For Rudy’s Next Trick, Banish All Pedestrians!

After he got himself sworn in again early this month for a second term, Rudolph W. Giuliani made a speech in which he said that henceforth city welfare offices were to be called “job centers” and that 1,600 more cops were to be added to the force.

Well, a rose by any other name, Rudy, is still a welfare center, but these 1,600 additional cops are a more serious matter. He didn’t say so at the time, but it is now evident these police officers are to be used to arrest people attempting to cross at forbidden street corners. The Mayor, it may be remembered, is off on a toot to cut down waiting time for the resplendent rich in the back seat of limousines clogging the city’s thoroughfares.

Since it is estimated that approximately 70,000 pedestrians use each of the 10 verboten corners during the course of a 10-hour business day, ultimately he may need more than his extra 1,600 cops to make sure that foot traffic does as it’s told and takes the detours.

Not only will the cops have to man the barricades at the intersections but they will soon have to patrol the middle of the blocks to intercept disobedient jaywalkers intent on defying the rules. Nevertheless, Rudy has declared that since the barriers went up, crosstown traffic speeds have increased more than 20 percent. Previously, the municipal authorities had clocked traffic on these streets moving at an average speed of 6.2 miles per hour. So now he’s got it up to about 7.3 miles per hour, or about the speed of a fast-moving turtle.

At the rate of growth of automobile ownership, it’s only a matter of a year or two before the average speed slides down to that of a nanny pushing a baby in a stroller as she sits on a bench in Central Park on a sunny day. So then what does Robert Moses Jr. propose to do? Block off more intersections? Banish pedestrian traffic entirely during certain hours of the day?

One thing he might do to speed circulation in the city is prohibit politicians, himself included, from riding around in carcades of more than three vehicles. That alone might get the average crosstown riding time up to 7.6 miles per hour. It has been calculated that President Clinton and his royal retinue cost New Yorkers and their businesses more than $200 million last year in lost time waiting in traffic jams occasioned by His Leadership’s ceaseless forays into this city in search of money.

Given his personality, it may afford Rudy some pleasure to know that he is irritating young people and causing the arthritic bones of old people pain with his traffic arrangements, but beyond this in the little act of show-’em-who’s-boss sadism of the overly proud, Rudy’s mistake is that he has ignored Hoffman’s Law. This law holds that whenever provisions are made for one automobile, two automobiles will try to use it. Thus, in due course, traffic circulation will be slower than it was before Rudy came up with his lamebrain scheme.

The truth is that, even here in Free-Market City, when it comes to traffic, a laissez-faire policy results in no laisser passer at all. Hence, sooner or later, Rudy, but more probably one of his successors, will have to come up with-pardon the use of this phrase-a plan!

There was one day a year ago, before his re-election, when it seemed he might be moving in the direction of something like a plan for the movement of goods and people in and out of the city he presides over. The occasion was the somewhat grandly named 1997 “State of the City” oration during which the Mayor endorsed a plan to build a rail freight tunnel under the harbor, an idea that has been under consideration for something like seven decades. At the time, he said that the tunnel would create 50,000 jobs, lessen pollution, cut the cost of doing business in the city and diminish congestion, but since it couldn’t be built while he was still in office, he settled for putting up barriers on 50th Street.

A useful plan might include such things as another tunnel linking Penn Station with Grand Central and the building of light-rail vehicle lines (we used to call them trolley cars) on Ninth Avenue, Second Avenue and 72nd, 42nd, 34th, 23rd, 14th and Houston streets. (Of course, there’s been a plan to build a trolley along 42nd Street for years. Nothing’s happened.) At the same time, a plan would encompass measures that would severely discourage everybody from using an automobile to get to work. That, in its turn, would require a souped-up transit system and, as the Regional Plan Association has called for, another rail tunnel linking New Jersey with Manhattan.

Ah, but one thing leads to another. An improved transit system would of necessity depend primarily on buses, not only large buses but smaller ones, even radio-dispatched vans. Not that you and I will see them any time soon. When, for the first time in the lives of living New Yorkers, the transit system showed a small profit, instead of reinvesting the money in improvements of the sort suggested above, politicians have squandered the money on a pointless fare reduction. It’s an election year, and these visionaries apparently believe that giving people a free subway ride will buy their votes.

But let’s dream a little more about what might be. For such a transportation system to be quick and convenient, private automobiles would have to be prohibited south of 86th Street, or even 96th Street, during business hours. South of the demarcation line none but trucks, emergency vehicles and common carriers like taxis and livery limos would be permitted. Weekday parking would be restricted to city residents.

Yowl, howl and bellow as you may, but something of the sort is going to happen everywhere in the not too far-flung future. Using automobiles for commutation to work in large metropolitan areas is too destructive and too expensive to continue much longer. Our lungs, our pocketbooks and the fields and forests cannot take much more of what comes out of 100 million exhaust pipes chugging to work every morning. The family car has to be confined to leisure, shopping, going to the doctors, hauling the wee ones to soccer, or occasional use as a couche d’amour .

The chosen instrument for saving us from road rage and asphyxiation while stalled on the F.D.R. Drive should be the bus or the light-rail vehicle. There are a lot of subway lovers in this city, but underground systems are hugely expensive and inflexible. When populations rise or fall or shift about, you’re stuck with the gigantic fixed costs of subway routes that can’t be changed. Once upon a time, subways were sensible investments in a few high-density cities like New York. The streets were clogged with horse-drawn wagons as well as cars, trucks and trolleys. It was an age when nobody dreamt there would be so many gas-powered vehicles. Thus subways seemed like a practical way to make room on the streets for private automobiles, and that, as now we know, is a fool’s game.

You have to go back to Robert Moses’ time to find an example of a public office holder around here who could get big things done. Never mind that he got all the wrong things done. It’s been years since a major officeholder has come forth with a significant plan for anything. Add Rudy to the list of dreamers of small dreams and the doers of nothing much. It appears that in the end Mr. Giuliani is going to be little more than a high-energy David Dinkins, a combative squawk box like Ed Koch, and, to give him his due, a good day-to-day man who drove the crooks off the streets, but, come the summing up, had few tools of statecraft other than brass knuckles and a nightstick.

For Rudy’s Next Trick, Banish All Pedestrians!