The roads may soon teem with miles of new bike lanes, made possible by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In Turkey.
High-capacity buses zip through exclusive traffic corridors, part of Bloomberg’s bet that better public transit options will discourage private car use. In Brazil and Mexico.
In Egypt, between the uprisings in the streets, speed-tracking cameras were hung along the Ring Road of Cairo. They resemble the ones expected to reach New York City, eventually, under a bill approved in Albany, New York, last month.
Though often hamstrung at home by headstrong state lawmakers, an entrenched taxi industry, and a city in which even a single bike lane can inspire years of litigation, Bloomberg has found success overseas in pushing — and financing — a global transportation agenda during his final years as the mayor of New York City.
Since 2007, Bloomberg’s charitable foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, has committed more than US$130 million toward traffic policy and road safety worldwide, outstripping donations for every cause except the reduction of tobacco use.
He has personally presented children with yellow riding helmets in Hanoi, Vietnam and helped assemble a fleet of auto-rickshaws in Rajkot, India. He has lobbied successfully to drive down the legal blood-alcohol limit in Guadalajara, Mexico — where “tequila and roads just don’t mix,” he said in 2011 — and he has armed police in Cambodia with Breathalyzer equipment.
As a result, traffic policy and public health experts say, Bloomberg has emerged as perhaps the world’s leading transportation force, acting as a catalyst abroad for helmets, seat belts, and slower speeds at the same time that bright blue bikes and pedestrian plazas have been affixed to his local legacy.
“We have never seen anything like this,” the WHO’s Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability director Etienne Krug said. “This is by far the largest international road safety project ever.”
As a global cause, traffic safety is of a piece with Bloomberg’s past public health pushes — from a proposed ban on large sodas in New York to his bid to improve maternal welfare in Tanzania. He hopes to prod as much change as possible as quickly as possible, current and former advisers say, displaying two of his hallmark qualities: impatience and a thirst for wide-scale influence.
Without intervention, traffic crashes will become the fifth leading cause of death by 2030, according to the WHO. Bloomberg’s charity has focused on many large cities and on 10 countries, including China, India and Russia, that account for roughly half of the world’s road-related deaths.
“We’re not as rich as you guys in New York,” Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes said, where Bloomberg is aiding the installation of four new bus rapid transit corridors in preparation for soccer’s 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.
Bloomberg’s example is so rousing that Rio de Janeiro has elected to lift other ideas from New York without a dollar of his help, Paes said. He said there were plans for a large bike lane expansion and the use of an information hot line, 1746, modeled on Bloomberg’s 311 system.
In New York, though, Bloomberg often has been stymied on matters of transportation. The state controls the subways. His pitch for congestion-based pricing languished. A plan for a near-uniform fleet of yellow taxis — the first major redesign since the age of the Checker cab — was invalidated in court, though the city passed a new set of rules last month in the hopes of reviving it.