District 39 Candidates: Where Do They Stand on Livable Streets?

candidates_39th.jpgL-r: Brad Lander, Dave Pechefsky, Gary Reilly, Josh Skaller, and Bob Zuckerman.

A crowd of about 75 Brooklynites turned out for the Transportation Alternatives City Council candidate debate last night, despite the muggy mid-August heat and un-air-conditioned PS 321 auditorium. They were treated to a substantive discussion of transportation policy that went deeper than "bike lanes: good or bad."

The race to succeed Bill de Blasio in the 39th District is crowded, with seven candidates participating in the debate (an eighth, Democrat John Heyer, was a no-show). After last night, it’s clear that a strong livable streets candidate won’t emerge from the Republican primary. GOP candidates Joe Nardiello and George Smith voiced support for bike infrastructure but neither could articulate a coherent strategy for curbing auto use and mitigating traffic. (Nardiello on congestion pricing: "Penalties are not the solution.")

The other five debaters — Democrats Brad Lander, Gary Reilly, Josh Skaller, and Bob Zuckerman, and Green Party candidate Dave Pechefsky — generally agreed that the city should reduce driving and foster walking, biking, and transit. How, and to what extent? I’ll try to give a sense of their positions and ideas as concisely as possible.

Among this group, Zuckerman seemed the most gun-shy about getting people out of their cars. When asked to identify the district’s most pressing transportation need, "I would use the word congestion," he said. His main strategy: Residential parking permits, proposing a borough-wide permit zone for on-street parking, with a $100 annual fee. As a hypothetical revenue-raiser, that’s nothing to sneeze at. As a feasible proposition for busting congestion, I’m not so sure.

In general, RPP was a common proposal, while more effective and politically risky strategies to manage parking received fewer mentions. Lander and Reilly both lauded the DOT’s PARK Smart pilot in Park Slope — which charges higher rates for on-street spaces during peak hours — and suggested ramping it up. Thankfully, no one from the Dem/Green contingent proposed building
additional parking structures to ease congestion. (Skaller: "I do agree with the basic
notion that if you create parking, more cars will come. So the solution
must lie elsewhere.")

Reilly was the only candidate to identify the city’s off-street parking requirements as a major cause of traffic and congestion. "We need to eliminate that archaic part of the zoning law that requires car parking," he said. Pechefsky picked up on a different aspect of the city’s off-street parking boom. "Riding down Ninth Street is an invitation to get hit by someone driving to Lowe’s," he said, referring to the big box home improvement store that sits right by the Gowanus Canal. "We need another economic development model." 

The most full-throated endorsement of congestion pricing, meanwhile, came from Lander. "I want to encourage people to stick, long-term, with congestion pricing," he said, noting that RPP would not pack the same punch. "I think we need to be in the forefront of advocating for that to happen. If we want enough money to run transit, and cut congestion and the traffic that runs through our neighborhood, we need congestion pricing." Council members can push for that reform, he said, by helping to build the coalitions necessary to sway Albany legislators.

One of the more pronounced and interesting distinctions between the candidates arose when they were asked about making Prospect Park car-free, an idea that the departing de Blasio has endorsed. Pechefsky and Reilly fell squarely in the "do it now" camp. Lander, Skaller, and Zuckerman urged a gradualist approach, suggesting variations on a strategy of winning over skeptics in Windsor Terrace and Kensington, who fear that a car-free park would send more traffic through their streets. "I think that the perception and the reality are probably two different things," said Skaller. "I think it’s a very attainable goal, to have a car-free park. But in order to get there, we need a full buy-in from all communities, and we need to show people that it will work for them."

The area of greatest unanimity was probably traffic enforcement. Several candidates concurred that the enforcement of traffic laws is woefully insufficient and pledged to work with the NYPD to make it a higher priority. Reilly took the additional step of recommending more red light cams, which must be approved by Albany.

As for bikes? Well, woe to the candidate who comes out with an anti-bike message at a TA debate. If these pols follow through on what they said last night, you don’t have to worry about the 39th District producing a council member who’ll rail against protected lanes and stand in the way of a more robust bike network.

  • mike

    Thanks for the great write-up, Ben.

  • Brendan

    Yes, thanks for report. I’m a 39th District resident who couldn’t attend.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Bridge tolling policy?

    Do you think that absent term limits there would be eight candidates? As I recall, despite perhaps the worst state government in the country, or one of them, I believe the two state legislature incumbents who represent the same area (one of whom, to be fair, just got there) ran unopposed or nearly so.

    Pay attention to this election. Because assuming the next step is taken to getting rid of term limits, by say extending them to ten terms by City Council legislation without a referendum, it may be the last election in this area for years if not decades.

  • how can we have a more gradual approach on Prospect Park? We’ve been closing entrances for years (the new elimination of 3rd street as an entrance is awesome) and cutting down the number of hours in the park. There is only one next step – close the park completely OR at least a trial closure for a few months. Cars are already limited – but unfortunately the remaining hours they are allowed are when the most people are using too.

  • There is one more gradual step that could be taken: convert the 2 car lanes into 1, and use the saved space for pedestrians and bikes to alleviate crowding during car hours. That would help a lot, if the city isn’t willing to do even a trial closure.

  • Mike,

    I’d be up for that too, but I suggested that in letters over the summer of 2000 and no one wanted to bite on it. If there is any momentum for it we should push for it. The only thing that might be bad about it is if they divide it up like that, it might take longer to get a car-free park.

  • JK

    Why are RPP’s mentioned in the same breath as congestion pricing as a way to “manage traffic?” RPP’s are a tool to keep local parking for residents instead of commuters or visitors. Since by far the biggest parking problem in the 39th CD are local residents fighting each other for curbside space, it’s hard to see how RPPs would make any difference. The easiest way to ease the curb crunch is to meter residential streets — which is even less likely than congestion pricing or East River Bridge tolls.

  • Ian Turner

    JK,

    RPPs eliminate auto registration fraud, a common practice where car owners register their vehicles in New Jersey or Connecticut in order to take advantage of lower insurance premiums. This also cuts the state out of the registration fees, of course, and RPPs make the practice impossible. It’s of questionable value with respect to parking management, but it’s probably the most politically expedient way to make owning a car in NYC more expensive, raising cash for the city and state in the process.

    Cheers,

    –Ian

  • Ian, This Streetsblog post and comments which was written during the push for CP, has tons of good ideas about RPPs. As far as using RPPs to cut out registration and insurance fraud, however, don’t hold your breath. The program could just as easily function without checking for NY registration. I went to one of the 2007 RPP workshops and was surprised that the proposals did not call for in-state registration to be one of the perquisites for a permit.

  • JK

    I posted a ton on that RPP thread. The likely deal with RPPs in NYC is that they would cost very little, and as noted above, probably be based on proof of residence per Con Ed or cable bill, not vehicle registration. I think they would be useless here, but would still like to see them tried in pilot form, because I believe in the value of experimentation. Whether it is politically possible to pilot RPP’s in one neighborhood and annul them if the project fails, I don’t know.

  • Dear Ben and readership:

    As a candidate that is a strong advocate on behalf of cyclists & pedestrians alike it would be disservice if I didn’t respond here, and would welcome a 1-on-1 discussion if you wish. Please recall that I referred to vehicular/driver carelessness, to the degree of calling a speeding auto: “a loaded gun” and vowing legislation and NYPD stewardship, by way of common interest (and that I mentioned the two boys struck/killed on 3rd Avenue/9th Street as a deep wound in my community of which there are many others – like when I was there at the scene, after a son was struck while trailing his father on a bike on Livingston St. last October). I could go on and on. And in fact, I think I will.

    My first words spoken on Tues. night in fact, was a recognition that of the deaths/serious injury to cyclists/pedestrians – that 21% was due to “driver inattention” and 10% to “failure to yield”, both of which I refer to as simply “carelessness”. What I put forth, is that immediate Council emphasis for driving habits is a matter of not “if”…but “how” people drive when they elect to use their vehicle. The frustrations of drivers seeking to avoid the Gowanus and BQE are a great issue, that I raised because it spurs wrongful activity, like speeding. There’s a 1.2% chance a cyclist can suffer ‘serious injury’ tody across Brooklyn – that’s more pressing a concern to me, than whether or not you can select the candidate Most Likely to Pander.

    Do you hold life & limb more important than advocacy of maybe, someday being able to charge someone $5 for driving into lower Manhattan after paying a $3 toll on the Brooklyn Bridge? What do you say to the 75-year old non-driving cancer patient that can’t get to Sloan Kettering without needing/paying for a lift herself – I mean we’re talking about national healthcare, who’s paying her $70 transportation cost roundtrip, per visit, for care? That said she’s missed her first visit, due to the Transit strike years back before she’d developed an arthritic knee. You’d tell her to “take the subway”? (This woman was in that audience Tues., too)

    A Councilman has to be comprehensive in judgment – and I’d defy anyone that panders for momentary gain, especially through legislation that may make living more difficult for our underserved and underprivileged. It’s written (above) and dismissively that “Joe Nardiello…voiced support for bike infrastructure but…couldn’t articulate a coherent strategy for curbing auto use and mitigating traffic. (Nardiello on congestion pricing: “Penalties are not the solution.”)” …Seriously now?

    At the TA event, I’d enjoyed the chance to relay experience, as the only candidate to have served first within a Democratic mayoralty in NYC and worked long-hours on with a Democratic White House in compliance with Bill Clinton’s Clean Air Act. Clearly, while “car pooling” is no longer on the radar with TA judging from Q & A’s, sadly changing motorists’ behavior isn’t near as easy as candidates say (as they know that’s what you want to hear). You get more with honey, than vinegar as they say – and government has already been through this. I’d said that a reduction of tolls, per person by % by what’s IN the car being used to carpool is something that needs to be tried – to turn the approach around. If anti-accident, pro-car pooling and measures like what I’d offered to Paul Steely White about suggesting low, bike lane ‘rumble strips’ or whatever they’re called to warn vehicles about respecting bike lanes… can’t be called a measure of a coherent strategy, then someone’s missing some points.

    With a total of 9-10 minutes talking time on Tuesday evening, I’m going to say you got a TON MORE than what you relayed, here in the blog, no? My involvement surpassed your representation and 8-9 people of your membership approached me (that’s more than 10% of the total there) and waited patiently in that hot auditorium long after the forum, so I must have said something to make them want to speak with me?

    Now, granted there’s a strong chance that many TA members & Streetsblog readers have been raised in an era of absurd partisanship. You may want to depict a Republican in one-dimensional caricature — and that may actually be true with my GOP opponent. But with me…you have a man that’s just forced the 1st GOP Primary in history (that’s in history). A man doesn’t do this without reason, and for me the motivation is to greatly improve and maintain, and protect our communities – like no one else can. I have nothing owed to endorsements – and will listen to an argument on its merits, over influence exerted.

    Changing motorists’ behavior is not going to happen with Congestion Pricing, East River Bridge toll or charging Brooklyn residents for the right to park on a block (for what was free for the last 100 years) – but in your ideal, Congestion Pricing and more tolls would absolutely back traffic up so densely across downtown Brooklyn that it will create many more environmental issues & driving frustration, with no good end. You didn’t mention that candidates favor giving this revenue to the Transit Authority, who just raised fares, added another $1 to a now $11 Verrazano Bridge toll and still is so horribly mismanaged that its eliminating station agents and planning express F-trains in our area, without committing to increasing the number of trains in service. Do you realize what that will MEAN for the commuters of Carroll St. and Bergen St., when half the trains let’s say are bypassing their stops? The station agents that lose their jobs, at that point – will reflect on a moment of happiness, glad they weren’t in those stations as people wait 5-6 rows deep along platforms and need to ask someone for alternatives, vent frustration, etc. and no one is there but a Metrocard machine which will take the brunt. (Shortly, we’ll learn of a new $100 million program to replace battered Metrocard machines, with blame again placed squarely on the paying and over-paying public.)

    I live here, some of my friends & neighbors are world-class cyclists, 3 are members of TA (and they’re ALL Democrats and all supporting my campaign). One routinely bikes to Manhattan and participates in races from Floyd Bennett Field, works out at 4am everyday cycling and rides to Connecticut from Brooklyn by cycle on Friday afternoons. You don’t THINK I am concerned about his safety, and that of his immediately family? Another just came back from riding clean-across Iowa in an amazingly-recognized event there that’s day of fun, he said last night. Another routinely rides with his 8 yr old and 6 yr old children from Red Hook to Prospect Park and throughout Carroll Gardens on our streets. Again. Just try and contest where my heart lies, on this issue. All 3 couldn’t attend the forum – but are anxious to see & hear how I supported this issue.

    And ummm, not even a photo of Joe Nardiello…? Look, I’m aware of the length of this posting.. and the attention-span of most quickly surfing & clicking-thru at that. I wouldn’t have taken time out, here, unless I felt this issue is critical.

    Thanks for your time and consideration.

  • The following has been on my website since its inception. Watch how other candidates seek to re-write and add pages. I’ll just put your blog on my Twitter page, and leave it at that.

    _______

    Slow Down drivers through our Communities; Cut Waste

    The Council is also a legislative branch that can protect our community and we can begin with an aggressive agenda. Far too many drivers speed through our areas with reckless regard to what they’re doing – and accidents just don’t happen, they are a result of carelessness. We’re going to suggest far more severe penalties and Policing of highways, roadways and major access roads, and let it be known that injuries & loss of life is no longer ‘acceptable’ here. Joe will also help keep City agencies focused, investigate waste and delays, and work with the Mayor’s office to best bring our fair share of programs to our residents, and in kind to Mayoral attention. We’ll also work closely with a new Brooklyn coalition in the Council to drive a higher standard of accomplishment, as we all have overlapping concerns and our active lives don’t just happen in one District.

  • J. Mork

    Mr. Nardiello:

    1) Access-A-Ride.
    2) Please explain how congestion pricing would “back traffic up”.

  • Dowd

    I just called Lander’s office to find out his position. It appears he is not in favor of a trial closing, which basically means he’s not in favor of a car-free park.

  • Dowd

    I just spoke to Brad Lander. While I don’t want to be the one who articulates his position, I don’t want my prior comment to be my final characterization of it.

    I think Brad would respond to what I just wrote by saying that believes the best way to a car-free park is to bring aboard the residents of Windsor Terrace and Kensington who currently oppose it. Thus he wants to DOT to comprehensively address traffic issues in those neighborhoods before moving forward on the park issue. However, the traffic problems he wants addressed are not directly related to the diversion of park traffic.

    Although I don’t support his approach, I think it’s important to point out that he’s no Alvin Berk. In other words, he’s not pretending to be concerned about traffic in order to preserve the status quo.

  • Dear J. Mork (post #13),

    Thanks for responding & reading my post. Email me at joe@joe439.com or leave a message at 718 670-3211. I had a moment to return to the blog @noon.

    Imagine if cyclists were charged $3 for crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, or some ideologue in our state gov’t suddenly connects bike-pedestrian collisions with helter-skelter activity that needs to be controlled as they add to the chaos of lower Manhattan streets, and there are no more ‘free rides’ for cyclists, blah blah… you’d be outraged, and justly so.

    We all want to spur use of transportation alternatives. Remember, I’m also an independent mind that’s 100% against the reckless & careless driving I see throughout our communities. I know this is a cycling city — and that an organization like TA and others are substantial supporters of cycling, but it’s not 100% made up of young adults. It’s not also CARS vs. BIKES.

    To enact congestion pricing, there’s a process of getting paid — that takes more time than waiting for a stop sign. There’s arguments & non-payers, and procedures of sending bills at our Bridge tolls, now.. imagine how congestion pricing will back up single-lane streets. This and East River tolls, and then Street parking fees… We have to start making sense, across the board for our residents.

    People may drive to avoid the subway. Maintenance and temperatures down there, and grime and rats are also part of the experience, no? All at rising fares. I take it everyday. But, some people just don’t want to “take it” anymore, I’d imagine. Instead of MTA Board Members at the Hamptons, jetting with Paul McCartney, sipping drinks across suburbia… how about forcing them to sit at desks days at end in the grime of Hoyt & Schermerhorn St. or the 100-degree summer swelter at West 4th Street? Why does the $$$ go to NJ’s PATH and the LIRR with cleaner, brighter train service and cars — and the NYC subways (non-Eatside Manhattan) lag so far behind..

  • Mr. Nardiello: If you had paid attention at all during the congestion pricing and bridge toll debates, you would have noticed that there were NO PLANS FOR TOLLBOOTHS WHATSOEVER. All collection would be electronic, using EZ-Pass and cameras. So there would be no “arguments” or “non-payers”. Those without EZ-Pass would get a bill in the mail.

    As such, delays approaching bridges would DECREASE dramatically, because of the lower volume of traffic (many drivers would switch to transit to avoid paying), not increase.

    This works well in every other city with congestion pricing. Please stop deliberately providing misinformation.

    By the way, you are also completely misinformed about PATH. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the MTA.

  • Mr. Nardiello, haven’t you heard of EZPass? Stop attacking the straw man of “arguments and nonpayers, and procedures of sending bills at our Bridge tolls.”

  • Rah

    Mr. Nardiello, while I respect your willingness to attend a debate where your views would likely prove unpopular, and then refrain from pandering to the crowd, I think it’s safe to say that people on this blog are just going to have a fundamental difference with you in terms of political philosophy.

    I can’t afford a car and usually ride my bike to work. I am forced to subsidize our federal government’s costly (and that’s a huge understatement) foreign policy efforts to ensure a steady supply of cheap oil for this country so people can have their gas for $2 a gallon. I am forced to subsidize a road system that always seems to put motorists before pedestrians and bicyclists. Cars disproportionately harm the environments that they are used in, and not just in the context of air pollution. Your idea to tax bicyclists for crossing a bridge during their commute strikes me as a wholly unfair approach aimed at maintaining the status quo. And I have to say your apparent ignorance at the debate of the fact that you can bring a bike on the subway speaks volumes about the way you use mass transit. You don’t have to be a bicyclist to know that bikes are allowed on the subway, only a regular user of the system.

    As a conservative, do you want people to enjoy more freedom? What about my desire to live free of noise pollution generated by loud trucks, honking cars and the air pollution all of these vehicles generate? Does your political philosophy account for the fact that motorists rob me of the freedom to enjoy quiet, safe streets and clean air every day? Thank you.

  • Rah, Please tell the truth…If you need to leave our fair borough to visit a location not accessible by public transportation, or cycling, do you go by car? What about someone who is not physically able to use a bicycle as a means of transportation? Would someone requiring Access-a-Ride fall into the category of “motorist that would rob you the freedom to enjoy quiet safe streets and clean air”? While I agree with your opening remark to Joe Nardiello, that last sentence sounds extremely selfish.
    I too contribute more than my fair share to federal and state government programs, however I realize our neighborhoods are made up of many individuals. What happened to compassion? In my opinion, there are cyclists who also need to be a little more responsible while traveling our streets. Last night, a boy was hit by a cyclist who ran the red light. The child was in the cross walk on the other side of the intersection. Fortunately the child was not injured. Talk about harm in our environment. Oh no, I hear an ice cream truck and children yelling for their parents — so much for my quiet street.

  • Ian Turner

    Rosemary,

    Not sure where you’re going with this bicycle collission anecdote… There was a crash between a cyclist and a pedestrian (a child pedestrian, at that), and the result was … no injury. I think you’d agree that if the bicyclist had been driving a car instead the outcome would have been much worse, no?

  • Thank God it wasn’t a car! My intention with the anecdote however was to point out motorist are not always to blame for unsafe streets. In this occurrence, the motorists were obeying the traffic signal. I unfortunately have witness cyclists repeatedly ignore red lights, continuing carelessly along.

  • Rah

    Rosemary, my questions were posed to Mr. Nardiello in complete seriousness out of a desire to better understand his political beliefs and his candidacy. I’m not sure I understand all of the points you were trying to make, but I will do my best to answer them.

    I don’t own a car or have access to one, so I can honestly say that I don’t ever use a car in the city. I commute 40 minutes by bike to my job in Manhattan from Park Slope. My girlfriend used to live in Washington Heights. That meant either a bike ride of one hour or longer from home, or a train ride of about the same time when I wanted to see her. Bicycling in the city is one of my most favorite things to do in the world. If you are physically able to, I would encourage you to try it, just as an experiment. Rent a bike or borrow one from a friend and ride in Prospect Park on the weekend so you can feel comfortable and safe in a car-free environment. If you are anywhere close to 6 feet, I have one that you can borrow, and would be very happy to lend it to you.

    I used to own a car when I lived in suburban Maryland. One of the reasons I wanted to move to NYC was that so I could get rid of the thing, which I came to see as an albatross about my neck. I was ecstatic to be free of the aggravation of road rage, traffic, high gas, insurance and maintenance costs. I can’t argue with the fact that cars can make life much more convenient. But I was willing to sacrifice that convenience because I believe one less car makes for a better world. I support public policy that would discourage the use of automobiles in NYC because I believe that would make things safer for everyone who lives and works here, motorists included. If that makes me selfish in your eyes, so be it. Wouldn’t it be worth it if congestion pricing had saved the lives of those preschoolers who were run over and killed by an idling van earlier this year?

    Your remarks regarding Access-a-Ride are a red herring at best, and completely disingenuous at worst. Of course I am not advocating the elimination of motor vehicles that provide a public service, just as I would not advocate an end to ambulances, fire trucks or police cars. They are what I consider an obvious exception to the rule. I support policies that shift people’s ideas about transportation so that they embrace, or even just consider, alternative ways of getting around. I don’t know what Mr. Nardiello’s position is on the MTA, but I would hope that he would support an increase of the city’s contribution to the agency. Those extra dollars could be used to further subsidize services like Access-a-Ride, or to improve the city’s often atrocious bus service so that disabled people have an easier time getting around. Lord knows the subways are useless to someone in a wheelchair.

    Pedestrian, bicyclist, motorist–all have a responsibility to ensure that we can navigate our city safely and comfortably. People often forget that bicyclists are also pedestrians, and I too have been left angry after getting buzzed by a bicyclist in a crosswalk. But motorists present the greatest threat to all, and therefore carry the greatest responsibility. In a statement released after the death of the preschoolers, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said it best. “In New York City overall last year some 300 people were killed in traffic accidents — nearly one person every day — and hundreds more were injured, with children and the elderly being particularly vulnerable on our congested streets. The city must take a systematic look in every neighborhood at measures like sidewalk bollards and speed bumps, as well as strict traffic enforcement, to make it safer for New Yorkers to walk the streets of their city.”

  • Ian Turner

    Hi Rosemary,

    Just to respond to your most recent comment: All road users disobey the law in New York, but the important fact is that only drivers’ mistakes result in deaths. While we may feel inconvenienced or annoyed by scofflaw pedestrians or cyclists, our feeling is just that — inconvenience or annoyance. Because of their greater ability to kill and maim, we must place more restrictions on driving and hold drivers to a higher standard than we do users of other modes.

    Cheers,

    –Ian

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