New York's New Mayor and the Future of Urban Mobility

By Bill Moore

Bill de Blasio appoints Polly Trottenberg as New York City's Transportation Commissioner, pledging to continue the city's shift to more sustainable mobility options, including cycling and bus rapid transit.

PHOTO: President Bill Clinton swears in Mayor de Blasio, flanked by his family at City Hall on January 1, 2014.

Bill de Blasio was sworn in as the mayor of New York City yesterday by former U.S. President Bill Clinton. The first liberal Democrat to take the office of mayor in two decades, he and his family rode the subway to City Hall.

The former New York City Public Advocate quickly got down to the business of the city by naming U.S. Transportation Policy Under Secretary Polly Trottenberg as his replacement for outgoing transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

Sadik-Khan is regarded as one of key drivers in the shift away from an almost exclusive focus catering to automobiles in the five boroughs to a widening range of transportation options, including the creation of car-free pedestrian zones, the most visible being Times Square, a move 'infuriated cabbies but delighted tourists.' Another important initiative overseen by Sadik-Khan and championed by former Mayor Bloomberg, was introduction of the city's bikeshare system on Memorial Day 2013 and the expansion of its cycling infrastructure.

De Blasio pledged during this campaign to not only continue the multimodal transportation policies of the previous administration, but to push even more aggressively. Not only does he want to see the number of trips by bicycle double from Bloomberg's goal of three percent to six percent, he wants to build a faster, more convenient and resilient public transit system. One of his key policy initiatives that Ms. Trottenberg will oversee is the creation of more Bus Rapid Transit lines, especially in the outer reaches of the five boroughs. One such area is the Far Rockaways, a low income coastal community west of JFK airport. Superstorm Sandy wrecked its subway line, its main connection to the city, putting it out of commission for months and forcing riders to spent more time and money commuting.

De Blasio and Trottenberg want to link these outlying communities to the city's transportation hubs with faster, more flexible and resilient BRT, which use buses, often articulated and feasibly electric, on dedicated bus lanes to cut travel times in half.

The selection of Trottenberg is seen as a smart move, not just strategically, but tactically. While the US Undersecretary of Transportation for Policy, she was responsible for creating the DOT's TIGER grant program. TIGER grants - the acronym stands for "Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery" -- are designed to stimulate economic recovery by funding infrastructure improvements from pedestrian and cycling projects from Fresno to Boston, to highways and rails. Of the $474 million awarded this past September, 15% will go to Bicycle and Pedestrian projects. 10.4% or just under $50 million will go to six 'complete streets' projects, which themselves are designed to make city streets more pedestian and cycling friendly, rather than just car-centric.

While she did not administer the program, her knowledge of federal funding mechanisms is seen as an advantage in helping win funding for the city, as well as vetting projects for their economic and ergonomic effectiveness.

Given Trottenberg's commitment to multi-modal transportation and de Blasio's political philosophy, it likely is a safe bet that the changes introduced under Mayor Bloomberg will continue, and where financially - and politically - feasible, be accelerated as the city seeks to become even more people-focused and less auto-dominated. It won't be easy, of course, but New York has the opportunity to continue to lead by example.

EV World wishes Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Trottenberg, much success. And if we can offer a word of advice, please make it your goal make electric-assist bicycles both welcome and legal members of a more inclusive family of personal transportation options.

Times Article Viewed: 7198
Originally published: 02 Jan 2014


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