Bloomberg Sets Sights on New York Climate Change
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
A great, old TV cop show that was shot in New York used to begin with the line: There are eight million stories in the naked city. In fact the number of stories swells to about 10 million every workday and they are stories that vary greatly in terms of energy efficiency. Many New Yorkers take the subway to work.
(Soundbite of subway)
SIEGEL: And for a variety of reasons, some brave the surface traffic of midtown Manhattan, many in buses and, unlike just about everywhere else in the country, very few in their own cars. The very few might be still fewer if the city adopts Mayor Michael Bloomberg's far-reaching plan for saving energy and reducing emissions. It's called PlaNYC and it would increase mass transit while charging people for driving to Manhattan's south of 86th Street.
(Soundbite of traffic)
SIEGEL: Joining us from our bureau in New York City is Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Welcome to the program. Hi, Mr. Mayor.
Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (Republican, New York): Thanks for having me.
SIEGEL: And thanks for coming to our new facility on 42nd Street where if you caught the view, you would look at over Bryant Park, the public library and look straight at the Empire State Building.
In the year 2030, if PlaNYC has made a change in New York, how different would that prospect be?
Mayor BLOOMBERG: Well, for one thing, if we could get all three million New York households to replace just one standard light bulb with one of these more efficient light bulbs, the energy savings would be enough to power three Empire State Buildings, including the lights on the top.
SIEGEL: Let's talk about transportation and the traffic down below and what's going to be different if the plan takes effect. You're in midtown Manhattan right now.
Mayor BLOOMBERG: Midtown Manhattan, the traffic is bad. In the end, the real answer is mass transit. You've got to give people an incentive to take mass transit and you've got to be able to have the money. You've got to invest in mass transit and make it better. Now the truth of the matter is the subway is the best way in New York City to get to any place.
We, unfortunately, don't have subways in all parts of the city and so we have to look to aboveground mass transit. And I think things like rapid bus lanes and light rail are the only practical things. We are building a couple of new subways in New York City but in this day and age, they're phenomenally expensive.
SIEGEL: Yeah, I was wondering about that. How many new commuter rail lines, actually, can be added before you're way past Big Dig levels of construction costs?
Mayor BLOOMBERG: Well, you can - the No. 7 Line extension, which will open up the whole Westside of Manhattan is being done with city money rather than state money. And the economic benefit will be enormous and the extra taxes the city will get will more than pay for the subway line. We're trying to build a, what we call Eastside access. And we want to be able to have people get to Kennedy Airport and Jamaica and points to the east, without having to make a number of changes in the mode of transportation.
SIEGEL: Now extending subways and adding express bus routes and the like, those are familiar. Those are elements of commuting that we know about today and you would be improving or expanding them. But I want you to flash forward to the age of E-ZPass, which for those who don't have them, they're little devices one puts onto one's windshield connects to a transponder and you can fly through tollgates up and down the East Coast of the U.S. and elsewhere with them. This would actually be a device that would track cars as they're entering and leaving midtown Manhattan in the future.
Mayor BLOOMBERG: There's a number of different technologies you could use. But regardless of how you collect the information of where the car is at a given point in time, then you can have a set of decision rules. For example, you could charge differently depending on the time of the day or the day that you come in or leave. But the first issue is: Are you going to have a system where we use economic incentives to get people to take their car or take mass transit?
SIEGEL: But here the interesting point is really the disincentive that is, the cost that would be attached to driving your car...
Mayor BLOOMBERG: Well, it depends...
SIEGEL: ...south of 86th Street, let's say.
Mayor BLOOMBERG: That's - but you've only looked the part of the economics...
Mayor BLOOMBERG: ...because I would argue that yes, we're going to charge you to go south of 86th but we're going to offset that with the tolls you pay elsewhere. So for some it's not going to be much money at all. But also the economic incentives include the benefits of being able to get where you want to go much quicker.
SIEGEL: Just a couple of quick points. In preparing this plan, New York City studied commuter patterns into midtown Manhattan, say, and you came up with some interesting numbers...
Mayor BLOOMBERG: With every district in New York City.
SIEGEL: Yeah. It's interesting how few people are actually driving to work in midtown Manhattan.
Mayor BLOOMBERG: Yeah, I think the numbers are roughly five percent of the people that work in mid - in New York City, south of 86th Street and live outside of that area, only five percent drive. Now, if you go and you take the moneys and improve mass transit, a lot of people will do what I do. I don't take the subway because I like it. I take the subway because it gets me there quickly, efficiently. People are always nice in the subway. I managed to read three papers. You know, only one time has anybody ever screamed at me on the subway in the six years that I've been in office. This big, hulking guy screamed at me as the doors closed - fix the Knicks. Now I can do a lot of things but that was something I could not do.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mayor BLOOMBERG: Truth of the matter is, I grew up in Boston. I was a Celtics fan.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIEGEL: You have no interest in doing so.
Mayor BLOOMBERG: I'll get booed the next time I go to a Knicks game. But my daughter's a Knicks fan.
SIEGEL: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, thanks a lot for talking with us.
Mayor BLOOMBERG: Thank you for having me.