Thu, Jul 18, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Bloomberg’s traffic ideas hit the world before coming home

By Matt Flegenheimer  /  NY Times News Service, NEW YORK

At times, his frustration has shown. In May, according to a lawsuit brought against Bloomberg by one of the plaintiffs in the taxi case, Bloomberg threatened: “When I am out of office, I will destroy your industry,” adding an expletive, during an altercation at a New York Knicks game. Bloomberg initially said that he did not recall the conversation, but he seemed to allude to the episode on his radio show days before the suit was filed.

In March, as it became clear that momentum for speed-tracking cameras had stalled in Albany, Bloomberg assailed state lawmakers, blaming them by name for the future deaths of children killed by speeding cars. In last month’s vote the three senators he mentioned all supported the speed camera bill.

In American cities outside of New York, Bloomberg’s transportation footprint is less pronounced, for now. His transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, has attracted a national following amid the expansion of bike lanes, the introduction of the bike-share program in May, and speaking often in other cities about the mayor’s local transportation feats.

Bloomberg has cast his philanthropy as an extension of his local initiatives. He invoked his foundation work last week at a news conference hailing the passage of speed camera legislation. In a 2011 speech, Bloomberg cited New York City’s expanded medians, recalibrated traffic signals, and better-regulated pedicab industry as he explained his broader traffic goals.

“Our record of improving safety in New York encouraged me to try to replicate this same success around the world,” he said. “Road safety has not typically been a top priority, yet the number of lives that could potentially be saved is incredible.”

He has long taken particular pride in the city’s falling traffic fatality numbers during his tenure, though the 274 traffic-related deaths of 2012 were the most in the city since 2008.

While the mayor’s philanthropy has hit the occasional roadblock abroad, some stumbles have been understandable. Since installing the speed-cameras, among other efforts, the foundation has suspended operations in Egypt amid political upheaval, with officers ill-positioned to enforce speed limits.

“The police were too busy with other things,” Krug said.

In India, where Bloomberg’s team has evaluated 4,200km of high-risk roads for potential safety improvements, helmet laws have proved difficult to enforce without setting off religious tensions, Krug said. Some Sikhs have interpreted the laws as discriminatory against those who wear turbans.

Across many regions, Bloomberg has made strides quickly. In Suzhou, China — where more than half of road-traffic hospitalizations were related to electric bike crashes, according to the foundation — program officials helped draft new electric bike regulations. In Vietnam motorcycle helmet use has more than doubled, to 90 percent, since Bloomberg and the foundation’s partners helped pass a national helmet law.

The foundation estimates that its efforts will save at least 13,000 lives over a five-year project period.

For Bloomberg, the work has supplied a useful credential to cite during local disputes, like the tussle over helmet use for the new bike-share program in New York. The administration once supported a mandatory helmet law for cyclists, but has since resisted calls to require helmets. Officials have said that mandating helmets depresses ridership.

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