18 Dec Airo Security Publishes: Better Transportation Can Make the City Fairer, Greener and
Buses and bikes — that’s the key to a better, safer and more equitable city, according to mayoral candidate Shaun Donovan.
Firing what is basically the first transportation salvo in a mayor’s race that is currently dominated by other issues, the city (and nation’s) former top housing official has outlined what he calls a vision for a “21st-century transportation system that improves transit service for everyone, prioritizes mobility expansion in underserved areas, makes the streets safe for everyone who uses them, combats climate change, and reverses the legacy of racism within the city’s current transportation network.”
When it comes to transportation, the devil is not merely in the details, but in the delivery. No one put Vision Zero at the centerpiece of his agenda like Bill de Blasio — it was literally his first initiative after taking office in 2014 — but many advocates say that beyond setting that lofty agenda, the mayor didn’t consistently fight the war on cars. In an interview, Donovan said his plan is more than just an agenda, but a calling.
“Transportation has to be on your top three list,” he told Streetsblog this week. “This issue is at the center. Look at the first line of the platform: ‘Transportation is the central nervous system of the city.’ I fundamentally understand that if people are not connected and they can’t stay alive as they walk around, they cannot get access to opportunity in this city. That’s why I am leading with this.”
How far does Donovan’s plan go? It’s built on several pillars:
- Creating “true bus rapid transit.”
- Truly embracing cycling and micromobility by broadening access and safety.
- Making roadways safe from reckless drivers.
- Oh, and legalizing marijuana.
On that last one, Donovan strongly threw his support to legalizing the sale of pot — which the state legislature could then tax. But Donovan would only devote some (not all!) of that expected $500- to $750-million windfall to transit.
“A portion of that money could be set aside for public transit improvements and this could be bonded to support capital expenditures,” Donovan says in the platform. “Given other states’ movements towards legalization of marijuana, New York should go next.”
The ganja tax would be out of Mayor Donovan’s hands anyway because it would require approval by our higher leaders in Albany, so the platform mainly focuses on areas that a big city mayor can actually control:
Better bus service
Donovan’s plan calls for “true bus rapid transit,” but does not put a lot of meat on that bone. After stating the fact — “Buses in New York are slow and unreliable for those who need them the most, and the city has not worked aggressively enough to prioritize bus transit systems” — Donovan adds only that “the city should prioritize investment in a true Bus Rapid Transit System in key corridors with dedicated right of ways, intersection treatments, and stations while also improving regular bus service.”
Specifics? Donovan calls for the city to implement the MTA’s early-pandemic demand for 60 miles of dedicated bus lanes (which Mayor de Blasio answered with a promise to build 20 miles of dedicated bus lanes, then struggled to fulfill even that). City law already requires the construction of 30 miles of dedicated bus lanes every year, starting with the next mayor.
In an interview, Donovan went further, saying he “would appoint a chief equity officer reporting directly to the mayor because every issue is an equity issue — you have to have a screen that says, ‘Where are the areas that need this?’”
He also claimed, perhaps with accuracy, to be “the only candidate running who has been to Curitiba,” a reference to the Brazilian city that is celebrated for two things: its weather and its bus rapid transit.
A true “bus rapid transit” system is a heavy lift that requires repurposing road lanes or entire roadways from cars and giving them over to buses, often in lanes secured by concrete — a commitment Donovan repeated to Streetsblog. Such configurations are virtually non-existent in New York City (though the DOT recently built a modified version in The Bronx), but are popular all over the world, where transit riders truly get priority over drivers. “True” bus rapid transit also includes dedicated passenger waiting zones and all-door boarding that treats a bus more like a subway.
Such a system in Jakarta, Indonesia, for example, carries more than 1 million passengers a day — roughly half New York’s typical daily bus ridership. So a “true” bus rapid transit system in New York would mean doubling the capacity of the world’s biggest BRT system — no small job.
Donovan’s plan also calls for equitable expansion of bus lane camera enforcement — so clearly not all buses are going to get their own car-free roadways.
But responding to a follow-up question, the Donovan campaign said, “We aren’t talking one corridor, we are talking multiple lines that can support effective transport.”
Cycling and micro-mobility
On cycling, Donovan doesn’t throw out any big, Streetsblog-headline-grabbing numbers, but he does lay out the facts (and failures) of the de Blasio years:
“Though there are more than 1,200 miles of bike lanes currently across the five boroughs, only 480 miles of them are protected,” he writes, adding that “more people were killed [in 2020] in traffic than in 2019.”
“People dying in the crosswalk is not an unavoidable part of city living,” he adds.
What’s the solution? Make cycling safer. “Two-thirds of commuters who don’t bike cite…