Transport Posturing

Happy election day, fellow Americans.

I know. Who cares? It’s an off year. Ex-pats like me don’t even get to vote.

But there are some big races to be decided. The governors of Virginia and New Jersey. The mayors of New York, Los Angeles and Boston.

Transport is often seen as an ideal opportunity for a mayor to make his mark. Bridges, highways, trams, congestion charging, cycle hire and even airports. Such infrastructure and services are political hot potatoes, propaganda, prestige projects and pariahs all at once. They are how a mayor leaves a legacy. They are certainly essential to how outgoing New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and current London mayor Boris Johnson are building their legacies.

I imagine them at a fancy dinner as the guests of Al Gore. Please note that this is imagination only!

They sat, dressed in the power of their personalities. Leaders of two of the greatest ‘world cities’, side by side, drinking wine and eating an Asian fusion three-course meal. During coffee, their host approached, a shadow among these stars of dynamism and charisma.

They both looked over their shoulder as he stood between and behind them. “Hi Michael. Boris. Are you enjoying the food? You know, our earth may not be able to support some of these crops if we don’t act.”

“Really, Al? Are you sure that’s true? We could always take a punt and grow them in Essex,” Boris replied.

Al huffed, though whether in humour or annoyance it was hard to tell. “Truly gentlemen, I have brought you and my other distinguished guests here together tonight to exchange ideas and experiences. So that you can see that those of you who govern metropolises with millions of citizens have far more influence on national policy than most other local politicians.”

“And most national politicians too. Because we don’t just talk, we act. We aim to leave a legacy in our own right,” Michael said with reserved confidence.

“Of course, of course you do. The London Congestion Charge, for example was a stroke of brilliance.”

Boris snorted. “Ken’s cordon.”

“It’s a serious matter. Transportation is a major source of carbon emissions and the right policies make a real difference,” Al thumped both seated men on the back and moved off to utter platitudes to other guests.

“I assume that he’s not referring to your absurd aviation proposal when he talks about the right policies,” said Michael. “Boris Island, indeed.”

“Air travel is here to stay. I am only trying to identify the best way to deliver it with minimal environmental impacts. Besides, haven’t you seen what I’ve done and am still doing to increase cycling in London? That’s a legacy old Al might covet.”

“Boris Bikes? We have a similar scheme in New York, and while it might be a more recent development than London’s, that’s only because I did things the right way round. We put in hundreds of miles of bike lanes before, not after the bike hire. And we installed friendly pedestrian plazas, even at Times Square. That shows how serious I am about road safety.”

“I’ve heard you’re promoting road safety in Asia and South America. You’re still trying to create a legacy even out of office. I already have a legacy. Did you see how well the transport system performed during the London Olympics? Never mind the athletes.”

“You had a lot of visitors for two weeks, but it’s important to focus on sustained success. Our Highline Park is already welcoming millions of visitors every year…”

You get the point. Transport posturing has become a special kind of politics. No, I’m not talking about HS2 here, or not yet. Intracity transport is more varied and nuanced than intercity transport. Issues of public health, public realm and public life are added to the analysis of national economies, carbon emissions and journey times. It’s a heady combination for any newly elected mayor today.

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