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Bloomberg’s transportation plan envisions walkable, transit-rich neighborhoods

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The former New York City mayor turned presidential candidate would tackle emissions with better access to walking, biking, and public transportation

A busy New York City street hung with Broadway posters is painted with a rippling blue mural where people are sitting on beach chairs and under umbrellas.
As New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg oversaw the pedestrianizing of several major streets.
Molly Dilworth

Former New York City mayor, billionaire businessman, and climate philanthropist Michael Bloomberg has unveiled a comprehensive transportation plan for his presidential campaign that would reduce greenhouse gases and improve air quality nationwide by giving neighborhoods better access to zero-emission transportation options.

“Americans increasingly prefer to live in communities where it’s easier to take transit, bike, or walk to get where they’re going,” the plan reads.

Bloomberg has tapped Janette Sadik-Khan, transportation principal for Bloomberg Associates and former New York City Department of Transportation head who helped him convert dozens of the city’s streets into walkable plazas and multimodal boulevards, to serve as the candidate’s senior advisor on the campaign.

“One part of the plan that’s really important is getting people out of cars,” she tells Curbed. “Not just getting people to drive less, but also investing in the network that makes alternatives to driving possible.”

What’s notable about Bloomberg’s plan, compared to other candidates, is a central focus on increased investment in public transit and infrastructure for biking and walking. One of Bloomberg’s most consequential moves, Sadik-Khan says, would be changing the way transportation is funded at the federal level to make options like transit, walking, and biking “as appealing as driving,” taking direct aim at the country’s dependence on cars.

As one way to kickstart more walkable communities, Bloomberg would launch a competitive grant program to install car-free zones including superblocks in 10 large and 10 small communities, which is very similar to a program that’s already underway through his philanthropy.

For longer-distance travel, Bloomberg has two strategies: boosting rail ridership through regional “higher-speed” networks and “at least one new high-speed rail corridor by 2025,” plus a network of low-cost federally funded electric buses that would provide a car-free option for going from city to city.

Among the plan’s other goals are to electrify all new cars by 2035 (five years sooner than a current federal bill proposes), increase investment in zero-pollution transportation innovations, and electrify the government’s own fleet. The elimination of traffic deaths, which is a central part of Bloomberg’s philanthropy work around the globe, is not part of this plan, but is part of his infrastructure plan.

Bloomberg’s transportation plan is a plank within his expanded climate platform, which aims to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030 across three sectors: transportation, buildings, and electricity. “Transportation accounts for nearly ​30 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions​,” the plan notes. Decarbonizing transportation must be an “urgent priority for the next administration.”

As New York City mayor, Bloomberg’s groundbreaking efforts to reduce building emissions ended up cutting the city’s carbon footprint at twice the rate of the rest of the country. After leaving office, he launched several foundations with the goal of helping other cities reduce emissions worldwide. As a special envoy to the United Nations, Bloomberg has represented the U.S. at international climate summits after the Trump administration withdrew the country from the Paris agreement. Bloomberg also launched America’s Pledge, a landmark partnership and data-reporting project among cities, states, and businesses to adhere to international climate pledges even without the support of the federal government.

Bloomberg’s transportation record is also strong. He oversaw a transportation revolution by launching Citi Bike, the most successful bike-share system in the country, pioneering the city’s network of protected bikeways, and turning busy thoroughfares like Times Square into pedestrian-only zones. He was an early advocate for congestion pricing and secured funding for a major expansion of the New York City subway. He also rode the subway daily as mayor (most of the way), something that current New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who also briefly ran for president, does not.

For transportation advocates, a few key elements might still be missing from Bloomberg’s plan. There aren’t any dollar amounts attached to Bloomberg’s proposals so it’s tough to know where his fiscal priorities lie. He doesn’t endorse the Green New Deal, an emissions reduction strategy for the country that’s central to several other candidates’ campaigns.

Bloomberg has also been attacked for aggressive policing policies put in place while mayor, including stop-and-frisk, which disproportionately targeted black and brown men and was denounced as racial profiling. Bloomberg has repeatedly apologized for the practice.

Although other candidates in the race have made improving transportation central to their platforms, Bloomberg’s the only one with a proven record that shows how he might implement those innovations on a large scale, says Sadik-Khan.

“Mike did it in New York,” she says. “He has a good blueprint in New York that has the potential to become a national plan.”

With many U.S. mayors supporting Bloomberg due to his city-focused policies, his transportation focus could win over urban-minded voters—but his late entry into the race means he’s got some catching up to do. The influential Facebook group New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teens, or NUMTOTs, just this week endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders, who responded with a pro-transit message to the group’s 180,000 members.

This story was updated upon release of Bloomberg’s infrastructure plan.