4 Ways the Mayor Can Reduce Congestion Without Congestion Pricing

In his "State of the City" speech on Monday, Mayor de Blasio said he'd soon release a plan to address growing congestion in the city. Photo: NYC Mayor's Office
In his "State of the City" speech on Monday, Mayor de Blasio said he'd soon release a plan to address growing congestion in the city. Photo: NYC Mayor's Office

Speaking at an event in Brooklyn yesterday, Mayor de Blasio said his forthcoming congestion plan, which he teased last month on WNYC and again in his “State of the City” speech on Monday, won’t include tolling East River bridges, AM New York reports.

De Blasio said he understands “the intellectual rationale” for congestion pricing, which stalled in the Assembly in 2008, but that he’s “always had concerns.” (He voted against it as a City Council member then later as public advocate said he was “open” to bridge tolls.)

The political reality is that Move New York toll reform, the traffic pricing plan that’s accumulated several sponsors in Albany, hinges on support from Governor Andrew Cuomo more than de Blasio.

But de Blasio has plenty of other options at his disposal to reduce traffic congestion. Here are four policies that would provide much-needed traffic relief on NYC streets. They may not pack the same punch as Move NY, but they are within the mayor’s power to enact. It’s difficult to imagine any City Hall-led traffic reduction initiative that doesn’t include some of these ideas.

1. Charge smarter prices for curbside parking

In neighborhood commercial districts, drivers cruising for open parking spaces account for a large share of traffic. Because on-street parking is so cheap, it’s worth motorists’ time to circle around looking for an open spot instead of paying the premium to park in a garage.

The PARK Smart program, which DOT launched in Greenwich Village in 2008 but has expanded to only a handful of neighborhoods since then, addresses the problem by charging dynamic rates for curbside parking that increase when demand is highest. The program has proven successful at reducing the amount of time drivers occupy a given parking space.

Last January, DOT promised “a more comprehensive management plan for the metered parking environment,” but that plan has yet to materialize. The recent introduction of ParkNYC, the city’s new mobile parking meter app, is a hopeful sign: In announcing the new technology, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said it “opens the door” for smarting parking policy, and that the city is now “technology-enabled to move forward with [dynamic pricing].”

2. Parking placard reform

The city’s 100,000-plus parking placards are a big contributor to congestion, and the unknown number of bogus placards used by people exploiting the system don’t help either. Just walk around public buildings in Lower Manhattan to see how many government employees (and impostors) use their placards to drive and park illegally with impunity. A 2006 study by Bruce Schaller concluded that these parking perks induce tens of thousands of car trips each day into the most transit-rich, congestion-choked parts of the city.

NYPD officials have not shown any interest in placard reform, and any push from City Hall is certain to pit the mayor against the city’s municipal unions, as it did during the Bloomberg administration. Nevertheless, placard reform remains one of the most powerful tools to address congestion at the mayor’s disposal.

3. HOV restrictions on East River bridges

In 2001, after the September 11th attacks, the Giuliani administration banned single-occupancy vehicles from crossing bridges and tunnels into Manhattan south of 63rd Street between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m, which resulted in a 23 percent decrease in traffic during the morning peak. On October 17, the city shortened the restriction by one hour, to 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., which resulted in a 15 percent decrease from before the attacks.

While rush-hour HOV restrictions are a blunt instrument compared to toll reform, the impact could still be significant, reducing the amount of cars coming into Midtown and Lower Manhattan at the times when the street grid needs the most relief.

Typically, the city has only enacted HOV restrictions in the central city during extraordinary situations like a transit strike or the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. But like those events, the looming L train shutdown will create enormous strain on the transportation system, and HOV restrictions will make a lot of sense as part of the plan to keep New Yorkers moving.

4. Prioritize bus service on city streets

A street grid where transit doesn’t take priority over private cars simply can’t handle the city’s growing population. Currently, DOT and the MTA roll out a couple of Select Bus Service routes with dedicated bus lanes each year. But de Blasio doesn’t have to wait for the expansion of SBS to paint more bus lanes and add transit priority at traffic signals.

DOT has identified street segments where buses need priority, and the agency is in the process of generating a citywide plan to speed up buses. It won’t cure congestion, but strong follow through on this initiative from the mayor will help New York City’s car-free majority bypass traffic bottlenecks.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The political reality is that Move New York toll reform, the traffic pricing plan that’s accumulated several sponsors in Albany, hinges on support from Governor Andrew Cuomo more than de Blasio.”

    It requires both. These are city bridges, paid for by the city. The city could toll them and keep the revenue, but it needs permission from the state, I guess. But the state can’t toll them and keep the revenue for the MTA without permission from the city.

  • “but it needs permission from the state, I guess”

    Aside from the idea that this doesn’t contradict the idea of the statement in the article – and the reality is that MNY definitely hinges on support from the Governor, while the mayor has only been tight-lipped about it (neither strongly approving nor denouncing) – we should probably also figure out if the city could actually toll the East River bridges unilaterally.

    I do not know the answer to this either, and it’s not something we could Google if some ancient/obscure Albany law establishes domain over municipal tolling. But still. Our effort should be in doing the research, not in complaining about politicians. We are the people who are interested in actual solutions to transportation issues, we are not bored Albany beat reporters who are only looking at the cat-and-mouse games between various electeds.

  • c2check

    Great points.
    I’d just modify one sentence slightly to show the absurdity that “parking perks induce tens of thousands of car trips each day into the most transit-rich” part of the entire country…

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Additions:

    – Doing something about widespread false registration/insurance fraud. Some of these people would re-register in New York, but probably a lot would get rid of cars they don’t need and can’t afford at actual NYC rates.

    – Hot take: eliminating alternate side parking. This is perhaps anecdotal but it appears to me that traffic volume is drastically lower when alternate side parking is suspended. The streets will end up filthy and filled with trash without being able to sweep to the curb, but they already are. I suspect a lot of people are driving to work on alternate side days solely because they have to move their car anyway.

  • Larry Littlefield

    This is not the year the Mayor is going to battle powerful special interests. This is the year he is going to pander to them at the expense of the rest of us.

    For Cuomo, that’s next year and in 2020.

    The more they have national aspirations, the more they pander to local interest groups with national connections. Lots of retired public employees in Florida, for example, and lots of Wall Street money available here.

    So I’d like to tell both those guys — don’t run. I’m compiling data on New York’s finances compared with other states. In any states were anyone is worried their taxes might soar, these guys can’t win.

  • Jason

    “In 2001, after the September 11th attacks, the Giuliani administration banned single-occupancy vehicles from crossing bridges and tunnels into Manhattan south of 63rd Street between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m, which resulted in a 23 percent decrease in traffic during the morning peak. On October 17, the city shortened the restriction by one hour, to 6 a.m. to 11 a.m., which resulted in a 15 percent decrease from before the attacks.”

    …what?

  • walks bikes drives

    But DoS themselves published a report showing that there is no significant difference in the cleanliness between streets with 2 days per side of ASP, 1 day per side of ASP, or no ASP.

    But the city doesn’t want to eliminate it because it is a large revenue stream. But this can be made up instead with a residential parking permit with an appropriate fee. I suggest an annual fee of $300 to park overnight in your own neighborhood as per your car registration.

  • reasonableexplanation

    In regards to the registrations, I guess it varies by neighborhood, but at least in the parts of Brooklyn I frequent I rarely see out of state plates.

    Having said that, when I do see out of state plates, it’s usually on very expensive cars, not beaters; Escalades and the like. I doubt someone would get rid of a 70k car over having to pay nyc insurance rates.

    Not that I’m opposed to the idea, but it seems like it won’t make that much of a difference.

  • So you forbid parking of out-of-state cars on NYC streets. Induced demand will fill those spots right up again with the cars of people who up until the decree found it too much of a pain to find street parking. This would include people who are using garages right now and people who have time-consuming public-transit commutes (like myself).

  • David Meyer

    Fixed. Thanks.

  • Vooch

    surely you mean $300 a month in lower density places such as Bayside,Queens and $800 a month in higher density areas such as Manhattan, Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, and Astoria

  • walks bikes drives

    We’ve had this discussion before. There is no reason to charge more money for street parking than market rate garage parking.

  • On the contrary, street parking is more conveniently located and doesn’t involve having to call the garage up the night before to have your car ready for the morning.

    Consider a family preparing for a car trip with children and luggage. If the garage is 10 minutes’ walk away, that’s 10 minutes to the garage, 5 minutes while the car is brought out, and 5 minutes to return to in front of the house: that’s 20 minutes earlier that the driver has to get up in order to leave the house at the same time.

  • Kevin Love

    Yes, we believe in free market capitalism, not socialism. The government should not be providing unfair competition with private businesses that run car parking garages.

  • reasonableexplanation

    Typical Manhattan garages have attendants that have to be paid, as well as insurance, in case they mess up your car. In addition your car is not at risk of getting scratched, keyed, or broken into. Street parking does not have these protections.

    Street parking can be more conveniently located, or it could be further. There aren’t exactly assigned spots you know.

  • Vooch

    Dude,

    100000000% agreed.

    so you agree that once curbside parking is charged a market clearing price …..then parking garages will increase there prices because of increased demand….

    and that means cost of curbside parking SHOULD be increased to match

    and so on

    a virtuous cycle

  • Vooch

    what about offering a 75 year concession for some enterprise to charge for curbside parking ?

  • walks bikes drives

    I park on the street. There is a parking garage right around the corner. There are commercial parking garages on almost every block here on the UWS. Typically, my car is parked farther away than the closest garage. Parking on the street requires loading and unloading in the rain while a garage has a roof above. During snow storms, cars on the street must be shoveled out and cleaned off, while cars in garages. The likely hood is exponentially higher of a car being vandalized, broken into, or stolen is higher when parked on the street. The likely hood of damage to your car by a passing vehicle without the culprit paying repairs is off the charts versus garages, because garages pay for/repair any damage that happens. Parking outdoors subjects your vehicle to the elements and therefor time before paint fade, rust, and other finish issues occurs is drastically accelerated versus parking in a garage. A parking garage has a guaranteed space for you, 24 hours a day. When parked in a garage, ASP is not even a thought. A double parked car can keep you from being able to leave your parking space for as long as the person chooses to double park. Need I go on? There is actually nothing more convenient about parking on the street except for the rare occurrence of finding a spot right in front of your building.

  • These are great points for parking in a garage, but I will point out two things:

    1. “Convenience” has a specific meaning, completely unrelated to “paint fade, rust and other finish issues.”

    2. Not every New York street is on the Upper West Side.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Council members are bullish on a new "home rule" congestion pricing proposal, but City Hall contends that it's an issue for Albany.

Trottenberg Offers Congestion Solutions, But de Blasio Administration Won’t Touch Toll Reform

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In light of a new legal analysis that concluded NYC can toll its own streets without waiting for Albany, the Move New York campaign has proposed a "home rule" version of its road pricing plan that would charge $2.75 to drive across the four East River bridges and a 60th Street cordon and tax for-hire vehicle and taxi trips in the densest parts of Manhattan. But despite a supportive City Council, the de Blasio administration isn't adding road pricing to its agenda.