Letter of the Week: Congestion Pricing Diplomacy

bronx_asthma.jpgThe Bloomberg Administration is aiming to push its PlaNYC congestion pricing proposal through this session of the state legislature. That means the entire debate will take place within the next 36 days or so.

One thing that you can do as an individual citizens to support the Mayor’s plan is to write a letter to your local elected officials, particularly your state assembly member and senator. If you’re not sure who represents you, NYPIRG’s web site can show you.

Here is a nice example of a letter written by Charles Komanoff of the Carbon Tax Center to Bronx Borough president Adolfo Carrión, who presides over a constituency with one of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the entire world. If you write your own letter feel free to upload it to the comment section. Maybe someone else can use your work. 

Dear President Carrión,

I’m writing regarding Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed congestion fee for vehicle trips into the Manhattan Central Business District.

I first want to say that I’ve followed your career avidly since you entered the New York City Council in January, 1998. You and I had an in-depth discussion of the City’s responsibility to act against motorist endangerment of bicycle-riders in May 2000, and your assertive questioning of City officials was a bright spot in the Council’s May 22, 2000 hearing on bicyclist fatalities. Along with many of my colleagues at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, of which I’m a founding trustee, and at Transportation Alternatives, which I served as president from 1986 to 1992, I’ve felt that your character, education and experience give you unique potential to lead and unite New Yorkers, particularly on issues of transportation, quality of life and the uses of city streets.

For all these reasons, I was surprised and dismayed to read press accounts suggesting that you may be positioning yourself to oppose the mayor’s congestion pricing plan.

As a student and practitioner of urban planning, you know better than I that our City’s chronic traffic congestion — which poisons New Yorkers’ lungs, consigns us to physical inactivity and all too often kills us straight-out by running us over, and which steals precious time from working people, delivery vehicles and mass transit users – won’t be reversed until we put a price on street space and charge a price for congestion.

The mayor’s plan may not be perfect, and he certainly isn’t the perfect messenger, but it’s a giant step in a positive direction and it deserves our support.

Streetsblog.org quotes you as saying about the plan, "I wonder if it is another hidden tax on working people. I worry about people who need to use their cars to get to work."

Yet as you know from the 2000 Census, 60% of Bronx households (and 68% of Bronx households that rent, and are therefore less affluent on average) don’t even own a car. And even among Bronx car-owners, very few drive into the CBD on a regular basis. Moreover, revenues from the congestion toll will help improve mass transit, which is the primary mode used by working people.

President Carrión, the mayor’s plan deserves your backing. I urge you to reconsider your stance and find a way to join, and lead, the tide of health advocates, children’s advocates and transportation advocates who support it.

Thank you and best wishes,

Charles Komanoff

  • The Bronx has borne a disproportionately heavy burden of the city’s car and truck congestion. In addition to the health impacts, the expressways have cut residents off from their waterfronts, parks, and neighborhoods. Revenue from congestion pricing could be an opportunity to repair some of the damage to this borough. Here are a few suggestions: deck part of the Major Deegan Expressway with a park to connect the upland to the Harlem River, like Robert Moses did with the railroad to extend Riverside Park to the river,; deck part of the Cross Bronx Expressway with parks; complete the Harlem River greenway as a viable and contiguous waterfront park; develop ferry service and subsidize for residents; reconfigure pricing and schedules of MetroNorth trains so that Bronx residents will use it to commute to work both upstate and in Manhattan (currently the 4 MetroNorth stations in the Bronx are the most underutilized in the system).

    It will be vital to insure that the Bronx is not allowed become over-littered with park-and-ride lots, and that any that are created are designed to stimulate economic activity as well. The Bronx should no longer be a drive-through borough, but a drive-to destination.

  • crzwdjk

    Currently there are more than four Metro North stations in the Bronx. I count 11 or 12, depending on whether you include Marble Hill or not. And both Marble Hill and Fordham are stops for express trains going northward and to Connecticut. The really underused stations are the South Bronx ones, especially Melrose and Tremont, which get rather little service, though that’s been improving somewhat. Metro North could probably do a somewhat better job of local service than they currently do, though, and the best thing would be integration of the fare system, with intra-borough fares costing the same as a subway ride, and trips to Manhattan costing the same as an express bus, and Metrocards being accepted as fare media.

  • To the suggestions for decking expressways, let’s add: remove the Sheridan Expressway.

  • Thanks crzwdjk for the correction about the MetroNorth stations! I was speaking only of those on the Harlem River, but of course all are underutilized. Surveys show that many Bronx residents commute north of the city to work — most often by expensive hired private cars. A good transportation plan will put the trains to work in this direction at affordable prices.

  • I received this e-reply to my letter:

    Dear Mr. Komanoff,

    I wanted to reach out to you to clarify the Borough President’s stance on congestion pricing. As of now, the Borough President has not taken any position on congestion pricing, although he is studying the matter very carefully. To be clear, neither presently nor at any previous time has the Borough President been leaning against congestion pricing. In fact, as the Borough President stated publicly on April 25, 2006, “The many proposals in the Mayor’s PlaNYC, including congestion pricing, should be seriously considered. I think Mayor Bloomberg is right on target in terms of the objectives laid out in PlaNYC.” If you have any further questions please fell free to contact me.

    Best,

    Anne Fenton
    Communications Director
    Office of the Bronx Borough President
    851 Grand Concourse
    Bronx, New York 10451
    718-590-3543
    917-251-4691

    (CK again:) I wrote my letter to Carrion on April 26, so his office had it more than two weeks w/o replying. Sblog posted the letter a little before 2 pm today. Whaddayaknow, Carrion’s office e-replies me a mere two hours later!

  • Komanoff, you are an inspiration. I just sent 8 letters myself [Yassky, Connor, Millman, Velazquez, Spitzer, Schumer, Clinton, Markowitz). Everyone needs to do this!

    My letter:

    I’m writing regarding Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed congestion pricing for Manhattan’s Central Business District.

    I think the plan is an excellent beginning to preparing New York City for the challenges that lie ahead of us. If you look at the success London has had in their congestion pricing plan, it will become obvious that this plan is not only helpful to New York’s natural environment, but it will also help all local businesses. In London, automobile traffic is down by 20 percent while commercial traffic has increased, and London’s economy is growing at three times the national average.

    In Copenhagen’s inner city, The Stroget (a pedestrian only street) has the highest retail rents in all of Copenhagen because of the massive amount of shoppers. Cars are bad for business because it limits the amount of people that can travel on a street. Just look at any New York street and you will see what I am talking about. There are hundreds of people jammed onto the sidewalks, but about twenty cars per block with probable less than thirty total people in them. It is also worth mentioning that these hundreds of people on the sidewalks have no other choice but to breathe the toxic air imposed on them from the motorists – which is far more damaging than second hand cigarette smoke [please refer to this study to see exactly how dangerous NYC traffic is to people’s lungs: http://www.environmentaldefense.org/documents/6277_AllChokedUp-body.pdf%5D

    From my perspective, personal automobile traffic is a blight on communities because of pollution. But there are so many other reasons why we should be moving away from cars as a form of transportation. This is inevitable, but we can choose how we want to make the transition. Lets start now, and lead the world in re-making our city so we can continue to flourish in the difficult times ahead. Lets keep New York City the best city in the world, that above all else will mean better business and more opportunities for all New Yorkers.

    Thank you for your service. And please help the Mayor with this important initiative.

  • I just sent off a few letters to my reps…including one to my Council Member Miguel Martinez who was on the wrong side of the pedicab issue (I wrote him about that as well).

    In addition to Martinez, I also wrote to Rangel, Schneiderman, Espaillat, and Bronx BP Carrion.

    Everyone else get to it! Now’s the time to strike!

  • crzwdjk

    To continue the theme of Metro North in the Bronx, the Harlem line stations in the Bronx get 1, 2, or 3 trains per hour during rush hours, and a ticket to White Plains is only $2.75. The Hudson Line stations get 1 or 2 trains per hour. Reverse commute is Metro-North’s fastest growing market segment, and they have been trying to improve service in that direction for a while now. But the most under-served stations are indeed the four southern Bronx ones: Tremont, Melrose, Morris Heights, and University Heights. And a big part of the reverse commute problem is not service on the Bronx end, but rather connections between stations and workplaces in the suburbs.

    Anyway, looking at the broader picture of transportation in the Bronx, yes, improved Metro North service will help. So will removing or covering over expressways. And a big cause of asthma is particulate pollution from diesel engines. This can be addressed by converting buses to CNG (or trolleybuses or streetcars), as well as by reducing truck traffic by means of freight rail. A cross-harbor rail tunnel from Brooklyn to New Jersey would actually help the Bronx a lot, by taking trucks off the Cross-Bronx Expressway. And a CBD congestion charge should reduce the through traffic on expressways and streets as well.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I used to live a fifteen minute walk from the Tremont Metro-North station, and I did use it to commute to my job at 54th and Lex. It was a little further than the subway or the express bus (and more expensive), but it was quick, there was always a seat, and I could do some writing. They even ran an antique train car with “No Spitting” signs sometimes. There was almost always at least one other person getting on with me, sometimes two or three.

    The main problem was the frequency: if I missed that train, there wasn’t another one for two hours and I had to walk back to the Concourse to get a subway. Looking at the schedule, I honestly don’t see much improvement in frequency in either direction.

    I’m sure the Metro-North people say “We don’t stop there because nobody gets on.” But nobody gets on because people who live in that area don’t think of it as a reliable form of transportation. The $4+ peak fare is also a deterrent. They really could do a lot more, because that part of the Bronx has had no convenient train service since they tore down the Third Avenue El. Anyone living right near the Harlem Line would have that fifteen-minute walk to get to the Grand Concourse, or an even longer walk to get to any el line.

  • Steve

    Got letters out to state legislators Kruger, Powell, Schneiderman, and Rosenthal today.

    This is the week to get the letters out!

    F/u with calls next week . . .

  • Alison

    What about going into the city for medical reasons? I really don’t want to have to pay extra money to take my partner to her weekly chemotherapy appointment. How about making public transportation more accessible to the handicapped? The lack of elevators and escalators in our subway stations is a disgrace. I don’t go to Manhattan that often but when I do, I drive, because I can’t do the subway stairs. I don’t feel I should have to pay extra because the subway system isn’t accessible.

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