New York City's multi-billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the ultimate social engineer. Not content to run our country's biggest city, Mayor Mike is out to reshape human behavior. He's gone after tobacco, sugared drinks, super-sized sodas and guns.
Now, like certain dogs, he's chasing cars. And the result could cost New York, New Jersey and Connecticut motorists more in car insurance -- or even make it more difficult for them to get.
Some of Bloomberg's cockeyed crusades have merit, but he has also butted heads with more rational thinkers. The New York State Supreme Court blocked his plan to stop the sale of 32-ounce sodas in local stores. The International Olympic Committee nixed his bid to bring the games to New York. And his grandiose vision of a pro football stadium on the city's already overcrowded west side never scored a touchdown.
But let's give Mayor Mike his due. For a man often described as a "nanny stater," he definitely knows how to play hardball.
One of his less-publicized endeavors, keeping passenger cars out of his city, shifted into high gear when traffic "counters" with clickers were stationed at each corner on the way into the city to measure traffic flow. Following in the footsteps of overcrowded London, Bloomberg intended to tax passenger cars at every choke point where drivers entered into midtown Manhattan. It would have kept many drivers out, and also squeezed revenue out of those who had to drive in.
When the New York State legislature shot it down, the undaunted mayor tried again. This time Bloomberg reconfigured traffic lanes and turned certain parts of Manhattan into pedestrian malls; a positive move for locals, but a headache for taxi drivers and truckers.
Bloomberg also took other liberties. He had meter maids walk their beats at the entrances to the city's tunnels. They give tickets to drivers who "block the box" by getting caught helplessly in the middle of an intersection during rush hour snarl. Full disclosure: I was an unwitting victim.
He also used another equally unscrupulous tactic to wage war on city motorists, according to a recent lawsuit. Like almost 600 other municipalities around the country, New York City has red light cameras intended to catch drivers who speed through a light that has already turned crimson.
But three motorists who were ticketed caught onto the game and sued the city, claiming that the yellow warning signals are displayed for a lesser time than the requisite three seconds required by federal law. And the resourceful Bloomberg, who also owns a media empire, had installed 168 more cameras than state law permits, according to the lawsuit.
In an article on the Bloomberg News (no coincidence) website, a New York City transportation spokesperson claims that the traffic signals are all "properly timed." But the AAA's New York chapter confirmed that they were "generally short."
Red light district
What's not short? The amount of revenue New York City rakes in from trapping unwary motorists at these faux red lights, about $235 million in the last five years, according to the lawsuit.
To be fair, Mayor Bloomberg isn't the only one accused of using these "gotcha cameras." The leading maker of these devices, American Traffic Solutions, recently settled 16 New Jersey class action lawsuits over yellow-light timing.
And The New York Times reports that proposals in Arizona, Florida, Iowa and several other states would ban the cameras, "joining 12 states that prohibit speed cameras and nine that block red light cameras."
Don't appeal to your auto insurer when you collect a raft of unjustified tickets from Mayor Mike.
"Whether they are warranted or accurate would have no bearing for the industry," says spokesperson Loretta Worters of the Insurance Information Institute. "If they are moving violations which appear on a person's driving record, it will impact that person's auto insurance rates. And could impact non-renewal."
How much? A recent Forbes magazine article says that a single "failure to stop" violation will boost your annual insurance premium by 15 percent.
I suggest that Mayor Bloomberg heed his own advice when it comes to inner-city traffic. In other words: "Take a hike, Mike."