Kossacks Welcome Demise of Congestion Pricing

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You’d think readers of the most popular "progressive" political blog in the country would be in favor of charging drivers to help fund public transportation in the nation’s most transit-rich city. But you’d be wrong.

When longtime Daily Kos environmental contributor "greendem" posted on the failure of Albany legislators to approve congestion pricing, the fissure between the livable streets movement and those who should be its natural political allies was revealed to be as wide as a crack in a crumbling subway platform.

Here’s a typical comment from a Queens car owner who, by his/her account, would not have been subject to the congestion fee:

I’m all for protecting the environment [but] this doesn’t do it…it doesn’t stop congestion, traffic and pollution, it just moves it to another part of the city.

We can do a lot more for the environment pushing for alternative fuels, better emissions, because the truth is people aren’t going to give up their cars, because most people just can’t.

I live in New York City and I can’t give up my car…that said, I don’t use it when I’m traveling to Manhattan or Downtown Brooklyn, because I’m lucky enough to have the A train down the block, but I do if I’m going across Queens, to The Bronx or to work on Long Island.

Not that this should come as a surprise to pricing
advocates, who spent a year countering specious faux-populist
criticisms from Richard Brodsky and Anthony Weiner before the plan was
ultimately rubbed out in a back room by Assembly Democrats.
Still, the disconnect between the Kossacks’ opposition to war in Iraq and the litany of reasons offered for why New Yorkers
need their cars, for instance, is startling.

With elections coming up and the new federal transportation bill on tap next year, we have a lot of work to do. 

  • Car Free Nation

    Who would have thought that to support livable streets, you need to vote for Republicans? It seems that in local matters, at least, the Democrats are not the environmental party.

  • ddartley

    They bitch about gas prices on Kos too.

    Yes, Brad, we have a lot of work to do, but we also have a long, long time to wait: across the country, “environmentalists” think Priuses will save the planet, and Democrats encourage that foolish attitude.

  • mike

    Unfortunate, but as a long-time reader of the Daily Kos, I’m not terribly surprised either.

  • rhubarbpie

    Re: Car Free Nation’s comment:

    I think the question for Republicans in Albany was, how much can you hand over for our party in exchange for our support?

    And the answer was…$500,000. The mayor’s just got to spread the money around more generously to everyone the next time!

  • Larry Littlefield

    It’s been a long time since high school, but I read that there was once a bi-partisan progressive movement, with Republicans looking to make goverment fair and efficient to provide public services with less money, and Democrats looking to make government fair and efficient to provide more public services.

    Those days are OVER! And therefore, no one is willing to pay.

  • So many people, including many who care about the environment, are irrationally habituated to the myths and realities of private auto travel.

    We have got to build the constituency for livable streets from the ground up by getting these people out of their cars and making them realize that walking, bicycling and mass transit are viable and in many cases superior options. Bike month is next month, folks–get a car-owning friend out there with you!

  • jwcbklyn

    While I’m certainly disappointed at the demise of congestion pricing, all this finger-pointing and whining isn’t going to accomplish anything.

    The larger movement – to reduce congestion, decrease driving, improve transit funding, improve cycling conditions, etc – is not a one-trick-pony and needs to avoid turning into one.

    The entire CP debate brought these issues into the spotlight. If the livable streets movement remains preoccupied with CP’s defeat, it will squander a major opportunity to push alternate congestion mitigation policies. While CP is off the table, the larger issue is still in the public consciousness. Time to kiss and make up with Brodsky, Fidler, etc and move beyond this temporary setback.

  • Heffron

    “Time to kiss and make up with Brodsky, Fidler, etc and move beyond this temporary setback.”

    Can’t we just shake hands? Although Fidler is pretty cute with his new glasses.

  • Jan

    jwcbklyn makes sense. The issues are here and now lets deal with what we’ve got.

    Part of the problem here is not simply people being accustomed to daily driving but also the bicyclists who are self-righteous in their zeal. I ride a bike but I am realistic. Cars are not going away and are not evil. And riding a bike does not make anyone a superior human being simply because they are more green in that one area of their life.

    That attitude has got to stop because more people are apt to fight the green movement as long as it is so urgently proclaimed as having to happen – NOW! on the schedule of those who think they know better.

    But that attitude won’t stop and it is problematic and it hurt CP.

  • Mark

    “Cars are not going to go away and are not evil.” I beg to disagree.

    When gas becomes unaffordable to the majority, and people can no longer support the cost of driving, quite a few cars will go away. That day will come sooner than you think.

    As for evil, I guess that’s in the eye of the beholder. For folks in rural areas, it would be hard to live without a car. But forcing large amounts of cars into a dense urban fabric like NYC does have some evil consequences: pollution, noise, wasted time, respiratory disease, grievous bodily harm, etc.

    In the eye of this beholder, cars are evil. Granted, that’s a subjective judgment, but that’s how I feel about them. That’s why I refuse to own one or to live in car country. It’s also why I pay close attention to Streetsblog.

  • Brooklyn Dad

    Ah, but, see, there is no real need to kiss-and-make-up.

    Lew, Richard and the others aren’t even remotely interested in reducing the number of automobiles rolling in and out of Manhattan’s central business district. The various counter proposals that these guys put on the table, at best, generally offered suggestions for improving the flow of traffic — more cops to prevent block the box and move along the double-parkers as Richard suggests. Or turning the traffic into hydrogen cars as Lew suggests.

    Plan B is to ratchet up the price of on-street parking and start taking street space away from automobiles in the CBD. Watch and see how much Fidler and Brodsky like that. Fortunately, Brodsky and his state legislator cronies, will have virtually no say in the matter. The Lews of the world will still need to be dealt with, even moreso during a Weiner administration.

    Rest assured, kissing and making up with pricing opponents is not the answer. It won’t help because these guys simply don’t believe in reducing the use of automobiles.

    Rather, pricing supporters need to learn from this loss. And here’s the lesson: It’s not so much about good policy. It’s about political power. We need to go and take it from these guys and get it for ourselves. We can’t allow them to continue to run our city.

  • da

    New slogan for the keep-driving-no-matter-what-the-cost movement:

    “You’ll get me out of my car when you pry the steering wheel out of my cold, dead hands”

  • d

    I don’t think that CP failed because of self-righteousness. Read a lot of this blog’s comments and you’ll see a lot of anti-CP people who seem a lot more entitled to the city’s streets than bikers do any day.

    Bloomberg’s original proposal was submitted over a year ago and then went through countless changes. The boundary was moved from 86th Street down to 60th Street, fees were added for some taxi trips, and recent proposed changes included tax breaks for seniors, people with low incomes, etc. This “my way or the highway” attitude that some are accusing Bloomberg of having just didn’t exist. The plain and simple truth is that Silver, Brodsky and others don’t like Bloomberg and never would have considered his plan as long as he had any part in crafting it.

    CP failed for many other reasons, too. The media often focused on drivers and how they would be affected, ironically interviewing people for the evening news as they were stuck in traffic. A handful of politicians considered the needs of the few (car commuters) over the needs of the many (pedestrians and transit users). Some City Council members and leaders in Albany resented a billionaire independent mayor who didn’t kowtow to party machinations. He could have come up with a cure for cancer and they wouldn’t have taken up a vote on it.

    CP’s failure had very little to do with any backlash toward the green movement, especially in light of the 67% approval it received among city residents. I bet bicyclists only wish they had as much power and voice as Jan ascribes to them. If over zealous cyclists and greenies had a hand in bringing CP down, then perhaps they are more powerful than they know!

    That’s not to say that Bloomberg’s style doesn’t occasionally come across as self-righteous or condescending, but one would hope that our leaders could judge a plan on its own merits and not through the filter of personal grudges. Instead, $354 million dollars was lost because Shelly and Mike can’t get along. They’ll both be long gone years from now and problems like asthma, global warming, traffic, and crumbling infrastructure will outlast their petty, personal feud.

    Some people have proposed a state-wide tax increase to pay for CP, thinking that’s more progressive. But what is progressive about making a resident of Utica, Syracuse, or Buffalo pay even $1 to reduce traffic in New York City? If the politicians didn’t have the will to vote for a $354 gift from Washington, I doubt they’ll have the will to vote to raise taxes on their constituents, especially given today’s economy.

  • Dan

    I wrote about this on another post but it bears repeating. People who drive cars view their travel as free. Not everybody but I was talking to a former car owner who basically agreed that while insurance, gas and repairs sometimes feel like added costs their lack of frequency coupled with near constant auto use generally leads people to see time in the car as without cost. Sure driving has really high transaction costs some of which are borne by the user(traffic) and some of which the rest of bear(the planet being ruined) but drivers don’t really FEEL those costs. So the psychological impact of free one day costs money the next is just too much for people to deal with.

    Also, this whole thing reminds me of debates about mass transit in places where transit generally sucks. Everyone argues that it doesn’t work because nobody uses it but people who would use it don’t because it doesn’t work. If you just changed some of the way we spend money or adjust some zoning or add a congestion charge you’ll see that you don’t “have” to drive to work everyday, you just do it because that’s the way it’s most convenient. But there’s no reason why we couldn’t make taking the train JUST as convenient, people just don’t want to devote the dollars or the resources. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It could just as easily be otherwise.

  • d

    I think Dan hit the nail on the head. From a transit riding perspective, it hurts every time I buy a MetroCard for $81. But once I have it and use it a few times, I rarely think about it. If I had to pay my rent every day, it would kill me. Doing it once a month makes me forget I’m paying perhaps more than I should to live where I want.

    I think that if CP had gone into effect, it quickly would have become a fact of life, much as paying a fare is for subway riders, and the complaints would have gone away.

  • Guys, please STOP pointing fingers the aspirationally green Dems that actually killed pricing and START pointing your pointing your fingers as these cardboard cutouts of self-righteous bicyclists that I am happy to supply! I can’t believe you’re still talking about congestion pricing—this minor thing you only spent 18 months advocating—43 HOURS after it was fairly killed by a flawless democratic process. How long will you go on? Three DAYS? A week!? Taking score and holding legislators accountable is NOT productive, people.

  • tps12

    This isn’t so surprising…it’s really an issue that cleaves along urban/suburban rather than progressive/conservative lines, and a lot of suburbanites (like most of Kos’s readership) are suburbanites because they just don’t like the city…arguments along the lines of “it would improve our city” just aren’t persuasive to people who don’t like your city.

  • Jason A

    A few months back the popular liberal blogger Atrios posted an off the cuff complaint about cyclists in Philadelphia and it was kind of shocking all the bike venom it opened up in the comments among “progressives.”

  • Greg R.

    Back to the topic at hand: I read the kos post with much amusement. As a community blog, it will bring a wide variety of views, and the conversation we saw there was exactly what we should expect. Why? Because no one has ever bothered to introduce ideas like VMT, smart growth, or environmental justice to that community. Of course that type of discourse that was going to occur on kos.

    Welcome, NYC livable streets advocates, to the gaping, scary hole in our national “green” movement. Guess what? Th experience you’ve just had is happening every day across the country. Everyone wants to change their light bulbs, but no one wants to ride the bus. Or see 5 stories down the block. Or spend more than 30 seconds looking for a parking spot. Or pay for it.

    And why is that? Because no one is working to incorporate progressive growth and transportation principles into the fabric of the broader progressive movement. Until that begins to happen, individual policy efforts like CP are going to continue to be stymied.

  • I’m a DKos member, and I objected strongly to that diary. There’s a segment of the population there who is strongly anti-Bloomberg, and thinks that anything he proposes is bad, presumably because he’s rich and ran as a Republican.

  • KOS and the mainstream environmental movement has never really gotten it about the relationship between transportation and the environment. They want to find ways for people to continue living the way they already are. All this stuff about alternative fuel and hybrids is great, but last I checked when I bike to a bus stop, put my bike on a rack, and take transit downtown, my carbon footprint is much lower than taking a single-passenger trip in a Prius.

    And Doc Barnett, of course we (ok, you) should hold the electeds accountable that killed CP. If you don’t hold electeds accountable that do bad things, you don’t have as much muscle next time you lobby them.

  • Wait a minute…

    some selfish people made some dumb comments, but let’s not forget that the actual diary was pro-congestion pricing. I don’t think it’s fair to label the entire kos community as being opposed to congestion pricing. If you look at the NY liberal blogosphere, the vast majority of bloggers were strongly in favor of it and have been tearing Sheldon Silver a new one for the past 2 days.

  • bob

    The cleve at Kos may be between the Liberal and Progressive elements who hang out there.

    When it comes to the environment, liberals are all about making nice sounding speeches, just as long as they don’t have to change their lifestyles in any way.

    Who do you think is the market for Hybrid SUV’s?

    Progressives are a bit more willing to actually become the change they preach.

  • blarsh

    bob, i don’t think there’s actually a formal distinction between the terms liberal & progressive the way you’re supposing there is. for the most part, i believe the consensus view is that progressive is merely a more politically palatable euphemism for the successfully demonized by the right “liberal”.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Yeah, Blarsh, I can’t see a difference myself. There are plenty of people who are radical as all get-out about the war or solar power or gender rebellion, but if their Subaru Wagon gets stuck in traffic they turn into Bob Moses.

  • NIccolo Machiavelli

    There is a lot about the “progressives” that, while outwardly environmentalist also favors cheap oil, another way to favor SUVs, congestion and polution. Historically the Progressives out in the hinterlands peopled the core of the “good roads movement” that helped drive the private railroads, trolley and inter-urban systems into bankruptcy. Socialism for trucks.

    Much like the Kennedys who oppose wind power off of Cape Cod. Actually, lots of Obama supporters on “progressive” Air America take similar positions.

    Its hard for our political culture to negotiate a useful balance of socialism and capitalism when our people know so little about both.

  • MrBad Example

    I was taken aback when I tried to get Green movement people logged into a Green newsgroup to back CP. I was condemned as ‘classist’, ‘anti-working class’, ‘myopic’ and a whole lot of other things. Many saw any success for CP as helping to validate an evil Republican plan to replace progressive taxes with user fees. Some of the anti-tax (of any kind) arguments were so vehement, I thought I’d accidentally strayed onto a Minuteman militia site.

    I think some of this was about helping Bloomberg succeed in any way. I don’t think progressives like Bloomberg very much, and wanted to kill the plan as a final way to stop any political success he might achieve.

    Almost NO ONE understood the argument of drivers paying what it actually costs to support their use of private autos. There was an assumption that there was some huge amorphous lump of funding out there ‘somewhere’ and anything not arising from a more progressive income tax was part of an insidious war on working people.

    The whole experience has been very discouraging. If progressive enviros can’t find solidarity with the concept that driving is not a God Given right, how are we going to get anything paid for??

  • You can say that again, blarsh.

    http://www.observer.com/2007/richard-brodsky-public-hearing-advocate

    This is Richard Brodsky, a feisty, erudite legislator who can be by turns passionate, principled, self-aggrandizing and brash. A self-described progressive known for having a point of view on pretty much everything, he is also emerging as a key player in the battle over congestion pricing, Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to charge $8 to drive in core Manhattan on weekdays. Mr. Brodsky does not like it.

  • paulb

    Maybe the name was wrong. No one I know personally believes that CP would have materially reduced traffic in the CP zone. Gridlock Sam Schwartz reported that most of the vehicles driving in the CP zone are yellow cabs and car service cars. London’s experience is that any speeding up of traffic is almost immeasurable. Most of the more realistic reactions I’ve read to what’s happened are asking Where will the funding for public transit come from now?, not saying much about the intransigent evils of congestion.

    If this was really an “alternative transportation” or “redesigning urban space” or “greenhouse gas reduction” or “public transit capital improvements” or whatever plan, it should have been presented in those terms.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    So Paulb, you’re saying that the map in this fact sheet is a lie?

    http://www.e-benchmarks.com/congestion/factsheets/queens/council/cc_gioia_26.pdf

    I’d like to see increased funding for transit, but my support for the plan has mainly rested on the prediction that congestion pricing would reduce all the unnecessary bridge traffic in my neighborhood. An additional selling point was the increased efficiency for vehicles driving crosstown in Manhattan. If I didn’t believe that, I’d have been looking for another way.

    How knowledgeable are these people you know personally? Can they show me why I was wrong?

  • Moser

    I don’t really hang out on the political websites you guys have cited here but if you are talking about Green Party types, they are generally fringe kooks and ideologues who have no interest in finding things that work in the real world. They are very different than some of the European Greens who have developed their movement into something of a political force. The analogous people here to those who launched the Euro Green Parties don’t get involved in U.S. 3rd party movements because they don’t amount to anything.

  • paulb

    Angus, I’m not saying the map is a “lie,” per se. But it’s only someone’s guess about traffic trends. And most of that PDF is devoted to the benefits of the revenue, not lower congestion, which I think helps to indirectly make my point.

    The only way to prove CP’s promised effect on traffic was to implement it. Are you really asserting that I must be wrong because I don’t take at face value some predictions of planners and advocates? And if you’re also arguing that the impressions/opinions/skepticism of my acquaintances (and the ones I am talking about are born New Yorkers who are reasonably well informed) are irrelevant because they aren’t “experts,” then, if that attitude is shared by CP’s advocates, I’m not surprised they lost.

  • Greg R,

    Angus,

    I think what paulb is getting at is that the goods were packaged ineffectively. I agree, and would humbly suggest that “Congestion Pricing” is not a name that worked. It doesn’t imply anything about air, or transit, or safe streets, or global warming.

  • “And Doc Barnett, of course we (ok, you) should hold the electeds accountable that killed CP.”

    That was parody, Damien. 😉 What I really think: practically everyone here has had a chance to live with the great American automobile at some time; the “immutable lifestyle” perspective is not special or helpful, and (of course!) non-voting Dems must be held accountable. If nothing else, the pricing effort gave us a snapshot of their political priorities: the automobile or public transportation? The automobile or the environment? The automobile or public health? Even if I believed that misgivings about the government charging an income-blind use fee were the reason they chose the automobile, I’d still vote against them for making that misgiving their top priority.

    But like Greg R said, back to the topic: it is going to be slow going nationally, where the Democratic surge is largely propelled by anger over high gas prices. Democratic presidential candidates try to top each other in taking the macho stances against “big oil,” as if that would lower prices and as if lowering those prices were a good thing. I scoffed my way through this story about Obama’s silly oil commercial and Clinton’s silly response, followed by over 150 comments from people that call themselves progressives ranting about the price you pay at the pump (what?), and only one or two daring to mention that cheap gas is unambiguously bad for the environment:
    http://tpmelectioncentral.talkingpointsmemo.com/2008/04/new_hillary_ad_obama_only_take.php

    The Democratic party is far from facing the automobile problem, or even knowing what “livable streets” means. But as new generations move to cities and gas becomes literally too expensive for their constituents to afford (and hands-on-hips are shown to have no effect on the international oil market), a lack of alternatives will force them to finally act to advance public transportation and energy conservation. Unless Republicans beat them to it, as with congestion pricing.

  • I totally agree that we need to do more to promote good thinking on transportation within the larger progressive movement.

    Still, keep in mind that about 80% of the anti-pricing comments were all posted by one commenter, nrafter530, and almost all the others by mad cow. The pro-pricing comments represented more individual commenters. So while we have work to do, don’t mistake comment volume for public opinion.

  • Marcotico

    PaulB, I lived in London when the congestion charge went into effect and the speed of vehicle movement went up immediately and stayed that way. The most important effect of this change was that …busses moved faster! So the congestion charge actually was most effective in improving transit. Also as you point out the revenue was immediately poored into more and better busses, and Next bus signage. Academic research shows (google Brian Taylor at UCLA) that people consider waiting and transfer times as 3times more onerous than in-vehicle time. So next bus signs are incredibly effective at improving the transit experience.

  • Nathanael Nerode

    “London’s experience is that any speeding up of traffic is almost immeasurable. ”

    Totally untrue. In London the speed of traffic went up immediately and stayed up.

    In fact, if you read the early reports backing congestion pricing for London, the original motivation was to *speed up the buses* so they would run on time.
    This was 100% effective. The delays to buses in the congestion zone were causing delays throughout the entire system. (Apart from eliminating the delays, the revenue mostly went to improving the buses in other ways.)

    “Congestion charge” probably worked as a name in London when “Bus priority streets” or something similar wouldn’t have worked, because it appealed to the people driving and walking through the congestion as well. For NYC, apparently the politics demand a different name, though I don’t know what — the “Manhattan smog duty”, maybe?

    Congestion pricing was necessary in London because the streets were too narrow for bus lanes, and had too much local delivery traffic to make them bus-only, etc.

    In NYC, you could achieve the same elimination of congestion for buses by having dedicated bus-only lanes on *every* street on which a bus route runs — they’re all wide enough, I think. Of course you’d have to enforce them by severe fines for cars in the bus lanes.

    That wouldn’t reduce congestion for cars or trucks of course.

  • Why did most of the posters here buy into the Bloomberg plan? In spite of the changes made, it ignored the legitimate objections of many citizens and ignored the Minority Report from the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Committee. I urge you all to read that report, it may surprise you.

    It seems that many of you wanted this plan or no plan, and, ultimately, that’s what killed it.

    There were insufficient disincentives to discourage motorists from Connecticut, Westchester, New Jersey, Long Island and Pennsylvania from driving in; most would have only paid an additional $2.00, while outer-borough residents, who are, after all New York City residents and New York City taxpayers, would have paid the lion’s share of the cost. Coincidentally, New York City residents constitute the smallest percentage of drivers in the city.

    All indications are that the Bloomberg plan would not have provided the relief from pollution desired by most residents, and that revenues would have been much lower than projected.

    Now is the time for advocates to get together and produce a more comprehensive and more palatable plan to reduce congestion and pollution, to make streets friendlier and safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, and provide for much improved mass transit.

    Just because the state legislature killed Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing scheme doesn’t mean the issue is dead. My alternate proposal, presented to the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission in 2007, consists of three parts. I’m sure this proposal, too, would be nitpicked by all, but we need a continuing dialog—and an implemented plan.

    1) An entry fee.
    The entire city, not just Manhattan, suffers from nightmarish traffic. When I recently had occasion to return a rental car to Manhattan from my home in Bensonhurst, the trip took two and a half hours, for a journey of ten and a half miles. There was no accident clogging the roads, they were just jammed, as usual. This is typical for vehicular travel within the five boroughs.

    So, rather than congestion pricing, which will only alleviate traffic in Manhattan, and which will only produce limited revenues, charge a daytime entry fee to New York City, a twenty-five dollar surcharge to all drivers entering the five boroughs, with a reduced fee for through traffic, and let those funds be dedicated to public transportation improvements, with a percentage set aside for road and bridge maintenance. This alone would have an extremely beneficial effect on traffic throughout New York City, and produce vastly higher revenues than Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing alone.

    There are those who will object and say that such a fee will hurt business in the city—nonsense. The city is (at least for the time being) the economic engine that drives prosperity throughout the region—if they have a genuine need to drive, they will continue to come, and many will move to mass transit, a desired outcome.

    New York City residents will be exempt from this fee, and could be identified through special EZPass devices, and by special New York City license plates. This would also remedy another source of revenue loss—many city residents now register their cars in other states—Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, etc., to obtain lower insurance, and to take advantage of lower registration fees. Under this plan, they would have an incentive to register as New York City residents, producing another revenue stream, and with reduced traffic will come reduced accidents and insurance rates.

    2) Driver and enforcement reform.
    We must step up enforcement as well. The vast majority of moving violations do not result in any sort of fines or penalties; they go unnoticed. This needs to be addressed; increased enforcement will produce more revenue, and a percentage of that revenue, plus a portion of entry fees can be dedicated to traffic enforcement and driver reform. Many drivers in the area feel that they can break speed limits, talk on cell phones, fail to signal—even kill pedestrians. And they’re right. Review pedestrian deaths over the past few years; if a driver isn’t drunk, he usually faces no charges or fines of any sort. A casket truck driver killed a four year-old boy last year (2006) in Sunset Park; he admitted to speeding and to running a red light, actions which directly caused the boy’s death, yet he faced no charges at all. Time and again, pedestrian deaths resulting from driver carelessness go unpunished. This is wrong, and if we are a just and humane society, we can no longer countenance such behavior. Drunk driving causes forty percent of all traffic fatalities— guess who causes the rest. Careless driving must have steep penalties; our children deserve no less. Stringent traffic enforcement will change driver attitudes, return revenues, and even convince many to use mass transit, instead.

    3) Reform the MTA.
    PlaNY seeks to add over three-hundred more express buses, complete the Second Avenue subway, and the number 7 line extension. These improvements, while notable and desirable, are inadequate. Again, those who take express buses are still victims of what the Federal DOT calls extreme commutes—a commute of more than 45 minutes duration, one way—extreme commutes that cost more than double what other transit riders pay.

    The MTA is one of the most poorly managed enterprises to ever exist. Time limits here prevent me from citing a long litany of poor performance, but we’re all aware of the many billion-dollar boondoggles attributable to this agency, ranging from their over-priced headquarters to their poorly-planned station renovations. After over one-hundred years of operations, August 8, 2007’s flooding debacle left many lines out of service more than twenty-four hours after the rains had ceased. Likewise, many sections of track, signals and switches are still in need of repair, while lavish amounts of money have been spent on executive offices and compensation, and poorly conceived cosmetic improvements, such as the granite/terrazzo tiles at the Broadway-Lafayette station, half of which are broken, due to poor installation. Slippery when wet, these tiles also cause an increase in slip and fall suits against the MTA.

    It should be clear to all that small, incremental improvements will not meet our transportation challenges. If we seek to get drivers out of their Lexuses, or even their Corollas for that matter, we need a transit system that is safe, affordable, comfortable, and, most of all, one that is at least twice as fast as the system we have now. Adding some so-called express buses will not even come close to accomplishing these goals. New subway lines are necessary; lines that reach the vast stretches of Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island that have been abandoned by mass transit. BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) lines can be added in many places. In addition, standards of behavior need to be enforced; Miami has hired Wackenhut to augment the police in that regard, with an enforcement officer on every train, and with excellent results.

    The twenty-first century presents us with numerous challenges; among them, population pressures, pollution, increasing political instability in many parts of the world, oil shortages and prices that are now over $100 a barrel, and the challenge of sustainability. We live in the financial and cultural capital of the world, and we must create a transportation system befitting that status.

    If you dislike that plan, there are many other alternatives; Theodore Kheel’s plan has many excellent ideas.

    Here are some more proposals that don’t involve a fee:

    • Make all the major crosstown thoroughfares (Canal, Houston, 14th Street, 23rd Street, 34th Street, 42nd Street, 57th Street, 72nd Street, 79th Street, 86th Street, 96th Street, 106th Street, 116th Street, 125th Street, 145th Street, 181st Street, and finally, Dyckman Street) accessible to pedestrians, bicycles and buses (BRT) only.

    • Do the same for every third or fourth avenue (First Avenue, Lexington Avenue, Fifth Avenue, Broadway, Ninth Avenue).

    • Make all deliveries requiring trucks larger than a van take place between 6PM and 6AM.

    • Do the same for major thoroughfares in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx.

    • Establish a dedicated force of 2,500 police to enforce the traffic laws, dedicate half of the increased fines collected to mass transit; the other half would pay for the increased enforcement.

    • Eliminate at least half of the parking placards now in circulation.

    • Double the parking tax; dedicate the increased revenues to mass transit.

    • Triple the street parking fees; dedicate the increased revenues to mass transit.

    • Eliminate city sales tax on bicycles and bike equipment.

    • Make the fine for traveling over 30mph in the city $20.00 for every mile per hour above 30—and strictly enforce it.

    • Ban “schooling” behavior of cabs—hundreds at a time travel up Church/Sixth Ave en masse or down Columbus while people elsewhere can’t find one. Cabbies income would rise, streets would be calmed.

    • Get the cross-harbor tunnel built—we’ve been waiting since 1915!

    But we need to do something, the status quo isn’t working. Please post your ideas.

  • Plato

    Cameron,

    First off, the pricing plan did a lot to reduce traffic congestion outside of Manhattan. You’re just wrong about that.

    Second and more important, you can have as many good ideas as you want but this isssue is done and it’s not coming back.

    Maybe you didn’t like the specifics of the Traffic Commission plan but now there is no plan, Anthony Weiner is your next mayor, and no one is going to expend any more political capital on this issue any time soon.

    There will be no entry fee or pricing mechanism to control NYC traffic. There will be no new resources for automated traffic enforcement. There will be no big systemic changes at the MTA.

    The pricing policy was the context in which those changes could have happened. If we had won then the plan could have been honed and improved over time. We lost and now we’re left figuring out how to raise taxes to fund the MTA and where we can reclaim bits and pieces of street space in Manhattan.

    It’s amazing to me that people who consider themselves supporters of transpo policy reform don’t see this. All you folks who were busy fighting for your own little idea here or there, the Kheel plan, or whatever — you arguably did more to help us wind up with nothing than Richard Brodsky.

    The opportunity to do this big reform is dead and gone. Pricing will not come back for at least a generation.

  • Why such a defeatist attitude? The Minority Report from the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Committee agreed with many of my points.

    There is still much we can do, but the first order of business should be to put an end to this stupid bickering, and to produce a MAJORITY consensus as to how to proceed.

    Commissioner Sadik-Khan has not given up, and the Federal DOT has said that money could still be made available.

    An entry fee is not impossible, is fairer to all city residents, and the cost would be borne not by a minority of outer-borough residents, but by the majority of drivers who enter the city; who, incidentally, have per capita incomes that are approximately three times greater than those who live in the city. Why did you prefer to tax your fellow city residents for completely unsubstantiated claims? What proved to you that was the only way to proceed? Those aren’t criticisms, they’re honest questions to which I would like answers. Saying, “You’re just wrong about that.” is just contentious, and doesn’t help us to move forward.

    http://bettertransitny.blogspot.com

  • Plato

    The “Minority Report?”

    Do you mean that document that only had Richard Brodsky’s name on it, that Vivian Cook and Denny Farrell didn’t even sign on to?

    Cameron: There was a majority consensus as to how to proceed. Your state legislature chose not to enact it and rejected the concept of an entry, congestion or cordon fee for motorists.

    The claim that congestion pricing works is highly substantiated. It’s substantiated in practice in London, Stockholm, Singapore, the Battery Tunnel and Hudson River crossings. We know that pricing impacts driving decisions.

  • Dear Plato:

    I mean this report:

    https://www.nysdot.gov/portal/page/portal/programs/congestion_mitigation_commission/minority-report

    It is not clear who signed it; I’ll have to re-read it. And the unsubstantiated claims were that traffic would be significantly reduced in the outer boroughs, and that the MTA can be trusted to dedicate congestion pricing to capital improvements—where’s concrete evidence for that? I never claimed congestion pricing doesn’t work, only that the implementation you and others are so fond of was poorly thought out and would not have reduced traffic or improved subway service to the extent predicted by its proponents.

    People from Westchester, Connecticut, and Long Island would have only paid an additional 2 dollars—do you really think that would have discouraged anyone from those environs from coming to Manhattan? The plan’s costs fell disproportionately on those from the outer boroughs, and there was no guarantee that those who bore the lion’s share of the costs would have received the benefits.

    Whether or not you choose to admit it, that’s a legitimate criticism.

    If the plan had been approved, traffic might have declined by 2-3% at the most, we would have gotten 300 new express buses that would still be stuck in traffic, minor improvements to 3 subway lines, and not much else. We’d still be paying the greatest percentage of operating costs of any transit agency in the country. All New Yorkers deserve better than that.

    http://bettertransitny.blogspot.com

  • Plato

    Yeah, that. It’s Brodsky’s “minority report.” No one else signed it.

    Your 2 to 3% number is wrong. Congestion, or time spent waiting in traffic, would have been reduced by 15 to 30% in and around Manhattan extending as far out as Flushing. About 120,000 cars/day, conservatively estimated, would have been taken off the streets.

    More important, you’re just focused on the wrong things. The focus among advocates needed to be: Get as good a system up and running as possible. Not a perfect system but a politically palatable system. Period.

    Once that’s done and we have a mechanism in place that could be honed and adjusted over time. If $8 wasn’t doing enough to reduce traffic over the Hudson River bridges, fine. We could raise it to $12 or whatever. The system’s in place.

    Now there is no pricing system in place and there probably never will be. You’re not getting better transit and less traffic. You’re going to be desperately trying to maintain what you’ve got with outer boro idiots complaining about gas prices.

  • Not everyone from an outer borough is an idiot complaining about gas prices. How about thinking about the entire city as “us”, rather than “us vs. them”.

    Both PlaNY 2030, and the Urban Partnership Agreement between the MTA, NYSDOT and NYCDOT sought a 6.3% reduction in VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled), and the Mayor admitted that his plan would probably not produce that much of a reduction—so where on earth did you come up with a reduction in VMT of 15 to 30%? That’s just wishful thinking.

    And I disagree that I’m focused on the wrong things. Traffic, transit, pedestrian safety, pollution and law enforcement are all closely tied together, and a GOOD plan should be defined as one that comprehensively addresses the roles that each plays in relation to the whole, and benefits all city residents.

  • JF

    People from Westchester, Connecticut, and Long Island would have only paid an additional 2 dollars—do you really think that would have discouraged anyone from those environs from coming to Manhattan? The plan’s costs fell disproportionately on those from the outer boroughs, and there was no guarantee that those who bore the lion’s share of the costs would have received the benefits.

    We’ve already been through this here. Nobody ever offered any proof that the toll bridges and tunnels were disproportionately used by people from Westchester, Connecticut and Long Island.

    Cam, if you’re so convinced that some kind of cordon tolling can be put into place, you should be able to convince (a) someone with an ideological commitment to cordon tolling, like Carolyn Konheim, Charles Komanoff or Sam Schwartz, and (b) someone with the power to get the “skeptics” in the Assembly behind an initiative, like Shelly Silver or Richard Brodsky, to support it. We welcome your efforts in this area. Please let us know when you’ve got it lined up.

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