantastic, not only because of the obvious thing that we meet as equals in public space but also because upper income people and poor people at work in the Third World are more or less equally satisfied. The difference comes when they have their leisure time. The upper income person goes to a large house, to clubs, to country houses, to restaurants. The poor people and their children have no alternative to public pedestrian space for their leisure time.

Therefore a democratic society should have quality pedestrian space. People can go walk and at least see their city.

Bogotá does not have a big river as in New York, but we made a 45-kilometer greenway where thousands and thousands of people go to work by bicycle every day.

We started to build bikeways. In developing countries, the only means of individual transportation available to everybody is a bicycle. A bikeway in Bogotá is important maybe 20 percent because it protects cyclists, 80 percent because it is a symbol that a citizen on a $20 bicycle is equally important to one in a $30,000 car.

We increased bicycle ridership, and we now have about 350 kilometers of bikeways. Of course, we have to increase this more, but now there is consensus that this should be done.

Bus Rapid Transit

We tried to get people to use public transportation, but it is very difficult when people getting on buses were running against each other and buses were dumping people – ladies with children -- in the middle of the street. We cannot dream of having a rail system. So, we created a bus rapid transit. This is a very low-cost system.

After only five years of operation, we are moving 1.4 million passengers per day. We copied the idea from the Brazilian city of Curitiba. The station is in the middle of the road. People pay when they enter the station, not when they go into the bus. When the bus comes, it opens four doors at the same time as the station doors open. You can get 100 people out of the bus and 100 people onto the bus in seconds because they have already paid and the bus is at the same level as the station, so it is accessible to wheelchairs.

The station is in the middle of the lane because if it is at the side of the road you need to have two stations, and there are cars coming in and out all the time. Buses have a bad image in developing countries. We call our buses TranMilenio because we had to have a system that is sexy. It’s marketing.

Sometimes people told us, “Some roads are too narrow downtown. We cannot put a city bus system in there.” So we said, “You are totally right. The road is too narrow. So cars cannot go in.” So we put the system along the main artery downtown -- with no cars.

Half of this the infrastructures is financed through a gasoline surcharge of 25 percent. We first put it in Bogotá so, of course people, were getting their gas in the municipalities nearby. With the help of Congress, we put this surcharge all over the country.

The bus system is moving more passengers per kilometer than 85 percent of rail systems in the world at similar speed and a fraction of the cost.

We have a car-free day. People voted in a referendum to have the first Thursday of every February in this 7 million inhabitants city with no cars. This is marvelous because people can realize that the city works without cars. It is just a game but it is an interesting game.

We also asked for a referendum on something very radical: that where citizen want, they could totally ban cars during peak hours every day -- all private cars, leaving just trucks and taxis and so on. We were going to win by a landslide, so there was a campaign by some businessmen not to ask people to vote no but to ask them not to vote so we would not reach the necessary threshold. This is going to be left for another time


A long time ago, explicitly or implicitly, in Manhattan they decided the scale of vehicle use in the city. There was nothing natural about the amount of cars. Some space was allotted. There could have been much bigger roads or much smaller roads. The amount of car use in this city exists because there was a decision, and the decision can be changed. Just as today’s behavior is determined by the given amount of road and parking space, tomorrow’s behaviors will be determined by lesser amount of street and street parking, for example.

Better Sidewalks

How wide should a sidewalk be? How about if in New York we simply took away one lane of curbside parking and made sidewalks bigger?

New York’s sidewalks are the best, the liveliest sidewalks in the world. But New York’s sidewalks could be much better. For example, it is assumed that allowing all vendors to set up on streets and sidewalks is very democratic. But they are a small minority, and the extent that they are now taking over the public space in New York is deteriorating the quality of public space.

In Bogotá, every Sunday we closed 120 kilometers of main arteries for people to go out and ride bicycles and jog. We get more than a million and a half people every weekend. I dream of making Broadway a permanent pedestrianway. Initially it could just be a few hours on Sunday—not for markets as is usually done here, but for people to go out riding bicycles, jog, even to have some sort of aerobics outdoors. Forty-second Street as a pedestrian promenade with tramway would be a beautiful project.

Faster Buses

There could be a bus rapid transit on Second Avenue while the subway line is built. It could be extended to many other areas outside Manhattan. This is not so sophisticated but it does make buses go much faster than cars. Manhattan has beautiful buses but they are too slow.

More Bikes

Manhattan could be one of the most bicycle friendly cities in the world. Bicycles are amazing machines. Sometimes I see a fantastically athletic person, a marathon runner, and on my bicycle, I can go faster. Bicycles are silent and they don’t pollute. So why haven’t more cities used bicycles.

Why isn’t Manhattan excellent for bicycles? The distances are short. It’s relatively flat. So why don’t more people use bicycles in Manhattan? Simply, because it is extremely dangerous. A bikeway that is not physically protected, a bikeway that is not safe for an 8-year-old child, is not a bikeway.

Today we consider it obvious and natural that we have sidewalks on every street. Bikeways should be the same. If we are a democratic society, everybody has the right to the same mobility. So, in the future we have to think as bikeways not as something cute or nice but as a right. A quality city is not one that has great roads but one where a child can safely go anywhere on a bicycle.

Enrique Peñalosa was mayor of Bogotá from 1998 to 2001, when term limits forced him to leave office. He has advised other world cities on transportation and is a senior fellow at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. This article is adapted from comments he made at “Manhattan on the Move: A Transportation Agenda for a Growing City,” a conference presented by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

See also: Faster Buses, Safer Cycling, Better Pedestrian Protection And Other Plans For The Future by New York City Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall.  

Faster Buses, Safer Cycling, Better Pedestrian Protection And Other Plans For The Future

The New York City Department of Transportation, of which I am the commissioner, is responsible for among other things, the Staten Island ferry, nearly 800 bridges, 6,000 miles of roads that contain 1.3 million signs and 12,000 signalized intersections, and 65,000 parking meters. It is a transportation network that, for the most part, was put in place decades and even centuries ago. We have not built a new highway in this city in nearly 40 years. We haven’t added a major subway line since the 6th Avenue line in the 1940s. Our infrastructure requires an enormous investment just to maintain a state of good repair.

The magnitude of our facilities and the investment they require is only part of the story. New York is one of the densest cities in the world. While Chicago has a population density of 13,000 people per square mile, London 14,000, and Mexico City 15,000, our city has about 26,000 people per square mile and Manhattan nearly 67,000. And that is just the people who live here. Over 2 million people from outside Manhattan enter the central business district every day. Not surprisingly then, the space the Transportation Department is responsible for teems with activity: pedestrians, cars, cyclists, trucks, construction and commerce.

Every day the city makes changes about how space is used. These decisions have an enormous impact, not only in how we travel but on how we work and how we play and how we live. Following are some of the initiatives we have completed or begun and some new efforts we will focus on in the weeks, months and years ahead:

Faster Buses

While the Metropolitan Transportation Authority provides bus service, the ability of those buses to serve New Yorkers depends on their ability to move through our crowded streets. In the last two years, along with the state transportation department, the city and MTA have been working hand in hand on a bus rapid transit initiative. We will introduce measures to allow buses to move more quickly, including colored bus lanes, improved bus lane enforcement, signal prioritization, wider bus stop spacing, next-bus information, and quicker fare collection, Very shortly, we will announce five corridors for pilot bus rapid transit. We expect to implement plans for two of the corridors by fall of 2007.

Safer Cycling

Buses are not the only mode we are trying to make more viable. Last month, the transportation department, along with the parks and health departments, took significant steps toward better safeguarding NY cyclists. This administration released a study of bike fatalities and injuries that a leading bike advocacy group here called “the most thorough analysis of cyclists’ serious injuries and fatalities in the United States.”

The report confirmed the importance of motorist and cyclist education, bike helmets and bike lanes. And it justified a plan to add 200 new lane miles of bike lanes, paths and routes over the next three years. We will be placing new “share the road” signs and markings, installing more bike racks and working with agencies and advocacy groups to conduct a bicycle safety campaign aimed at cyclists and motorists.

Accommodating Truck Traffic

While we must try to increase cycling, bolster our transit system, and reduce auto use, truck traffic is likely to increase in the years ahead. Our population is growing dramatically and, with the lack of rail access, nearly 99 percent of our goods arrive by truck. That is why it is important to limit the number of trucks in residential neighborhoods.

We have also been focusing on how the delivery of goods and services affects the use of our curb space. For years, traffic engineers and economists have proposed creative curb-space pricing that would help move goods more efficiently. Our Midtown parking program does just that. It encourages truckers to rotate out of legal parking spots quickly, giving others an opportunity to load and unload. This cuts back on illegal parking and on the number of vehicles circling the block to find a parking spot. The program combines three elements: charging for commercial parking, placing multispace meters to free up more space, and a value pricing schedule to encourage truckers to get in and get out within an hour.

In Lower Manhattan, we have undertaken a comprehensive curb-space study. It will include a block by block survey of curb activity that will tell us where people are parking, where they are coming from, and how long they have parked. We hope this analysis can help inform new strategies for how to manage this valuable real estate.

But perhaps the most important step we have taken involving parking meters was in the interest of improving safety for pedestrians on Queens Boulevard. A few years ago, we narrowed the service road available to motorists by adding meters, an action that almost every Queens elected official said would be a mistake, claming it would slow traffic. It did. But along with improved signal timing, the installation of fees and other safety measures, this traffic calming dramatically reduced the number of accidents and pedestrian fatalities on the boulevard from a high of 18 in 1997 to one in 2004 to two in 2005.

Protecting Pedestrian

But one pedestrian fatality is one too many. New York is above all a walking city. Efforts to protect pedestrians are the Department of Transportation’s most critical mission.

We have pursued many initiatives to better provide space for and protect pedestrians. And the numbers speak for themselves: In each of the last two years, pedestrian fatalities hit their low level since 1910.

But there is much more we can do to reduce fatalities, provide better access, and make us all feel secure when we walk our streets. We will be undertaking a number of initiatives to better serve those on foot in our city. They point to three key principles: focusing safety efforts where there is the greatest need; thinking of our public space beyond just parks and roads; making changes to our streetscape by challenging old paradigms.

In 2004, we announced our safe routes to school initiative to focus on safety improvements for our children. After studying the areas and the accident histories around the city’s 1,400 public, private and parochial elementary and middle schools we came up with a list of 135 priority locations. Our consultants have now come up with recommendations for over 90 of the 135, and we have begun to make improvements on these sites.

These measures include adjusting signal timing, adding school crosswalks and installing speed reducers. Most important, the plans call for a substantial amount of capital work on streets and sidewalks around these schools.

In the years ahead, we will perform similar work for the next 135 schools and for 40 of the city’s 400 high schools. And we have not neglected other school locations. We have, for instance, installed 69 speed reducers around other schools over the past four months.

Space for People

Our work for pedestrians extends beyond safety. We are also looking to boldly reimagine how our street space is used. This past spring in Brooklyn, we created the Willoughby Street pedestrian plaza. In an area with low vehicular volumes and rampant illegal parking, we closed off streets and added tables, chairs and planters. We took away some road space but, in doing so, created a street that that now accommodates high pedestrian volumes and large lunchtime crowds, providing a safe and pleasant space to walk around or enjoy a meal.

Next month, we will create a similar space in front of Stuyvesant Town on First Avenue and we’ve also developed plaza plans for Astor Place and for Louise Nevelson Plaza in Lower Manhattan.

In the years to come, the department will work with communities and other city agencies to reallocate street space and create more of these public plazas in neighborhoods in all five boroughs. These open spaces will make walking more enjoyable, preserve neighborhood character, and can serve as the heart of a neighborhood through which all activity can pulse.

From Bowtie to Times Square Shuffle

Willoughby Street is one example of how a small regulatory change in the use of street space can have a dramatic impact. Anyone who has been on Broadway around 42nd Street knows that walking there often means standing, squeezing, and twisting your body to get through the crowds. To help mitigate this pedestrian congestion, we have extended sidewalk space in both Herald and Times Square and will soon be making these improvements with permanent materials.

Now another change is taking place. Back in 1964, the city created the Times Square bowtie. It gave traffic on Seventh Avenue and 45th Street the option of either staying on Seventh or switching to Broadway. Under the latest change, traffic on Seventh will have to continue into Broadway, while traffic on Broadway will have to continue into Seventh. We are calling this the Times Square shuffle and are making it for pedestrians. Because of it, we will be able to expand the pedestrian island between 45th and 47th Street. We will also push the curbs out, expand the sidewalks at several locations, and add three new crosswalks.

These steps will help relieve the pedestrian congestion and make the sidewalks safer, more navigable and more welcoming. By reversing one decision from a few decades ago, we can make a big difference I today’s world.

To find the other Times Square shuffles and the other Willoughby Streets while we undertake the enormous day to day operational responsibilities is not easy. That is why we’ve created a new Office of Strategic Planning. This unit is participating in the mayor’s long-term planning and sustainability initiative, which is considering what New York City must do to preserve and improve our high quality of life as the city grows to a population of 9 million.

This long-term effort is considering a wide range of strategies to shift travel away from the automobile and onto transit. I expect that its recommendations will include some big ideas and will pose some challenges to the way that we have dealt with our public space in the past.

Iris Weinshall is New York City transportation commissioner. This article is adapted from comments she made at “Manhattan on the Move: A Transportation Agenda for a Growing City,” a conference presented by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

See also: Putting Cars Behind, by Enrique Penalosa 

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