Times have changed since Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer hosted a conference on transportation reform in 2006. Five years ago, New York City appeared to be on the verge of shaking off the traffic-first approach to street engineering that had dominated city transportation policy for decades. Whispers were in the air about a push to tame city traffic and fund the transit system by putting a price on congestion-plagued streets. Since then, plenty of innovation has come to NYC streets, while traffic congestion and transit funding remain core challenges.
Last Friday, Stringer’s office organized a sequel, providing an opportunity to take stock of the last five years and recalibrate the transportation reform agenda going forward.
As it happened, former DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall made brief remarks at the outset of the event, hosted at John Jay College, in her capacity as a vice chancellor of CUNY. The moment was ripe with irony. Five years ago, then-commissioner Weinshall made a splash at the first Stringer transportation conference, calling for bus rapid transit, parking reform, safe routes to schools, and new public spaces. In the past two years, Weinshall’s dogged attempts to eradicate the Prospect Park West protected bike lane have, if nothing else, underscored why she had to leave the department before progress could be achieved on all the promises she made in 2006.
On Friday morning, the stage belonged to her successor, Janette Sadik-Khan, who highlighted DOT’s long list of achievements and innovations:
- Select Bus Service: Though the roll-out has been slower than originally anticipated and true bus rapid transit has eluded NYC DOT and the MTA, NYC now has three operating corridors of Select Bus Service, including 34th Street and First and Second Avenues in Manhattan and on Fordham Road in the Bronx, improving transit for tens of thousands of riders each day and attracting thousands more.
- Bicycling: In 2006, the city promised to add 200 new miles of bike lanes, a pledge that has since been fulfilled and surpassed. Now New York sets its sights not only on advancing the number of bike lane miles, but creating innovative street designs that lead the nation in making cycling accessible to a wide array of city residents.
- Parking: The DOT has piloted Park Smart, time-of-day variable pricing for parking spots in Park Slope and Greenwich Village and is on its way to expanding it into other parts of the city.
- Safe routes to schools: The city has a robust program to improve safety near 135 schools in all five boroughs.
- Public plazas: The big public space news of 2006 was that the city would add a ribbon of pedestrian space to the Times Square bowtie. No one could have predicted the city would add substantial public plazas at Times Square and Herald Square by reclaiming lanes from traffic.
For all the reasons to celebrate the progress on NYC streets, the conference also provided some sobering perspective on the state of the transit system.