Adriano Espaillat Was for Cut-Through Traffic Before He Was Against It

Adriano Espaillat

I nearly spit out my coffee when I saw that Adriano Espaillat had signed on in support of the Inwood slow zone application.

See, while he endorsed Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan, the state senator from Upper Manhattan adamantly opposes placing tolls on Harlem River bridges, preferring that Inwood remain a bypass for toll-shopping motorists bound for the Bronx and Westchester.

Public remarks indicate that Espaillat is well aware of the added burden on the neighborhood, but he believes it’s worth it to keep motorists’ expenses down. He also claims that most local residents, the vast majority of whom don’t own cars, feel the same way.

So now that he’s helped make sure there will be plenty of rat-running traffic through his constituents’ streets for years to come, Espaillat is concerned about those drivers putting lives at risk as they whip past the schools, parks and playgrounds of northwest Inwood.

I can hear the horns as I type. Thanks for the assist, senator.

  • Mark S.

    The premise here seems to be that all tolls are good. Not so! Just because it’s a bridge doesn’t mean that it deserves a toll.

    In this case, tolling the Harlem River bridges should not be equated with tolling the East River bridges. The East River bridges lead right into the heart of the Central Business District and there are great transit alternatives. The Harlem River bridges serve the local communities, where jobs don’t pay nearly what they do in Midtown, and tolling those bridges could have an adverse impact in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx. Transit access is not nearly as complete there as in Midtown and downtown, either.

  • Isaac B

    So, Mr. Espaillat is “on board” with some of the “livability” program.

    It would help advocates if they understand the roots of his objections to the remainder of it.

    Slow zone, check.

    Congestion pricing. For it. Unlike other pols from “outside the cordon” who painted “nightmare scenarios” of “frail elderly who will die because they will be unable to see their doctors” (ignoring that CP was a fee, not a car ban). My guess is that (being in Manhattan) the majority of his constituents would take transit, not drive, to lower Manhattan.

    Ignoring the environmental and social benefits of fewer cars on the road, tolling all access to his neighborhood would impose a new fee on his residents who use their cars to work or shop in the Bronx, Queens and Westchester. It would also impose a new fee on those people (with roots in the neighborhood) who come back to shop and entertain (a scenario repeated in communities throughout the metro area), who’ve achieved “the dream” (aka a house in the suburbs and a car), but come back often to shop, entertain or visit family. People get wary when government imposes a new fee or takes away a service (consider how we react to $.25 fare hikes). People don’t think big picture. They think “WIIFM”. This is challenge and opportunity. How do we get people to come back to the neighborhood, while leaving the car at home or paying to support the infrastructure you benefit from.

  • Glenn

    Like all politicians, trade-offs are not something they like. They want to be seen as pro-car to motorists and pro-pedestrian to everyone else too. That’s why you keep trying different strategies until you find winners. Starting from the bottom up with ideas like the slow zone, can incrementally help because then you have started to get rid of part of the problem – speeding. It may in the end achieve more than a toll would have from a safety perspective anyway.

    Also, Mark S makes a very good point about CBD vs. periphery. Still I’d be for something like the Sam Schwartz plan that really optimized tolls for trucks and cars to keep them away from the most crowded parts of the city if they are just passing through

  • Charley Ferrari

    I have to agree with the comments so far.  Congestion pricing is not the same as tolling the Harlem River Bridges.  There’s no reason why you should pay more to drive from Inwood to Morris Heights than from Inwood to Washington Heights.  If given the choice between this or nothing, getting some tolls in there is better than no pricing structure at all, but this is a poor substitute for more traditional congestion pricing schemes.
    Should you be driving to any of those places from Inwood? No. Does Espaillat support keeping bridges simply because of pressure from cab companies? Wouldn’t surprise me. 

    Now, there is a very real problem of people on longer drives using local bridges at the last minute.  I’ve always wondered if it is possible to set up a pricing scenario where sensors are installed at the Dyckman St and Kappock or Riverdale Ave on the Henry Hudson to catch those cheaters (and along I-87 to catch Triboro Bridge cheaters). That way you catch the real people causing the congestion without impeding local connections.

  • Joe R.

    You could toll all the bridges but make them free for city residents only. This would discourage the through traffic and suburban car commuters who comprise the bulk of rush hour traffic.

    I’d also love to see a congestion pricing scheme which charges for entry into NYC limits rather than just the Manhattan CBD. This would probably keep out suburban car commuters altogether.

  • The problem with not tolling bridges is that bridges, even the Harlem River Bridges, are far more expensive to maintain and replace than streets. The new Willis Avenue Bridge, for instance, costs over half a BILLION dollars. http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/bridges/willis.shtml

    Someone has to pay for the new Willis Avenue Bridge. Either it’s the people who are using it (tolls), or everybody (tax-funded), or future generations (debt funded). But we can’t just handwave the costs of the bridges away by saying that they are functionally streets connecting neighborhoods.

  • Anonymous

    This long-time congestion pricing analyst and advocate agrees completely with Mark S.

  • Brad Aaron

    @0496b4f7904286e562a38f64d14f8a26:disqus @Komanoff:disqus Inwood is not midtown, but the cut-through and recreational traffic problem is very real. If you guys know a better way to address it that doesn’t leave transit riders and car-free households bearing the cost, a lot of people would love to hear.

  • Charley Ferrari

    @jrab:disqus That is true, and in an ideal world I’d like to see funds taken from gas taxes, but there are two slightly different ends here that are worth noting.  The goal of congestion pricing isn’t to raise funds for roads otherwise taken out of general funds, it’s to price the normally unpriced externalities of congestion to come up with more efficient transportation choices.  Tolls on Harlem River bridges aren’t the most efficient way to do this, since it’s inefficient to include Upper Manhattan in pricing that is meant to curb CBD travel.

    I’d also argue that your logic applies more to sprawly bridges like the Tappen Zee than the Willis Avenue Bridge.  If there are no more funds for a rebuild of the Tappen Zee Bridge and it’s torn down drivers will be inconvenienced, there will be a very noticeable decrease in driving, and in the long term more transit oriented development will take place in Rockland County.  If the same thing were to happen to the Willis Avenue Bridge, there will be less connections and a less continuous urban fabric between the Bronx and Upper Manhattan.

    Suburban drivers wouldn’t be hurt, all residents of the West Bronx would be hurt by this decreased connectivity.  They’d have less local destination options since in effect Upper Manhattan would be further away, and residents would be relatively more dependent on going to business centers in the CBD or Westchester as a result.

  • Mr. Ferrari, maintenance of the Harlem River bridges costs money, and someone has to pay, no matter how integral they are to the “continuous urban fabric.” Who should that be? You have three options: bridge users, today’s taxpayers, or tomorrow’s taxpayers.

    Yesterday in my comment I cautioned against “handwav[ing] the costs of the bridges away by saying that they are functionally streets connecting neighborhoods,” but you went ahead and did it anyway. Ready for a second go-round?

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