1:58 pm Mar. 21, 20132
New York City's Progressive Caucus is now pushing bus rapid transit and congestion pricing.
Today, at a press conference on the steps of City Hall, the caucus of liberal councilmembers presented its agenda for this election year, with a marked emphasis on transit.
Not only does it call for "a city-wide network of bus rapid transit lines that connect the boroughs" and "fairer toll pricing" (code for congestion pricing), but it also embraces Mayor Michael Bloomberg's "liveable streets" policies like bike lanes and pedestrian plazas.
Why call for more BRT now?
"It's a big transition year," said Councilman Brad Lander, the co-chair of the caucus. "We want a mayor and a next City Council that's going to be ambitious."
Lander argues that bus rapid transit, not a particularly fashionable issue, could actually move votes (and therefore officials) if people are made aware of the potential benefits of it.
"When I've seen people watch the video of the TransMilenio or one of the Latin American B.R.T. systems, their eyes bug out," he told me. "And, it really doesn't cost all that much."
Bloomberg has made dramatic changes to New York City's streetscape, but his effort to convince Albany legislators to allow congestion pricing in New York City failed, at which point he explicitly gave up.
Bus rapid transit has been a slightly different story.
While the city, working with the M.T.A., did in fact launch its own breed of faster buses in 2008 and called it Select Bus Service, the results have proven lackluster.
The Progressive Caucus is not a hugely powerful organization. Founded in 2010, it only includes 11 of the Council's 51 members. But it did notch one notable success this week, when Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the frontrunner in this year's mayoral race, embraced a caucus proposal to create an inspector general for the NYPD.
Its support for bus rapid transit, and for more mass transit funding in general, comes amid what might qualify as a minor political trend toward talking about transit improvement.
In January, the governor's post-Hurricane Sandy infrastructure commission recommended New York City implement a more expansive network of rapid buses.
And last fall, a group of transit wonks founded a new grassroots transportation advocacy group called the Riders Alliance that intends, among other things, to rally support for more mass transit funding.
In the meantime, transportation engineer Sam Schwartz has been making the rounds of the city's permanent establishment with a new proposal for congestion pricing, one that he argues has none of the faults of Bloomberg's original plan.
You can read the caucus' entire agenda here.
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