Six Secrets From the Planner of Sevilla’s Lightning Bike Network

Michael Anderson, Streetsblog USA

Here’s one way to understand the story of biking in Sevilla, Spain: It went from having about as much biking as Oklahoma City to having about as much biking as Portland, Oregon.

It did this over the course of four years.

Speaking last week at the PlacesForBikes conference, one of the masterminds of that transition — which is only now becoming widely known in the United States — filled in some of the gaps in that story.

Manuel Calvo had spent years in Sevilla bicycling activism and was working as a sustainability consultant when he landed the contract to plan a protected bike lane network for his city. The result was the Plan de la Bicicleta de Sevilla, mapping the fully connected protected bike lane network that would make Sevilla’s success possible.

But as Calvo explained in his keynote Wednesday and an interview afterward, the story might not have played out that way.

Here are some things for U.S. bike believers to learn from Calvo’s account.

Read the rest at

Free Transportation Or Better Transportation?

Excerpts from an article by Steve Hanley, Clean Technica

Free public transportation may not be the panacea for urban congestion many advocates think it is …. an experiment with free transportation in Austin, Texas between October of 1989 and December of 1990 …. found significant issues, not the least of which was that buses became rolling homeless shelters. The report summary concluded,

In the fare-free demonstrations in larger systems reviewed in this paper, most of the new riders generated were not the choice riders they were seeking to lure out of automobiles in order to decrease traffic congestion and air pollution.

The larger transit systems that offered free fares suffered dramatic rates of vandalism, graffiti, and rowdiness due to younger passengers who could ride the system for free, causing numerous negative consequences. Vehicle maintenance and security costs escalated due to the need for repairs associated with abuse from passengers. The greater presence of vagrants on board buses also discouraged choice riders and caused increased complaints from long-time passengers.

In other words, the promised reward — fewer cars on the road — did not materialize and the costs of operating the public transit system increased significantly. The TransitCenter has examined several cities that have implemented free public transit programs and found mixed results. In Dunkirk, France, the plan has seen ridership increase 85%, but in Tallinn, Estonia, a similar program saw only a 3% rise in ridership. In general, TransitCenter suggests, people are perfectly happy to pay for public transportation if it is efficient, clean, and timely. It says on its website,

“When researching our forthcoming report, Who’s on Board 2019, we surveyed 1700 transit riders in seven different cities across the US. What we heard is that most low-income bus riders rate lowering fares as less important than improving the quality of the service. This suggests that if a transit agency had to choose between devoting funds to reducing fares or to maintaining or improving service, most riders would prefer the latter. The idea of making transit “free” turns out to be less appealing to the public than making improvements to transit.”

What are superior and sustainable ways to move the needle on ridership? Making transit fast, frequent, and reliable. In just a few short years, Seattle has nearly tripled the number of people able to walk to frequent transit, and ridership continues to climb. Ridership has also been gaining in San Francisco, where SFMTA has an ongoing program to speed up buses. Cities like Austin, Richmond, and Columbus are redesigning their bus networks to better connect people to jobs, and seeing ridership growth as a result.

TransitCenter says the cost of parking or accessing cities by car can make a big difference in the number of people riding public transit. In London, congestion charges have led to an 18% increase in people taking the subway. In Los Angeles, Phil Washington, CEO of LA Metro recently created a stir when he proposed a similar congestion charge could raise $12 billion a year — money that could be used to fund free public transportation with plenty left over. Under his plan, buses on major routes would come every 90 seconds. The plan is a long way from being adopted but it has created lots of healthy debate, which is a good thing. TransitCenter concludes its latest analysis of the value of free transportation this way:

Free transit makes for a terrific news hook. But the only way to see the full benefits of transit – like improved air quality, less congestion, and more vibrant cities is for people to actually start riding transit in substantial numbers. To this end, agencies should immediately make transit more accessible by offering discounts to riders who need them the most. More employers should be compelled, whether through penalty or incentive, to subsidize transit passes.

But what advocates and policymakers should actually be focusing on is a multi-pronged approach to make driving less attractive, and undoing policies that make driving feel free. Cities and transit agencies should work together to raise parking rates and replace swaths of curbside parking with transit priority streets.

And while congestion pricing isn’t feasible for most US cities, large metro areas with robust transit networks should start laying the groundwork. Funneling money from these pursuits directly into improving transit will yield precisely the type of benefits sought by proponents of free transit.

The Takeaway

The takeaway is this. The paradigm that says anyone should be free to drive into any city at any time — a notion that became firmly rooted in the American psyche after the explosion of suburbia after World War II — needs to be a blown up and replaced with a new one that emphasizes public transport options that meet the needs of most members of society at affordable prices. The age of the car is ending. It’s time to move on to what’s next.

And let’s not forget that any new public transit options need to utilize zero emissions vehicles, whether they are buses, ride sharing vans, or other vehicles. There is no point in making it easier to get around if doing so results in a dying planet.


Scooters Offer Chance to Rethink Urban Rights of Way

by William Fulton, California Planning & Development Report

From Central Park West to San Diego’s hip North Park neighborhood, cities are removing parking spaces, replacing them with bike lanes, and getting pushback from residents and business owners.

In urban neighborhoods across the country, well-capitalized electric scooter companies are invading, sometimes met with support from policymakers who see them as a useful transportation mode and sometimes met with resistance from residents and politicians who view them as a safety hazard and little more than metal street litter.

What’s really going on here? Depending on how you look view transportation, bikes and scooters are the key to future, clean urban mobility or a sideshow that distracts from maintaining mobility across large metropolis. But I think the basic problem – the reason we’re having a hyper-emotional discussion about these transportation modes on both sides – is that we’re not framing the issue right.

The problem isn’t that bikes and scooters are necessary or that they’re a menace. The problem is that, in urban locations across America, we need an intermediate mode of travel between cars and walking – an easy to way to travel between a half-mile and two miles. In the transit business, this is called the “first and last mile” problem. Cars are a hassle and walking is too far, so these intermediate modes need a right of way, whether they are bikes, scooters, Segways or vehicles that haven’t been invented yet.

On urban streets, we know how to accommodate cars that go between 25 and 45 miles an hour, which often also wind up parking on the street. We also know how to accommodate pedestrians (though we don’t always do this well), who tend to travel at about three miles an hour. What happens when somebody shows up in a small vehicle that travels 10 to 15 miles an hour? They either travel in the street, where they’re too small and too slow to navigate amidst car traffic comfortably; or they travel on the sidewalk, where they are too big and too fast to travel amidst pedestrian traffic comfortably. And where do they park?

What’s happening is that cities are taking space away from cars – parking spaces – in order to give it to these intermediate vehicles a thoroughfare. (The most persistently amusing example of the problem this creates is police cars parking in bike lanes).


The importance of reducing VMT by 1% per year

by Steve Birdlebough

Many cities and counties are adopting emergency declarations regarding the Climate Disruption crisis. Some places have shown progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from their water and power sectors, however it seems much more difficult to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the transportation sector.

Reports and studies by the Air Resources Board tell us that during the next 15 years it will be necessary to reduce average vehicle miles traveled by more than 1% per year for each California resident. Merely shifting people into electric vehicles will NOT achieve the needed reductions in GHG emissions. In part, this is because many vehicles now on the road will be emitting greenhouse gases for years to come.

A 1% per year reduction in driving may seem small, but steady reductions in our collective driving habit (vehicle miles traveled [VMT] per capita) will become significant.

The SCTLC can play an important role by educating local policy makers about equitable strategies to reduce driving while maintaining a healthy economy. Depending on the geography, work force, and economic drivers, policies to be considered are:
– Support climate-friendly sharing of autos, electric bicycles, scooters, etc.
-Make more employers aware of the benefits, and ways to manage telecommuting.
– Convenient, attractive & safe trails for bicycles, horses, and pedestrians
– Make low cost transit passes and free shuttles widely available
– Improve the quantity and convenience of bus, train and shuttle services
– Cease subsidizing automobile parking (progressively unbundle parking costs)
– Build most new residences near shopping, work places, and public transit
– Avoid construction or expansion of roadways that invite more congestion

In November, 2018 we saw the power that groups and chapters exercised in defeating Proposition 3 (the pay-to-play water bond). The Transportation & Sustainable Communities Committee is urging every chapter and group to engage policy makers in efforts to significantly reduce per capita VMT and GHG emissions related to

City councils and boards of supervisors should begin to receive VMT per capita progress reports annually. Within a few years, candidate interviews can present an opportunity for discussion of these issues.

Fixing potholes could suck up all the new “Measure M” money

A Pavement System Preservation report is summarized on page 22 of the SCTA’s TAC agenda for this Thursday, September 26.

The report says that an additional $964 million would be needed over the next 30 years just to maintain existing pothole conditions for all of Sonoma County—$32 million per year! That’s about $7 million per year more than the money raised last year by the current 1/4-cent transportation sales tax (Measure M, enacted in 2004).

If we expect to rebuild roads in all of the jurisdictions of the County to achieve a “state of good repair” over the next 30 years, $75 million would be required every year—more than twice as much as is needed just to keep the number of potholes from increasing.

Clearly, policy makers made a mistake decades ago, when they allowed so many developments with so many roads to be constructed. They should have calculated the burdens that such projects place on public treasuries.

Last week we saw the Board of Supervisors approve up to 1,900 new accessory dwelling units. But the planners say the impact of several thousand more autos would be “negligible.”

Where does it all stop, and how do we get adequate funding for bike-pedestrian trails and more transit into any extension of the Measure M sales tax?

Should electric vehicle drivers pay per mile?

Laura Bliss, CityLab

Since EV drivers zip past gas taxes, they don’t contribute to the federal fund for road maintenance. A new working paper tries to determine whether plug-ins should pay up.

More than 1 million electric cars are now zipping (quietly) around the United States. That’s still a tiny fraction of the nation’s 260 million-strong vehicle fleet, but EVs hit a sales record of 208,000 registrations in 2018. As more mass-market plug-in models hit the showrooms, more charging stations pop up, and the menace of “range anxiety” fades, new EV drivers are born every day.

But are all those Bolts, Volts, Leafs, and Teslas paying their fair share for the asphalt they drive on? The Highway Trust Fund, the federal government’s purse for road maintenance, depends on the 18 cents per gallon U.S. motorists pay in gasoline taxes. But it’s nearly insolvent, in part because Americans drive more fuel-efficient machines than before. So states like California, Washington, and Illinois are mulling a “mileage tax,” where drivers pay a fee based on the number of miles driven, rather than the amount of gas they burn. Oregon, where a pilot program asks participants to pay 1.7 cents per mile in lieu of paying a gas tax, is the example to follow.

Yet the question of getting plug-ins to pay up may be trickier than it seems. In a new working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Lucas Davis, a professor of business and technology and a director of U.C. Berkeley’s Energy Institute, and James Sallee, a professor in the school’s department of agricultural and resource economics, estimate that while the U.S. does indeed forgo millions in tax revenue thanks to EVs, instituting a special tax on electric vehicles might produce unwanted side effects.


Cars & Other Motor Vehicles

by Joel Woodhull

Cars have many obvious virtues. They are the mainstay of our transportation system. They are deeply imbedded in the ways we live and will likely remain so for a very long time.

Being associated with the idea of freedom came early in the 1900’s. Privately owned traction companies and railroads were viewed as rapacious monopolies. The automobile became the symbol of democracy and freedom. It enabled the common man to get out from under the domination of the transport barons.

But an interesting reversal has taken place over the last 50 years. The automobile was so successful, in accumulating hidden subsidies to bolster its virtues, that its numbers overwhelmed its facilities.

Today there is widespread agreement that there are far too many of them. Even their advertisers recognize how much people dislike being inundated by car traffic, and therefore often depict cars on roads all by themselves. Lonely cars have become the dream, while real cars become ever more gregarious.

How much driving is there in Sonoma County? The recent Footprint project found that the per capita annual VMT in the county is about the same as in the U.S. as a whole. But it varies quite a bit within the county – with residents of rural areas imposing the greatest VMT burden on the County. We used the data used earlier in the Footprint project to map the averages in different zones of the county.

Patterns of travel
Sonoma County is unusual in having a high percentage of people who both live and work within the county. Tables based on data from MTC show intercounty commutes for seven decades, between Sonoma and Marin and other counties of the Bay Area. To print the tables, download PDF file.

There isn’t much data collected on auto travel, except for the journey to work, which is typically the longest daily trip for workers. But we can get a partial picture of County travel from published data. From the U.S. Census we can see whether people that live in the cities and other named places drive or use other means to get to work . You can compare your town with towns elsewhere in the U.S. with an easy-to-use database provided by the Iowa-based organization, Bikes-At-Work.

One of the bright spots in the efficient use of automobiles is car-sharing. By getting away from the personal relationship we have with cars, we not only free ourselves from that co-dependency, we ameliorate one of the major faults of a system based on personal cars — it is a huge waste of space. Since most cars spend their time idly taking up valuable space, any form of sharing will reduce that inefficiency.

A number of car-sharing organizations have come about within the last decade. In November 2002 there were 18 of them in the United States, serving more than 12,000 members, according to an article in the L.A. Times.

For a detailed background on the niche of car-sharing, see “Carsharing; Vehicle Rental Services That Substitute for Private Vehicle Ownership” in the TDM Encyclopedia of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI).

A view of the rapid development of car-sharing worldwide can be seen at the website of the Car Sharing Network. For Bay Area developments, see City CarShare.

Reducing Congestion
Certainly the most interesting recent action to reduce congestion took place in London, where Mayor Ken Livingstone, assisted by Robert Kiley, a former C.I.A. official, business leader and transit expert from New York City, drew a cordon around central London and began charging car drivers a hefty fee to enter.

By most accounts in the last year, this program has been a success, and other cities are looking at emulation. It may be unlikely to ever happen in Sonoma County, but it is at least instructive as to the possibility of taming the automobile. See New York Times article of April 20, 2003.

Better Efficiency
In the very near term, one of the simplest steps people can take to help reduce the pressure on resources is to step up to higher fuel efficiency. This is particularly important for owners of SUVs that by now have realized they don’t really need their special capabilities. Those who wait until world events get ahead of them may have to give those things away. Hybrid cars from Toyota and Honda in Japan have been on the market long enough now to see a developing market.

Health & Safety

by Joel Woodhull

Of late, the goals of the public health community and the Bike-Ped community have converged in promotions to increase walking and cycling. In a paper, “Promoting Safe Walking and Cycling to Improve Public Health: Lessons from the Netherlands and Germany” (2003), John Pucher and Lewis Dijkstra examined the public health consequences of unsafe and inconvenient walking and bicycling conditions in American cities and suggested improvements based on successful policies in The Netherlands and Germany. They found that, whereas walking and cycling account for less than a tenth of all urban trips in American cities, they account for a third of all trips in Germany and for half of trips in The Netherlands. American pedestrians and cyclists are much more likely to get killed than Dutch and German pedestrians and cyclists, both on a per-trip and per-km basis. They are also far more likely to be injured.

On the basis of Dutch and German experience, they proposed a wide range of measures to improve the safety of walking and cycling in American cities, both to reduce fatalities and injuries and to encourage more walking and cycling, thus providing much needed physical exercise for increasingly overweight Americans.
Safety in numbers. Another recent paper from the public health field answers the question of whether the public health goal of more walking and bicycling conflicts with another public health goal, reducing injuries. According to research by Peter L. Jacobsen, there isn’t a conflict, because as more people cycle and walk, the rate of injuries per participant goes down.

Motivations for change
In a paper presented in 2003 at the International Pedestrian Conference, Daniel Sauter builds on the platform constructed by Whitelegg for a discussion of a course of action which could overcome the obstacles facing the pedestrian. He would anchor the actions on three basic desires that people have – longings for freedom, for time and for dignity. These would be addressed respectively by encouraging accessibility for pedestrians, reversing the hierarchies in transport policies and acknowledgment of walking as a human right.

The Day Traffic Disappeared

by Randy Kennedy
The New York Times, April 20, 2003

When Queen Elizabeth opened the new City Hall in London last year, some observers compared the building, designed by the architect Norman Foster, to a giant eye. And that is exactly what it looks like — a glassy postmodern eyeball on the south bank of the Thames, staring across the river at its staid Georgian and Victorian neighbors as if to say, ”Welcome to the 21st century.” Atop the building is a semicircular penthouse called London’s Living Room, walled with windows that offer a commanding view of the city below. The idea behind this room is to offer a place for Londoners to gather, if only through the medium of a television camera, for the kinds of serious, big-family sit-downs that go along with governing a sometimes dysfunctional city of more than seven million — a city so decentralized, in fact, that until three years ago it never had an elected mayor.

On an unusually bright morning earlier this year, that mayor, Ken Livingstone, strides into the room before a bank of cameras, and with an unusually pleased look on his dour face, announces a coup, one that has eluded dozens of large cities like New York, Los Angeles and Paris. He has not conquered crime or poverty, but he may very well have hobbled an urban enemy seemingly just as invincible: the car. Livingstone has just begun the world’s most radical experiment in reclaiming the city from the tyranny of the automobile, a power struggle that cities have been losing in humiliating fashion for more than half a century. Since well before his election, he has been warning Londoners that far too many of them (about 250,000 a day) are trying to drive into far too small a place — central London — polluting the air, choking commerce, slowly strangling their own livelihood. To stop them, the mayor decided to draw a line, literally.

The line formed a lopsided oval around eight square miles of the historic inner city. Almost anyone who drove across the line during business hours — in fact, almost anyone who moved or even parked a car on the street within it after Feb. 17 — instantly owed the city of London $:5 (about $8) a day for every day it happened. If a driver failed to pay, one of more than 700 vulturelike video cameras perched throughout the zone would capture his license plate number and relay it to a computer, leading to a huge fine. And if the driver declined to pay those fines? The mayor vowed, only half-jokingly, that the city would relentlessly track his car down, clamp it, tow it away and crush it — ”with or without the driver inside.” Few would be exempt, not even volunteer social workers, teachers, foreign diplomats or undercover police officers.

The idea behind his assault on automotive freedom was neither new nor very hard to understand. If a finite resource is free, human beings tend to use it all up, regardless of the consequences. If it has a cost, they tend to use it more rationally. Livingstone, a far-left Socialist, won his mayoralty largely on the promise of applying this tough-love theory to London’s streets. But in the weeks just before the ”congestion charge” began, it sometimes seemed that he was the only one who believed it would work. The newspapers were full of derisive nicknames for it, like ”Ken-gestion” and ”Carmaggedon.” Samantha Bond, the actress who plays Miss Moneypenny in the most recent James Bond movies, became the sympathetic face of the opposition, presiding over a protest with hints of civil disobedience at the West End theater where — somehow fittingly — ”Les Miserables” was being staged. Tony Blair’s government, which had given London and other British cities permission to levy such traffic charges in the first place, carefully distanced itself from the plan. And the bookmaking firm William Hill, one of London’s most able arbiters of public sentiment, began offering 4-to-1 odds that it would fail by the end of the year. (The odds that Livingstone would be out of office before the end of his term were put at 10 to 1.)

On this sunny Tuesday morning, however, it appears that the mayor has beaten at least the first of those odds. The number of cars entering the cordon zone the day before, the first day of the charge, dropped by about 60,000, remarkable even in the context of a school holiday. One automobile group estimated that average speeds in central London had doubled, nothing less than a miracle in the world of road policy. Livingstone, addressing his public in a droopy suit, bright blue tie and a pair of sensible thick-soled walking shoes, declares it ”the best day we’ve had in traffic flow in living memory” and reports that he has even taken a call from the government’s transport minister, John Spellar, a Labor Party archenemy who had helped to expel Livingstone from the party three years earlier when he launched his renegade mayoral bid.

Livingstone’s eyes twinkle as he relates the conversation. ”He said, ‘Clearly the devil looks after his own,’ and we had a good laugh,” the mayor says.

When a reporter asks whether the mayor has truly considered the consequences of the scheme failing, especially with his re-election campaign only a year away, Livingstone’s nasal Cockney voice, already as affectless as a door buzzer, drops to a full deadpan. ”I never consider my own future when making political decisions,” he says. He pauses for effect. ”How can you be so cynical?”

As television crews troop out to the balcony to shoot the light traffic wheeling around the Tower of London, a good laugh is had all around the living room.

he exchange, however, goes straight to the heart of cities’ tangled history with the automobile — undoubtedly the most inefficient, and most aggressively defended, means ever conceived for transporting large numbers of people through crowded places. The idea of using a price tag to regulate driving into crowded places has been around for years, but its progress has been slowed by two problems, one big, the other gigantic. The first was simply technical: how would you charge for entry into entire cities or neighborhoods without putting tollbooths everywhere and causing more congestion? That obstacle has now been largely overcome with high-speed electronic tolls, sharpshooter cameras (originally developed for antiterrorism purposes in London) and even the development of satellite tracking of cars.

The gigantic problem is political. Since at least the end of World War II, the battle between cars and cities, a battle over the shape of the city itself, has been an epic mismatch. An oversimplified chronology would read something like this: the car helps to create sprawl; sprawl siphons people and political power away from the hearts of cities; the car returns to attack the city, which was never designed to accommodate so many; the city is forced to transform itself, ceding sidewalks to streets, trolley tracks to traffic lanes, parks to parking lots, whole neighborhoods to expressways.

In the United States, the critic Lewis Mumford foresaw a grim end to the whole process: ”a tomb of concrete roads and ramps covering the dead corpse of a city.” While the effects have not been quite that dire yet, the imbalance remains tremendous. On a purely human level, it can be witnessed any weekday in Times Square, where armies of angry pedestrians crowd around S.U.V.’s pinioned in crosswalks, the drivers inside easily outnumbered 100 to 1.

But those drivers and the people who profit from them in cities — principally garage owners, automobile clubs and road builders — have had tremendous political influence over the years. They have portrayed unfettered access to public tax-supported roads as something like a modern amendment to the rights of man. And while it may be in the long-term interests of drivers to pay for using some roads in order to make them passable again, to put that money into subsidizing more efficient conveyances like trains and buses, city leaders have long viewed administering that corrective as something close to electoral suicide. Even the most crusading anti-car mayors — like John V. Lindsay in New York, who came within weeks of ordering a Midtown traffic ban in the early 1970’s, and Edward I. Koch after him, who came almost as close to imposing tolls on the free East River bridges — have ultimately backed down or lost their battles.

Though it might seem like a relatively new phenomenon, saturation traffic has existed in many cities for decades, virtually unchanged. Depending on whom you believe, it is incredibly destructive, costing London alone over $300 million a year in lost productivity and revenue just because of congestion in the tiny central portion of the city. (One New York City study in the late 1990’s found that traffic problems in Manhattan cost the city as much as $4 billion a year in lost productivity.)

With its mazelike medieval streets, London was a city plagued with congestion long before the car. In his diaries, Samuel Pepys twice recorded being stuck in 17th-century horse-and-buggy jams. When the car came along, the original notion was that such age-old transportation problems could be solved if enough new roads were built to handle cities’ needs, a strategy called ”predict and provide.” But by the 1960’s, only a half-century after the car came into common use, economists and traffic planners were starting to notice that new roads seemed only to create more traffic.

By 1977, when the British punk band the Jam recorded ”London Traffic” (”No one knows the answer/No one seems to care/Take a look at our city/Take the traffic elsewhere”), the average speed of a car in central London was 12 miles an hour, or a little faster than the top running speed of a domestic pig. At the turn of the millennium, more than two decades later, many Londoners could only look back on those congested years with nostalgia. The average speed had dropped to less than nine miles per hour for the first time in modern record-keeping, meaning that car travel through Britain’s capital was generally as slow as by coach a century ago.

”We’re addicted, really,” Bev Ramsden, a veteran taxi driver and dispatcher, told me one wet weekday morning, inching down the A4 highway through the gray margins of Hammersmith, nowhere near the most congested part of the city. ”Like addicts, I think we’re getting to the point where we’re realizing how crazy this is. Someone’s got to do something.”

It will probably go down as one of the stranger chapters in the history of traffic policy that the man who finally did something is a former lefty radical (once known as Red Ken) applying conservative free-market ideas. In a way, of course, it all makes complete sense: the congestion charge is classic Robin Hood socialism, taking from the comfortable Londoner commuting by Bentley and giving to the commoner hanging from the strap of a packed double-decker bus. But don’t misunderstand. While he is a crusader, Livingstone is also a famously foot-sure career politician as interested as any in re-election. Despite his quip for the television cameras, he did not launch his assault without making a lot of practical calculations about its effect on his future. That morning, in fact, waiting downstairs for him in a cavernous boardroom was a group of strategists who were highly paid to do just that. It was telling that most of these strategists were not from London at all but from a place with much worse traffic problems and a much more treacherous political climate for trying to solve them: New York City. (Average traffic speed: about seven miles per hour, no faster than a running possum.)

Only a few months after his election in the summer of 2000, Livingstone began courting Robert R. Kiley, a former C.I.A. official, business leader and transit expert, who as head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York in the 1980’s was credited with resurrecting the city’s graffiti-scarred subway system, now considered one of the best in the world. Kiley, given the new title of London’s transport commissioner, brought with him another former top New York transit official, Jay Walder, who had become an expert on road pricing at Harvard and in Singapore, where a smaller but much more costly congestion-charging system in place for more than 25 years has cut car ownership to 1 in 10 city residents.

When Kiley arrived in London, most of the attention focused on his transit credentials and how he would use them to rescue the ailing London Underground, an effort in which he and Livingstone, fighting Blair’s government, have been largely unsuccessful. But Kiley told me later that he was equally interested in coming to London because of Livingstone’s determination to try to right the relationship between the city and the car. If it worked, Kiley knew, it would be seen as a model around the world, and especially back in New York, where more than 250,000 vehicles crowd into the 8.5-square-mile heart of Manhattan in three hours every morning, roughly the same number that enter the eight square miles of central London over the course of an entire workday.

As the leader of a business alliance in the 1990’s, Kiley advocated road pricing for Manhattan, but he received no support from Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, whose voting base in Queens and Staten Island practically lived in their cars. In many ways London was an interesting parallel, more like New York than any other American city in its atypical transportation landscape. In both cities, as packed as the roads can be, more than 80 percent of workers take some form of mass transit into the central city every weekday morning. In London, as in New York, some drivers are poor. But most tend to have money — enough to generate political pressure to protect their choice. They are also affluent enough, Kiley points out, to be persuaded to spend a little money to save them something much more valuable: their time.

”We knew all along that the motorist advocates and writers for the newspapers and libertarians and people who are really locked into cars would be critical, but I think the majority of Londoners supported congestion-charging right up to opening day,” Kiley said later in his office, with a poster of the Brooklyn Bridge behind his desk. ”Would I call it a popular measure? Probably not. But I think that Londoners have long since concluded that someone had to take this dragon on.”

Sitting there that day, as the dragon was being cowed on the streets below, Kiley told me that he had spoken at length about fighting it with another very important potential St. George, one in some ways a lot like Livingstone — a political outsider who takes the subway to work, who strongly supports the idea of road pricing and who views the prerogatives of driving from a much more jaundiced 21st-century perspective. His name was Michael R. Bloomberg, and he was the mayor of New York City.

Though not mentioned in ”The Power Broker,” Robert A. Caro’s biography of the master road builder Robert Moses, one of the more iconic clashes in the long war between the car and the city took place in New York, with Moses playing a role. He and other planners wanted to slice a highway through the middle of Washington Square Park, the heart of Greenwich Village. It is now hard to believe such a plan was ever seriously proposed, but in 1958 it came close to happening.

At the time, photographed defiantly on the City Hall steps with a giant prop key to lock traffic out of the park, a Tammany Hall leader framed a question that was only then starting to be asked in earnest. Would we, he asked, ”plan and develop our cities in accordance with the needs and wishes of the people who live in them or for the convenience of the vehicles which pass through them?” The highway through the park was eventually scrapped, but in New York that question, until very recently, has been answered almost always in favor of the passing cars. From 1924 to 1965, car lanes into Manhattan grew from 68 to 120, according to one count, while the number of cars on the street went from 390,000 a day in 1946 (considered intolerable at the time) to more than a million by the end of the 1990’s. And that is not because travel has been made more efficient. In fact, it has often been the opposite. In 1907, with trolleys and traffic lanes, the Brooklyn Bridge carried 426,000 people a day; now, with space only for cars, it carries far less than half that number and is often jammed. Convoys of trucks rumble down the decaying streets of Chinatown on their way to New Jersey because tolls on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge would cost them an average of $33 per trip to take the highways that are better designed for them.

Many traffic experts see Bloomberg as the last, best chance — at least for the foreseeable future — for anything to change. When he was campaigning, he sought the advice of car skeptics like Kiley. Samuel I. Schwartz, an engineer who worked on East River bridge tolls under both Lindsay and Koch, wrote much of Bloomberg’s stridently anti-car campaign platform himself. And Schwartz, who coined the quintessential New York warning ”Don’t Even THINK of Parking Here,” is no moderate on the issue. He advocates charging trucks $50 for using Manhattan as a pass-through and, were it technically possible, $25 a minute for people who want to cruise Fifth Avenue during the height of the holiday season. (”They want to see the Rock Center Christmas tree from their car?” he says. ”If they do, they should pay for that great privilege.”)

After his election, Bloomberg seemed to be moving in that direction. He decided, in the face of mounting attacks by powerful garage owners, to maintain most of an emergency traffic ban that Giuliani started after the Sept. 11 attacks, preventing single-occupant cars from crossing into much of Manhattan during the morning rush. He has ended the age-old tradition of free Sunday parking in many neighborhoods (including his own, the Upper East Side) and banned turns on some busy crosstown streets — small changes but ones met with shrieks of protest. His transportation commissioner, Iris Weinshall, even went to London last summer to talk to Kiley and Livingstone about the congestion charge.

But there seems to be a growing sense that Bloomberg could end up among the near-miss mayors on any kind of serious traffic reform. In large part, this is because he has already spent a career’s worth of political capital by raising property taxes to fix the city’s enormous budget gap, for example, and by banning smoking in bars, a move that would probably get Livingstone sacked in London. Bloomberg and his staff are so nervous about traffic issues that they do not like to talk about them even privately anymore. One city official told me of his particular nightmare: trying to write the speech that Bloomberg would deliver when he cut the ribbons on the new Brooklyn Bridge toll plaza: ”What’s he going to say? ‘Ladies and gentlemen, these things that’ve been free for decades and decades. I’m the guy who’s going to make you pay for them! Thank you for your support!”’

Kiley says he still believes that Bloomberg could sell a congestion charge, especially in a city where so many take mass transit and only half of the people living at the epicenter of the problem even own cars. ”That’s not a bad place to start,” he says, ”when you know that half the people in Manhattan are going to be with you, almost by definition.”

For all the rest, he adds, ”Bloomberg could use the analogy of, well, look what a difference government has actually made to the subway system. Now we’ve got to take the next step because we have a subway that’s working better, a commuter rail system that’s in good shape and lots of room on buses. We’ve got to really start managing road use. That could be his message.”

Would the message work? New York might not be ready to hear it yet, and the messenger might be killed. But inevitably the city will have to listen, and the brave politician who forces it to come to its senses will be heralded as a visionary. ”Fifth Avenue” has always had a dull ring to it. What about ”Bloomberg Promenade”?

Randy Kennedy, a reporter for the Metro Section of The Times, writes the Tunnel Vision column about the New York subway system.

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