Hakeem Jeffries Stands With Westchester on Congestion Pricing

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With a massive, mid-day traffic jam on the Brooklyn Bridge helping to set the scene, Richard Brodsky kicked off his City Hall press conference yesterday with an invitation to the scores of civic groups pushing for congestion pricing. Or maybe it was a threat.

Opposition to congestion pricing in Albany, Brodsky said, is "deepening and solidifying." Time is running out. Thirty Assembly members were signed on in support of his latest alternative traffic plan. It was time, Brodsky said, for "the environmental groups" to get on board because his was the only traffic mitigation plan that "can gain broad support in Albany."

That plan, which can be downloaded here, has three parts to it: Increase the cost of taxis; more enforcement of traffic violations and higher fines; and a crackdown on government employee parking placards. It’s a plan that Brodsky himself acknowledges "is not perfect" and "does not raise enough to fund the MTA Capital Plan." It also forces New York City to forfeit $354.5 million in federal transportation funds and does nothing to discourage private motor vehicles from continuing to clog city streets.
And though he constantly criticized the Traffic Mitigation Commission’s 94-page recommendation for lacking details and leaving too many unanswered questions, Brodsky’s own 7-pager apparently will suffice.

Transportation policy wonks looking for a silver-lining to Brodsky’s enforcement-based traffic mitigation plan won’t find it in the form of red light and bus lane cameras. New York City has been trying to get automated enforcement cameras out of Albany for something like 15 years now. Sorry. They may be saving lives and reducing traffic enforcement costs in other cities but the Assemblyman from Westchester has civil liberties concerns. He’ll allow New York City to have 100 more parking agents and 30 more police officers for traffic enforcement. No matter that cops handing out traffic tickets during rush hour would cause congestion, not ease it.

30_04hakeemjeffries_i.jpgThere were no cameras and maybe two reporters at the press conference. Most of the bodies in the photo above belong to Environmental Defense staffers and members of the Campaign for New York’s Future. The same small group of legislators — Lancman, Dinowitz, Maisel, Fidler and Weprin stood up and said the same things they’ve been saying for months now. There was, however, a new face in the crowd. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Richard Brodsky, who happens to represent the New York metropolitan region’s wealthiest car commuters, was Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (right), representing Prospect Hts., Bed-Stuy, Clinton Hill and vicinity.

Speaking on behalf of a district where 70 percent of households do not own a car, where only 2.2 percent of daily commuters drive alone to work in the pricing zone, where the households that do own a vehicle earn nearly twice as much as the ones that don’t, Jeffries said that he opposes congestion pricing because, among other reasons, "it’s unfair to working families."

After the presser, Jeffries elaborated. The "disingenuousness of the process" bothered him. Even after all of the issues raised at the public hearings, the Traffic Commission came back with a plan that, Jeffries believes, fundamentally only offered improvements for Manhattan residents — a geographic reduction of the pricing zone, the elimination of the $4 fee for drivers who live inside the zone, and an automatic charge for drivers crossing the East River Bridges.

Jeffries didn’t seem to know that the Commission had replaced the $4 "intrazonal charge" with major increases in the cost of parking inside the zone, all of which would go towards paying for streetscape improvements citywide. 

Nor did Jeffries appear to be informed of the benefits congestion pricing could deliver to Flatbush Avenue, the congested, dysfunctional thruway that runs the entire length of his district. Something like forty percent of the morning traffic on Flatbush Avenue is nothing but thru-traffic. These drivers from Long Island and South Brooklyn — Fidler and Maisel’s constituents are among them, as it happens — know Jeffries’ district as nothing more than a
doormat for the free East River bridges. Congestion pricing would push some number of these drivers over to the Battery Tunnel, onto transit or into a carpool.

Congestion pricing provides Jeffries’ district with more than just traffic reduction. Flatbush Avenue’s B41 is number one on the list of bus routes that will be beefed up with the $354.5 million federal grant. And Brooklyn’s first-ever Bus Rapid Transit route, one of five routes citywide, is slated to run through Jeffries’ district, along Bedford and Nostrand Avenues. That project will be paid for by congestion pricing money too. The Department of Transportation is also looking at parts of Jeffries’ district for a possible residential parking permit program to help protect neighborhoods from park-and-ride commuters.

Yet, there was Hakeem Jeffries standing on the steps of City Hall with representatives of some of the wealthiest, most car-dependent Assembly districts in the entire metropolitan region, opposing a plan that would bring new transit service and residential parking permits while reducing he daily seige of single passenger
vehicles rolling through his constituents’ neighborhoods on their way to the free East River bridges.

So, whose job is it to talk to guys like Jeffries and make sure they are well informed about congestion pricing?

  • JF

    The “disingenuousness of the process” is what really bothers him.

    I think that all legislation should be enacted on the basis of how disingenuous its proponents are. Take Brodsky’s alternative proposals; they would pass easily, because he’s not being disingenuous. Or alternatively, the Assembly could use political naiveté as the basis for deciding how to vote. I’m sure Jeffries is against political naiveté.

  • JF, please do not forget the umlaut: political *naïveté*. It is a critical diacritical in the Weinerian rhetorical arsenal.

  • Flatbush Avenue also happened to be on the short list of streets slated for Bus Rapid Transit if congestion pricing goes forward.

    How rapid?

  • Josh

    I haven’t yet made sure that Jeffries understands this, but I’m working on a letter to him about this (I live in his district) and I’ll hopefully be able to send it early next week.

  • Lew from Brooklyn

    Aaron, sorry you did not note taht I was nt there in support of the Brodsky plan—though I prefer it to CP.
    I mention this in the name of accuracy. I DO however think that his plan shows that there are ways of rasing money for mass transit and attacking the root causes of congestion—a major one of which is the manner and cluture in which cabs presently operate—without divisively heavily taxing a small number of NY’ers. (Small, relatively speaking as opposed to sweeping regional taxes as I have proposed.)
    The message you sorta left out was that these Assemblymembers believe that CP is DOA in the Assembly. Maybe yes,maybe no. And I know that nothing I say can or should stop you from continuing to fight for a program that you believe in, no matter how wrong minded I believe it is.
    HOWEVER, when and IF it is defeated, the question is whether or not you will retreat into anger or test the sincerity of those that have offered for alternative plans and see if they are still willing to fight for them.
    And I submit that on full reflection, the elements of my plan are the most real and will raise the most for mass transit.
    And I am willing to have you test the sincerity of my effort.
    I DO intend to work to defeat CP for all of the zillion reasons that I hve blogged about. None of those has anything to do with my considtent support for our environment, modern mass trasit or clean air. All goals we share in principle.
    I hope that if “the unthinkable” happens, and CP is defeated, as I believe it will be, that we can continue the dialogue and the fight, with your support for my proposal.

    Lew from Brooklyn

    PS And i will conveniently forget all the nasty little remarks about me, my plan, and whether or not I really believe in it.LOL

    PPS Including the ones taht are sure to follow this post.

  • Lew from Brooklyn

    and I apologize for hitting the submit button before proofing my typing.
    Lew

  • Larry Littlefield

    (And I submit that on full reflection, the elements of my plan are the most real and will raise the most for mass transit.)

    Your plan is yet another declaration of geneational war. My financing plan is to make retirement income — pensions, social security, 401K — subject to the same state and local income taxes that workers have to pay. Equal income. Equal taxes. Even for those who get to retire on the public dime at age 55, or 45.

    You want those who have to work to pay more? First require those who don’t to pay something.

  • Josh

    Lew,

    While a lot of us disagree with you, I think we all appreciate the fact that you make the effort to come here and discuss this stuff on “our turf” (so to speak) – you certainly aren’t obligated to do so and it’s nice to see someone in government who’s willing to do so. I can’t speak for anyone else here but I think we ought to show our appreciation by discussing our disagreements civilly rather than nastily.

    That being said, I’m confused by a few things you said above. First, while I recognize that it’s part of the rhetoric, I continue to be bothered by the description of CP as a “tax”. To me, a tax is something you have no choice but to pay, and while I recognize that many New Yorkers have fewer transit options than I do, I believe everyone has an alternative. While I recognize that your constituents are among those who have fewer options, they’re also among those who can be benefited the most by services that can be added with CP revenue.

    Second, I’m curious why you’re so vehemently opposed to the CP “tax” but yet are willing to propose a payroll tax that will almost certainly be more of a burden on low-income New Yorkers, who are significantly more likely to be transit riders rather than drivers, than it will on higher-income New Yorkers, about whom the opposite is true.

    Third, imagine I’m making the points Larry Littlefield would be making about a payroll tax rather than an income tax.

    Last, while I hate the fact that everyone is viewing this in terms of what’s best for themselves or their narrow purview, rather than what’s best for the city as a whole (Assemblyman Brodsky probably being the most egregious example), given that that’s the fact I’m really baffled by Assemblyman Jefries’ stance. The majority of his constituents don’t own cars, the VAST majority of commuters from his district don’t commute into the CBD by car, and quality of life in his district (especially along the Flatbush Ave. corridor) is negatively impacted by high volumes of through traffic in so many ways.

    Again, thanks for dropping by, and please do keep up the dialogue.

  • anon

    Two questions for Lew: 1) don’t you know that taxis are disproportionately the transportation alternative of the elderly?? 2) what were the environmental benefits of your plan again? (all i remember is the hydrogen cars)

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Easy Josh, Hakeem is standing up for Lew’s constituents.

    And, Lew isn’t your statement “the question is whether or not you will retreat into anger or test the sincerity of those that have offered for alternative plans” sort of a “have you stopped beating your wife yet” statement? By implication that is your expectation, I guess that shows what you think of our politics.

    I have never been a one issue advocate and I am not in this circumstance. Now when we come to you to fund the city’s piece of the MTA capital plan and we come to Brodsky to fund the state piece, if and when this goes down, that will be a second issue. Third if you count your failure (and Bloomberg’s) to step up to the plate with MTA funding over the course of the last decade, digging the mass transit budget hole we are in. Then, forcing it all down the throat of all wage earners, would make it the fourth issue. Then, if you count failing to clear out the dollar van mess on Flatbush Ave. , well that would be five.

    By the way, have you stopped beating your wife yet?

  • jmc

    Lew, you support 6.50 taxis? Please go on the record supporting a taxi fare hike.

  • Lew, I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and believe that you’re sincere. But do you really expect us to believe that Brodsky’s alternate-day rationing plan was sincere? It was obviously a reductio ad absurdum ploy. How gullible do you think we are?

    Plus, a politician should expect to have his or her sincerity tested on everything. To do otherwise would be political naïveté.

  • I don’t get why pols think sticking it to taxis is a good thing. Those of us who don’t own cars often rely on taxis when we’re sick, have heavy items to transport, or other special needs. The fact that taxis are there and reasonably priced makes it easier to not own a car. The fact that I have to pay to take a cab makes me think seriously about whether that trip is necessary. Once you have a car, you might as well drive it as much as possible. In fact, without congestion pricing, it’s in your financial interest to do so.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Of course you are right Carrie. We use car service the same way. Those who don’t have cars are people who don’t matter, to our pols. I mean just look at them.

  • frank

    Wow, I never thought I’d be missing Roger Green. I guess Jeffries is pandering to white ethnics in Southern Brooklyn in case he ever runs for a borough-wide position. Being an outsider, he probably doesn’t realize these people are no more stupid or selfish than his own constituents, even if they sometimes have foolish loudmouths speaking on their behalf.

    This reminds me of a time years ago when Bill Deblasio was afraid to support a car-free Prospect Park until he polled Windsor Terrace and found out that to his surprise, even the working classes enjoy their park without cars.

  • bb

    I live in Jeffries district and I’d like to know on whose behalf he’s fighting. I don’t recall hearing of his efforts to reach out to constituents to find out what they think or how they’d be affected. He must be pretty tight with that 2.2% that drive to work in the zone.

  • Somewhat Naive

    Could someone explain how a huge taxi tax reduces traffic? Charging will reduce demand. This reduced demand will take money away from drivers and owners. Since the price of the taxi medallion is a fixed cost, and the drivers still need to make a living, isn’t this just more pressure to keep more medallions on the road? Seerately, on the politics front, can anyone with a straight face say medallion owners (people used to spreading cash around City Council)would stand for this?

  • Brooklynite

    You’re not naive. You’re just zeroing in on the fact that Richard Brodsky has little to no interest in reducing traffic congestion and automobile dependence in New York City. He recognizes that he can’t just kill congestion pricing outright. He needs to put forward some alternative ideas. He put forward the taxi idea because he thinks it highlights the class disparity issue. He’s saying: Let’s make rich people pay the congestion money. NYC taxi are just filled with rich people, right? In Richard’s world, the single-passenger motor vehicles that clog our streets and make life increasingly hellish in our neighborhoods are all filled with hardworking middle class family men and women.

  • http://thecityfix.com/congestion-pricing-in-london-improves-public-health-study-finds/

    opposing politicans definitely don’t have an eye on their futures. this is great ammo for future opposing candidates. i can see the ad now – some dude with an annoying voice saying “so and so voted against congestion pricing, which would have made you healthier”, with pictures of toddlers eating ice cream and grandma chilling on her rascal.

  • I’m still racking my brains about how Jeffries came to champion the richest 2% of his constituents at the expense of the poorer majority. Here’s all I could come up with:

    http://capntransit.blogspot.com/2008/02/hakeem-jeffries-man-of-people.html

  • we can do better

    If you live in Jeffries district, let him know how you feel. jefferiesh@assembly.state.ny.us

  • Josh

    I didn’t finish my letter to Jeffries over the weekend but I’m working on it now. Does anyone know whether there’s anyplace I can find information on pedestrian fatalities grouped geographically?

  • Will
  • Josh

    That’s great, Will. Thanks!

  • Adam K

    Josh – did you try Transportation Alternatives’ CrashStat website? Google it

  • Adam K

    Boy, in the time it took me to write that comment you already got a response AND thanked the guy. Oh well 🙂

  • Josh… check out crashstat.org it’ll show you all the reported pedestrian and cycling accidents and fatalities on the full nyc map.

  • brooklyn and i

    will the Brooklyn section from all the Bridges ( Brooklyn Bridge- williamsburg Bridge ) neighborhood’s bee the” park and ride ” for all long island cars
    it is very hard to find a normal parking space in Brooklyn. what dangress effect it will be to the the local residential environmental and business?

  • JF

    No.
    None.

  • Jeffrey Hyman

    I know this is probably a “dead” thread two days after the original post, but I saw Jeffries at a civic event this morning and, apropos of nothing, he called congestion pricing a ‘tax on working people.’ And the working people that he was speaking to, nodded their heads. Okay, here’s what it was apropos of: he was pandering.

    But what a policy nightmare…a politician who panders to people who don’t realize that what they “want” probably isn’t what they want at all. As I looked around the room, I asked myself, ‘how many times a year do any of these people actually drive into Manhattan?’ Why would they ever oppose congestion pricing? But evidently they do, and Jeffries knows it.

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