Bill Thompson unveils a car-focused transportation plan

Bill Thompson and Debi Rose. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Today, at a far-flung bus depot on Staten Island, Bill Thompson presented a driver-centric transportation vision for New York City.

"New York has always been a leader in culture, arts, media, construction and so many other industries, but unfortunately, our roads and transportation system are no longer world-class," he began, speaking to the few reporters who were able to drive (or get driven) to a bus depot on Castleton Avenue.

"We need to hold utility companies accountable and make them stop the cheap patch jobs that turn our streets into potholes," he said. "We can also take advantage of technology and make the lives of motorists easier. We can install mobile parking meters, allow residents to conveniently pay for parking time using their mobile phones. This measure will stop excessive parking fines on small businesses and residents."

In an accompanying press release, but unmentioned in his remarks, Thompson called for converting church parking lots that aren't heavily used during the week into city-subsidized park-and-rides.

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Of the three leading Democratic candidates for mayor, Thompson offered by far the most driver-friendly transportation vision for New York City.

When Council speaker Christine Quinn unveiled her transportation plan in April, she focused largely on New Yorkers who commute by bus, subway, train or ferry. Public advocate Bill de Blasio has, after some deliberation, come to champion both cycling and bus rapid transit.  

Thompson threw a few bones to people whose interests in "transportation" aren't primarily related to driving.

For instance, he would try to get the M.T.A. to expand CityTicket—an M.T.A. pilot program that allows New Yorkers to ride within city limits on Metro-North or Long Island Railroad for a flat, $4 fare—to weekdays. He spoke nonspecifically of expanding Select Bus Service, New York City's underperforming version of bus rapid transit, of creating more express bus routes, and of restoring bus lines that were cut during the recession.

"And of particular concern here in Staten Island is also improving ferry service," he said. "I'll make sure that we expand night and weekend service for Staten Island commuters, while creating a year-round ferry service to underserved neighborhoods like the Rockaways."

He'd also like bring back the commuter tax and direct the revenues to the M.T.A., which is a nice idea that is a political non-starter in Albany, where it would need to be approved, and he brought back his less-impossible proposal to implement a weight-based registration fee in the counties serviced by the M.T.A., something he said could garner the struggling transit authority $1 billion a year but which would also require state legislative approval.

And Thompson called for "toll equity," which is just a code phrase for lower bridge tolls.

In all, he mentioned cyclists once: "We need to repair our roadways so that pedestrians, cyclists and drivers' safety is not jeopardized by potholes and broken sidewalks."

He mentioned pedestrians not at all.

"I want to thank Mayor Bill Thompson for a comprehensive … transportation plan, something that we've needed for a very long time," said Staten Island Councilwoman Debi Rose, following Thompson's remarks.

(Both she and the 2,000-member Amalgamated Transit Union Local 726 endorsed him today.)

Following the formal remarks, I asked Thompson his thoughts on former traffic commissioner (Gridlock) Sam Schwartz's new, more outer-borough-friendly congestion pricing plan, one that would put tolls on the East River bridges and reduce them on the Verrazano.

"You know, I've gone through the proposal and there are parts of it that you look at and say 'They're interesting,' but I'm not prepared to adopt that," he said.

I asked whether the omission of bike infrastructure from his plan meant anything.

Thompson said it didn't. He supports bike share and he thinks some bike lanes are alright and others aren't.

"I think that the one thing I have always said about bicycle lanes is my greatest concern has been the lack of coordination with communities and the fact that they weren't involved in the planning," he said. (All bike lanes actually do go through the community board process.)

"But bicycle lanes and bike share, good ideas, good ideas," he continued. "And part of our future transportation network of this city. But it has to be done with our residents and with their involvement."