Buttigieg confirmation as transportation secretary is music to NYC advocate’s ears

Pete Buttigieg on the presidential campaign trail in Queens on May 22 2019.
Photo by Mark Hallum

Tuesday’s Senate confirmation of Pete Buttigieg to the post of Transportation Secretary to President Joe Biden was welcome news for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and advocates pushing for better transit options in New York City.

The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana is now expected to move a number of projects forward that have been on hold by the federal government under President Donald Trump such as approval of congestion pricing and funding that will see Americans with Disability Act compliance on the subways.

MTA Chairman Pat Foye looked forward to a New York friendly administration coming together so the agency could begin providing service to facilitate a recovery from COVID-19.

“There is much we can accomplish together quickly, including: helping to secure additional federal emergency aid for transit systems nationwide; investing together in new transit capital projects like Second Avenue Subway Phase 2; improving access to transit for customers of all abilities and incomes; advancing climate goals by promoting mass transit usage; and accelerating federal reviews of critical projects, such as the MTA’s needlessly delayed Central Business District Tolling program,” Foye said.

Governor Andrew Cuomo first introduced a broad concept for congestion pricing in 2017, during another financial crisis for the MTA, that would fund the agency with a toll on all cars entering Manhattan below 60th Street. But the ball has been in U.S. DOT’s court for some time as the state awaits direction as to what kind of environmental review will be needed for approval.

The Gateway Project to replace Amtrak tunnels running below the Hudson River has also been stalled.

Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Danny Harris had the hope that Buttigieg would focus less on motorists and more on mass transit users in his policy objectives, as well.

“As our next leader at USDOT, we urge Secretary Buttigieg to green-light congestion pricing for New York, fully fund public transit in cities across the country, and promote safe street design nationwide,” Harris said. “As we face growing transportation and infrastructure challenges, we are hopeful the Biden Administration will deliver tested solutions that put people and public transit above private vehicles.”

According to Families For Safe Streets Co-Founder, Amy Cohen, called on a nationwide adoption of initiatives that will cut back on the number of Americans who die every year in traffic and to treat the problem as a health crisis.

“Nearly 40,000 American lives are lost each year in traffic violence. Families for Safe Streets members know first-hand the devastating impact of this public health crisis, and that is why we are calling on the Biden administration to commit to a plan that will reduce traffic deaths to zero by 2050,” Cohen said. “Our country needs a transportation leader who will commit to ending fatal traffic crashes.”

Not only is Buttigieg the first openly gay member of a president’s cabinet, but he was also chosen for the position above other candidates such as former city Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who was selected for the Biden transition team, and interim New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg.