WASHINGTON - Grumpy New Yorkers accept certain terrible truths: Subways will be overcrowded, cars will sit in gridlock, and flights will be delayed. Federal officials have lately taken a less fatalistic view: If you can fix traffic here, you can fix it anywhere.
In the last year, the Transportation Department unveiled a series of unprecedented plans to make all forms of New York City traffic move faster, and in doing so, they hope to offer solutions to other American cities struggling to make planes, trains, and automobiles run on time.
First, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters pledged to deliver $2.6 billion to improve Long Island commuter trains. Then her agency promised another $1.3 billion for a new subway line. Those are the two single largest commitments the agency has ever made to individual transit projects.
Peters has also dangled $354 million to the city if it goes ahead with a congestion pricing plan to reduce auto traffic by charging tolls to drive into the busiest parts of Manhattan at peak times.
And last week, she announced a new plan to cap flights at the area's major airports, while officials continue to work on a way to auction off to the highest bidder any future capacity at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Altogether, billions of taxpayer and industry dollars are at stake for a number of largely untested methods to alter the transportation map of the nation's largest city.
"In the federal government, in the Bush administration, there's been a revolution in thinking," said Sam Schwartz, a former city commissioner.
"New York is the battleground, and for many years, the federal government has been a roadblock" to easing auto traffic on city streets, Schwartz said. "Somehow, the message has finally gotten across."
Not everyone is sold.
"These are harebrained schemes by ideologues run amok, and they're making New York the guinea pig," said Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, who is a big booster of expanded subways but dislikes the air space plan and is noncommittal on congestion pricing.
Federal officials contend New York's bumper-to-bumper backups are the perfect place to start.
"The common thread, when it comes to the traffic volumes and air traffic volumes, is that New York is a preview, not an anomaly, of what you can expect" in other parts of the country, said Brian Turmail, Department of Transportation spokesman .