March/April 1996, p.4-5

Giuliani Junks Department of Transportation:
Bicycling, Walking and Transportation Reform in Doubt

Walking, cycling and neighborhoods will become less important as the city focuses on "core functions" like potholes and traffic flow. A politically weakened transportation commissioner will find it harder to promote bike lanes and traffic calming improvements in the face of vociferous opposition from motorists. If the Mayor's plan to abolish the Department of Transportation succeeds, conditions for cyclists and pedestrians will get much worse. Bridge paths will be closed, dangerous intersections will not be improved, and neighborhood streets will suffer from even more traffic. Traffic will triumph over us as the city abandons transportation reform.


NEW YORK, N.Y. 10007

In early February Mayor Giuliani proposed eliminating the Department of Transportation (DOT) and scattering its 6,500 employees among an assortment of old and new agencies. In doing so, Giuliani has demoted transportation as a key issue and further reduced the city's accountability to cyclists and pedestrians.

The dismemberment of the city's biggest transportation body into "core" functions like filling potholes and direction traffic demonstrates a lack of vision, typified by the name proposed for DOT's remnants: "The Department of Infrastructure and Facilities Maintenance." The name is well suited to filling potholes but what about the innovations in planning and practice that our traffic-clogged city needs? Who will inherit the department's mandate of 'moving people and goods in an economically and environmentally beneficial way? Sadly it appears that the Mayor and his advisors think that transportation is only about maintaining roads and moving automobile traffic. The pedestrian, cyclist, and neighborhood seem not to matter.

Bridges will likely become even less accessible to cyclists and walkers as the Bureau of Bridges gains independence. Bridge Chief Bob Ronayne has already threatened to exile cyclists from the Queensboro Bridge during the next 5 years of construction.In contrast, the Mayor addressed his favorite issue, crime, by combining the three city police forces into one, eliminating redundancies, and taking planning more seriously. It seems logical to do the same with the Department of Transportation by further combining, not fragmenting, the city's transportation and planning expertise under one roof. Nobody would reasonably suggest splitting the police department into independent planning, patrol and arrest agencies, yet that is what the Mayor wants for his transportation agencies.

The Mayor's move comes just as the Regional Plan Association, on the front page of the Times, calls for a new city and regional focus on transportation planning and investment. Now, by eliminating the one city agency charged explicitly with handling transportation issues, Giuliani proposes to dilute further the city's voice in regional and local transportation affairs. Our already fragmented city transportation bureaucracy (along with DOT, the Department of City Planning, the Economic Development Corporation and the Mayor's Transportation Office have a say in policy making) is already barely a player as mega-agencies like the Port Authority, MTA and State DOT divide up the Federal aid pie and dictate our future.

New York's ailing transportation system does need to be reinvented. But instead of turning the Department of Transportation into the Department of Potholes, we would be better off creating a strong new city transportation agency that integrates all transportation planning and maintenance and determines capital construction priorities. The head of this agency should be the city's transportation czar with the same level of authority as the police commissioner.

Transportation is too important to our economy and quality of life to leave it to a second-rate pothole agency.