All Democrat mayoral candidates are pro-bicycle and anti-car. Neither Republican has much of a transportation policy.
On the GOP side, Curtis Sliwa proposes greater police presence on the subways, while Fernando Mateo proposes elimination of Citi Bike docks that have removed between 5,000 and 10,000 parking spaces.
All Democrat candidates except Ray McGuire support Transportation Alternatives’ plan to convert 25 percent of street space to nonautomobile uses by 2025. That means further reducing street parking and lanes available to automobiles and trucks, as well as more bike lanes. Kathryn Garcia is proposing another 250 miles of protected bike lanes. In addition, Andrew Yang, Scott Stringer and Dianne Morales would eliminate minimum parking requirements for new housing developments, causing additional stress in finding on-street parking; Garcia is the only Democrat opposing that.
The average automobile speed on city streets has been reduced to between nine and 12 mph with the lowering of the speed limit to 25 mph on local and arterial roads under Mayor de Blasio. Adams, Garcia, Stringer, Yang and Morales propose to further lower the city speed limit to 20 mph, which would further lower the average speed. Speed cameras would issue summonses to anyone exceeding 30 mph, when many former arterial roadways had allowed speeds of 35 and 40 mph before de Blasio.
The official reason is to improve safety, although a lower speed limit has increased the number of traffic-related deaths. Even lower speed limits would further frustrate drivers, increasing the amount of reckless driving and fatalities. Is a lower speed limit even the correct approach to improving safety? Queens Boulevard is safer because of fencing preventing jaywalking, not because of a lower speed limit.
Stringer also proposes to reduce the number of traffic agents assigned at key intersections who help keep traffic moving, and turn the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and other highways into green space. More trucks and autos on local streets will only increase air and noise pollution.
The transportation policies advocated by the Democrats can only be described as a war against the automobile. A few candidates have pledged not to use a car to get to City Hall. However, all candidates will still use their city-owned car with lights and sirens to get around the city.
In an auto-dependent borough such as Queens with limited rapid transit lines, how do they propose to improve mass transit?
Adams, Stringer, Yang and McGuire propose to convert multipurpose roads and streets for use by buses, bicycles and deliveries only. Adams proposes an N line extension to LaGuardia Airport over Cuomo’s AirTrain plan (as does Donovan) and giving the city more say on the MTA Board, as do Stringer and Donovan. McGuire would accelerate subway repairs. Yang wants control of the subways and buses but without a financial plan. Stringer proposes to increase bus and subway frequencies but also has no financial plan. (They may be counting on congestion pricing and the increased revenue from summonsing drivers traveling at 31 mph.) Donovan would institute a marijuana sales tax to fund transit. None of the candidates support de Blasio’s BQX proposal. Adams would expand the Freedom Ticket. Garcia would provide a free rail to subway or bus transfer, and Yang would expand the Fair Fares program.
Will these proposals make it easier to get around? Definitely not, without new subway lines or reactivating unused rail lines. Bus lanes and lower speed limits have not reduced travel times on Woodhaven Boulevard, for example. Even lower speed limits would result in slower buses and longer wait times without adding buses and drivers that cost money and would mean higher fares.
What is the solution? The best ways to improve mass transit would be a reorganization of the bus network, temporarily on hold by the MTA, and a restructuring of the transit fare to eliminate double fares. The bus network needs overhauling with the goals of reducing transferring, increasing accessibility and improving frequencies. The goal should not be to reduce expenses by reducing coverage and increasing walking. A fairer fare would allow unlimited transfers in two hours, instead of some trips requiring a double fare because three vehicles are required. One should not be encouraged to take a longer, indirect two-bus trip instead of a quicker bus to subway to bus trip to save a fare.
No candidate recognizes any of this. The Democrats will further choke the city in traffic congestion, making auto travel more difficult without really improving mass transit. Traffic fatalities will increase by further promoting cycling.
Anti-car candidates should have their city-owned vehicle and parking placard revoked. If they have to travel like the rest of us, perhaps they will be enlightened. If you believe transportation matters, you must decide if bad transportation policy is better than no real transportation policy.
Allan Rosen is a retired former director of bus planning for MTA New York City Transit.