Cuomo’s L-train backlash

Published on Crain’s

I’m not an engineer. And I rarely hesitate to publicly criticize Andrew Cuomo when I think he’s wrong. But in the case of the new plan that averts the L-train shutdown, the Governor deserves a lot more credit than he’s getting.

I don’t know if the new solution to sealing the tunnels will work. And I do know that politics obviously played a big role in the sudden change of plans (they always do).  But in fairness to Cuomo, he’s demonstrating the type of thinking we should want to see from our public officials: looking for new ideas, new approaches, and new options.

The main criticism of Cuomo’s L-train plan is that it deviates from the MTA’s best judgment. Seriously? The MTA’s best judgment? Ask anyone who takes the subways or buses on a regular basis how much confidence they have in the MTA’s best judgment. You can argue if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but other than NYCHA, there’s nothing in this city more in need of fixing than the MTA.

We’re not going to fix the plethora of problems facing New York by doing things the way they’ve always been done. And if money alone were the solution to every problem, our schools would be dramatically better than they actually are.

Was Cuomo perhaps disproportionately influenced by interacting with some angry L-train riders or some businesses situated along the route? Maybe. But when our politicians wall themselves up in ivory towers and never deign to interact with the public, we criticize them for being out of touch.

Did Cuomo need to personally tour the L-train tunnels and make a big show of his sudden involvement? Of course not. But he’s a politician (seeking attention is why they exist) and he clearly took whatever he saw seriously. That’s a good thing. We want our leaders to think out of the box. We want our leaders to identify and experiment with new ideas and new technologies. We want our leaders to get input beyond the traditional circle of bureaucrats and vendors who dictate most MTA decisions. And in a city this congested, we want as many new approaches to mobility as possible. Constantly being stuck underground or aboveground is no one’s idea of a good time. Not shutting down the L-train and trying a new way at least offers a more innovative approach.

After a lifetime of ruling Albany, virtually every political insider in New York is skeptical of Cuomo and his motivations. I often am too. But we shouldn’t let obsession with bullying and bravado prevent us from recognizing when he does something good or when he acts in ways that model exactly what we should want from our leaders. When our personal feelings cloud our ability to recognize and acknowledge good work and innovative thinking, that’s our fault, not his.

The new approach to fixing the L-train may not work. But if we aren’t willing to continually try new ideas to fix the MTA, we’re condemning ourselves to a lifetime of delays, shoddy service and endless overcrowding. We need new ideas. It’s worth a shot. Even if it comes from the governor.

Bradley Tusk