Congestion Pricing Supporters Speak Up in Queens

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Meghan Goth reports:

With city buses slogging their way past double-parked cars on Archer Avenue just outside, Queens community members and elected officials testified on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal for a three-year congestion pricing pilot program at York College Performing Arts Center last night.

The Traffic Congestion Mitigation hearing, one of seven being held around the city, gave community leaders the chance to voice their opinion before the 17-member commission and a packed house.

As expected, a majority spoke against the mayor’s plan. Many, like the Queens Civic Congress, offered suggestions for how to solve New York City’s traffic problems without making it more expensive to drive private automobiles into Manhattan’s transit-rich Central Business District.

Though they were clearly in the minority, a surprising number of Queens residents spoke up in favor of Bloomberg’s plan. Just about everyone who stood up to testify agreed that traffic congestion is a serious and growing problem and the city needs to come up with solutions now.

"I might have to pay to go to Manhattan, but I support congestion pricing unequivocally," said Marc Scott, a Jackson Heights, Queens resident. "The Mayor’s plan is a step in the right direction."

The plan, Scott said, would keep Queens streets safer and would help his son, who is asthmatic.

"If we reduced idling on my street, that would help him breathe better," Scott said. "I’ve lived in New York City for more than 20 years, and the man has a vision to make New York City better."

The audience clapped and cheered in response.

Despite the fact that only 4.5 percent of Queens workers drive into Manhattan to work in the proposed pricing zone (download TSTC.org’s Queens fact-sheet), many who spoke felt strongly that the Mayor’s proposals would be unfair to lower- and middle-income families.

"Queens residents drive to Manhattan more than any other borough because they have little mass transit options," said Helen Marshall, Queens borough president. "We must not be punished by those who have not offered mass transit options in Queens."

In fact, the Mayor’s congestion pricing proposal comes with a plan to create 36 new bus routes and bus rapid transit lines and Queens in which most of them will run.

Marshall proposed ideas echoed in others’ testimony, such as, increasing Long Island railroad stops to include some areas in Queens, creating a ferry service to the Rockaways and retiring non-clean air buses. Another strongly voiced sentiment was concern for elderly people who must travel into Manhattan, and thus pay a fee, for medical services that are only available there.

Veronica Vanterpool, who spoke on behalf of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, was the first in long line of congestion supporters at the meeting. She pointed out that 95 percent of Queens residents would not be affected by congestion pricing because either they don’t commute outside of the borough or because they use mass transit.

Another supporter of the pricing plan was Joseph Hartigan, a Rockaway resident who posed a question to the audience.

"Why is it that Staten Island gets to commute for free?" he said, referring to the Staten Island ferry, which does not charge a fee. "No one in this room except from Staten Island gets to commute for free."

The night went on in similar debate with a majority of dissenters and a surprising number of supporters to the mayor’s plan.

At the close of the meeting, buses were still bunching up along Archer Avenue, slogging their way past double-parked vehicles. Politicians and community members filtered out of the Performing Arts center, the Commission adjourned only until tonight’s forum in the Bronx.

Reporting and photo by Meghan Goth

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Another supporter of the pricing plan was Joseph Hartigan, a Rockaway resident who posed a question to the audience.

    “Why is it that Staten Island gets to commute for free?” he said, referring to the Staten Island ferry, which does not charge a fee. “No one in this room except from Staten Island gets to commute for free.”

    When he said that, one of the commission members (I think it was either Shaw or Brodsky) said, “Come say that in Staten Island next week.”

    Here’s my testimony:
    http://www.grieve-smith.com/neighborhood/cp071030b.pdf

  • NixIllegalPermitAbuse_Then let’s talk

    “Though they were clearly in the minority, a surprising number of Queens residents spoke up in favor of Bloomberg’s plan.” Well, this is the Majority speaking: This congestion tax is aimed at a minority according to the stats above. Another reason the congestion scheme is all wrong on its premise – it would affect a small percentage that cannot afford it and further divide rich and poor in New York City. That’s not what the City is about. The 17 member Congestion Pricing Commission is loaded and biased to be pro-Congestion Pricing – now is that fair? That is certainly not representative of the majority of the people.

  • JF

    Nix, congestion pricing would benefit everyone in Queens – pedestrians, subway riders, bus riders, even drivers who wouldn’t have to deal with as much congestion. The only people who would actually “suffer” are the ones who think they’re too good to ride the subways with the rest of us.

    Supporters of the plan may be in the minority in Queens, but that’s only because of the misinformation repeated ad nauseum by Weprin, McCaffrey and friends. Just tonight I had to correct a neighbor who thought that people would have to pay every time they entered the zone, as opposed to just once a day.

    If people didn’t think that Long Island commuters would drive all the way to LIC and park instead of driving to a nearby LIRR station; if they didn’t think that this was a “tax on the poor” instead of compensation for the luxury of wearing out our roads and bridges and fouling our air; if they didn’t think that cutting traffic to the CBD would have no effect on air quality near the routes to the CBD – then the plan would have a lot more supporters in Queens.

    The lies are working for now. Let’s see how long people can continue to be fooled.

  • I’ll be at the Brooklyn hearing tomorrow.

    Interesting article in the NYT tonight on the PANYNJ planning to jack the Hudson River crossings to $8 at rush hour . . . which would rob the proposed fund of those extra dollars.

    They’re going to have to consider this sort of gaming of the system by other entities; perhaps cutting the credit given for tolls in half.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/31/nyregion/31cnd-tolls.html

  • Larry Littlefield

    The sort of folks on this blog will almost certainly come into play if congestion pricing goes down.

    Why?

    Because if street space isn’t going to be rationed by price, it is going to rationed by queue, which means congestion will always be at the point where very few people can stand it, and those are the people who will be given the streets.

    In that case, if level F intersections are inevitable by rule of the state, then why not take street space away from motor vehicles? Put cycle tracks/emergency access lanes on every avenue, and enforce them ruthelessly, and neither bicycle riders not those in need of emergency assistance need be troubled by gridlock.

    Want to block the box? Go ahead! But if you block a bus lane, or a cycle track/emergency access lane, $400 — with a camera at every intersection and on every bus to ensure universal enforcement not reliant on those inclined to give drivers a break.

    If the free bridges are free, the city doesn’t lose any revenues by reducing the number of lanes. I suggest using an inbound lane of the Brooklyn Bridge as a two-way bike path and turning the promanade over the pedestrians. Bus lanes could be added to the Manhattan Bridge. And to keep traffic from backing up in Downtown Brooklyn, parking could be allowed on Flatbush, Atlantic and Ocean Avenues in the peak direction. The next lane over could be a bus lane.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I was interviewed by Arun Venugopal from WNYC Radio, and his story aired last night as part of a panel discussion on All Things Considered. The discussion starts in the second hour at 14:25, and you can hear me at 17:35.

    http://www.wnyc.org/flashpop.html?playlist=%2Fstream%2Fatc%2F10312007.xspf

    One clarification: I think Arun confused me with some of the witnesses who were complaining about the prospect of paying to drive to Manhattan for medical treatment. Fortunately, we only have to take my son to the doctor every few months. We’ve been taking him to doctors in Queens, but we actually just found out that his pulmonologist will be moving his practice to New York Hospital (where I was born, incidentally) in Manhattan. That will actually be easier for us and not cost any more, since we take subways and buses.

    There was another witness who had an asthmatic son, and like us, he’s taken the Water Taxi to NYU Medical Center, which is cheaper than driving all the way there and a much nicer trip. That’s if the schedules fit your appointment, though, and they’ve been cut back over the years. The ferry advocates pointed out that the ferries aren’t subsidized, and I agree that that’s a mistake. It’s clearly not profitable for them to run adequate service at this time, and if it doesn’t cost too much, I think the city should pick up some of the tab.

  • glennQ

    What people like the poster “JF” doesn’t understand or care about is that as long as trucks and business have to pay to service the congestion tax area, the tax will be passed on to their customers. WTF mass-transit option should your next delivery use? I already have suggested that my clients list the so called congestion charge by name on their invoices to the taxed area.

  • JF

    GlennQ, I think Councilmember Eric Gioia said it best:

    Eric: My dad owns a flower shop in Queens. My dad used to deliver in a truck to Manhattan–it’s no longer profitable thanks to the “time tax”– it takes too long, the gas is too expensive. There are business owners in the outer ring who are making the decision every day about getting into Manhattan, and the congestion fee is just putting a number on that.

    I can’t imagine a business owner that wouldn’t pay $8 per day (for a van) or $21 per day (for a truck) so that their vehicles aren’t stuck in traffic for hours. The gas plus the driver’s wages (or the cost of opportunities lost sitting in traffic) are easily more than that. Even more so for refrigerated trucks. Businesses will save money, and consumers will probably come out ahead.

  • Paul

    Have a look at how its done in Stockholm Sweden Its been a great success
    http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid959009704/bclid979307711/bctid1270733076

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