Bloomberg’s Transportation Rhetoric and Reality

Earlier this week Mayor Bloomberg’s campaign released a “Plan to Reform Mass Transit” consisting of 33 proposals to improve transit service, safety, and planning. As transportation advocates and journalists have pointed out, the plan contains no funding mechanisms and most proposals would require cooperation with the MTA, which the mayor has limited control over. Still, the proposals are intriguing, and include free crosstown buses in Manhattan, expansion of CityTicket (previously endorsed by mayoral candidate Bill Thompson and TSTC), reopening unused LIRR stations in Queens, and open-road tolling on all MTA crossings.

Will any of these campaign promises become reality if Bloomberg wins another term? There’s no way to tell, but as the incumbent the mayor does have a track record. Here’s a look at how Mayor Bloomberg has done when it comes to his 2001 transportation platform. (The mayor made few transportation-related promises during the 2005 campaign, which makes it all the more surprising that one of his major second-term initiatives was the environment and transportation-focused PlaNYC.) Words in italics are direct quotes or close paraphrases from the 2001 platform. Not every promise is listed.

Pedestrians and Cyclists

“Where pedestrians and vehicles are at a critical mass, have a four-way red light… countdown clocks should notify pedestrians and motorists how much time there is for crossing.” The city has used the four-way red (“Barnes dance”) as a traffic safety tool and has expanded use of countdown clocks.

“Slowdown speeders to protect pedestrians… stricter enforcement of the speed limit… ‘You are going XX mph’ signs on roads where speeding is common… cameras to catch speeders and save lives.” Speed cameras didn’t make it through the state legislature; speeding is rampant, according to Transportation Alternatives. But road redesigns have made Queens Blvd. and other dangerous roads safer.

Interestingly, candidate Bloomberg had nothing to say about cycling, and the 2001 platform had few pedestrian recommendations. Clearly, the hiring of NYCDOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan in 2007 changed all of that. Arguably, the mayor’s biggest impact on New York City transportation has been the reclaiming of city street space for walkers and cyclists, including the pedestrianization of Times Square, rapid expansion of bike lanes, traffic calming throughout the city, and other aspects of PlaNYC.

Traffic Enforcement

“Use technology to boost compliance with traffic laws… use existing red-light cameras to keep bus lanes flowing… give traffic agents hand-held devices to record parking violations.” NYC is now authorized to use 150 red-light cameras, compared to 50 in 2001, and traffic agents now use digital hand-held devices instead of paper tickets. But bus lane enforcement is lacking.

“Introduce congestion pricing for parking meters.” NYCDOT’s “Park Smart” program charges higher meter rates at peak times in certain neighborhoods.

“Use crosswalk markings to stop parking where pedestrians are blocked and drivers’ vision of approaching cars is impaired.” This technique, also known as “daylighting,” has become part of NYCDOT’s traffic calming toolbox.

“Curb privileged parking.” In 2001, the city didn’t even know how many parking permits were given out to city employees. Under Bloomberg, the city found that there were over 140,000 permits — and then cut the number issued in half.

Other promises are more difficult to quantify. Has the city made good on a promise to “simplify street signage“? The New York Times would probably say no. And a recent Transportation Alternatives report makes it clear that NYC is far from “zero-tolerance of flouting traffic laws,” which candidate Bloomberg called for.

Mass Transit

“I endorse the Second Avenue subway… we also should support the completion of the Grand Central Station-LIRR link… and extend the No. 7 line to the west side.” The Second Avenue Subway, East Side Access, and No. 7 extension are all under construction. New York City agreed to finance the No. 7 extension, but it’s not clear that the mayor had anything to do with the other two expansion projects, both of which continue to fall behind schedule.

“Use technology to increase public transportation’s efficiency… reduce headway on subways… countdown clocks on subway platforms and bus shelters… use GPS to avoid ‘bus bunching.’ ” Outside of the L subway line, real-time arrival information is nonexistent, and the MTA’s efforts to track buses have run into one problem after another.

“Establish a “Subway on the Surface” with high-speed bus service on First and Second Avenues… Expand the bus fleet… create additional bus lanes in the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island.” The MTA and NYCDOT opened the city’s first bus rapid transit route on Fordham Road in the Bronx last year, and are planning routes on Staten Island, in Queens, and on First and Second Avenue.

“Franchise transportation in underserved neighborhoods.” Didn’t happen, but in the 2009 platform Bloomberg promises that the city will partner with private companies to provide commuter van service in neighborhoods like Co-op City in the Bronx.

“Mayoral Control” of Transit and Bloomberg’s Record

“I would work with the Governor and state Legislature to transfer the NYC Transit Authority to the city. When it comes to subways and buses on the streets of New York City, the Mayor should be calling the shots.”

Obviously, this didn’t happen. “Mayoral control” of transit didn’t make it into the 2009 campaign platform either, even though it would give Bloomberg a better shot at fulfilling his 2009 promises. That might be because the mayor would have to acknowledge that the city gives less in direct subsidy to the MTA than it did during the 1990s. Of course, the poor relationship between the mayor and many state legislators means any arrangement allowing Bloomberg to “call the shots” could be a non-starter in Albany.

Mayor Bloomberg has addressed most of his 2001 transportation promises, with big successes in some cases. But even if the mayor is reelected, fulfilling his 2009 promises will be a tall order. Bloomberg has promised to “partner” with the MTA to get his proposals accomplished, and that partnership has helped make bus rapid transit a reality. But proposals like expanded BRT and light rail in Brooklyn need more than a “partnership” to succeed — they need a well-funded MTA capital program. That’s something the agency doesn’t have, and something the Bloomberg campaign still needs to address.

4 Comments on "Bloomberg’s Transportation Rhetoric and Reality"

  1. Steve/MTR, the first sentence of this piece and its premise is incorrect. Bloomberg did not release his campaign “transportation plan.” He released his Plan to Reform Mass Transit. He hasn’t released any campaign literature about streets, walking, cycling, public space and the other things he has some control over, and a lot to brag about. You are comparing past apples to current oranges.

  2. Michael Bloomberg. Lets see. Endorsed George Bush for President in 2004 by giving a speech to the Republican National Convention, Was on McCain’s short list to be the Republican Vice Presidential nominee, and didn’t endorse Obama for President. Is Bloomberg a Democrat? Absolutely not. Liberal? Absolutely not. Should Democrats and liberals support Mike Bloomberg for Mayor? Absolutely not. I am supporting Bill Thompson because I believe Bill unlike Mike will always support whats best for all of New York, not just what’s best for the privileged few. Bill has been NYC Comptroller for the past eight years and before that president of the Board of Education. To learn more about Bill visit

  3. JK,
    I agree we should have used the word “transit” in the first line instead of “transportation.” We will make that change.

    But I’m not really sure what you mean when you say we are comparing “past apples to current oranges.” The story is not meant to be a comparison of the two plans, but instead looks at what Bloomberg promised in 2001 and what he has delivered since. His transportation track record is relevant to any campaign promise he makes.

  4. Jonathan Flaherty | August 13, 2009 at 3:57 pm |

    Given that Bloomberg has done more to transform the transportation landscape in NYC than any other previous mayor, and arguably has a far more comprehensive vision of transportation in NYC than anyone else (Patterson, Liu, City Council, etc.) I dont know why you guys wrote this article to be negative. Furthermore, even though the mayor has only four votes on the MTA board, there is no elected official today who is stepping up and offering solutions to various MTA related problems. In fact, one of the great problems with the current governance stucture of the MTA is that there is no widely publicly elected official (aka city or state wide) who is offering solutions and laying down challenges to the MTA. (Certainly not Patterson!)

    There have been numerous articles, like this one, as well as comments by Thompson talking about how useless this platform is because he doesnt have the votes to force it through the MTA board. Who cares? Nor would Thompson if he was mayor. In addition, Thompson’s plan involves opposing fare increases and toll increases, as well as opposing tolling on the east river bridges. (Bad public policy) He advocates more of the MTA capital plan for the City (who doesn’t and good luck with that in Albany where you have zero votes), modernizing the air trafffic control system (see DC for that), and capping flight levels at the airports (vigorously opposed by the PA as well as most other dem. pols and anyway controlled by DC). And putting the commuter tax back in effect (again, see Albany). So whose plan is more likely to be enacted if elected?

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