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

DOT plans to reduce congestion will not bring the same gains as road pricing, which Mayor de Blasio won't lift a finger to see enacted despite a supportive City Council.

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

Testifying before the City Council today, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said City Hall isn’t interested in challenging the idea that toll reform is up to Albany, rather than NYC.

NYU law professor Roderick Hills believes a 1957 amendment to the state vehicle and traffic law allows the city to levy “tolls, taxes, [and] frees… for the use of the highway or any of its parts where the imposition thereof is authorized by law.” In light of Hills’ analysis, the Move New York campaign has proposed a “home rule” congestion pricing model that would toll the four East River bridges and a 60th Street cordon at $2.75 — the cost of a subway ride — and tax for-hire vehicle and taxi trips in the densest parts of Manhattan.

The plan would raise $1.1 billion annually for transit, about $400 million less than the “full” Move New York plan.

But Trottenberg made clear that congestion pricing isn’t on City Hall’s agenda. “Many attorneys over a number of administrations have looked at this question very carefully,” she told council members. “They all determined that the city doesn’t have the legal authority, that we need to get that authority from the state.”

Trottenberg, NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan, and their colleagues outlined other steps the city plans take to address traffic: new curbside regulations, off-peak commercial deliveries, investment in bike and bus infrastructure, and more enforcement against placard abuse, blocking bus lanes, and other congestion-inducing violations.

Those proposals were received positively, but council members said the city should also pursue road pricing — which would reduce car trips in the densest part of the city with the added benefit of providing revenue for subways and buses. Corey Johnson, who represents some of the most congested parts of Manhattan, told Trottenberg the DOT plans were “tinkering around the edges.”

Pressed by Council Member Jumaane Williams to elaborate on the administration’s position on toll reform, Trottenberg called it a “tremendously useful tool,” but said the mayor does not see it as politically viable.

Speaking to reporters outside the hearing, Move New York campaign director Alex Matthiessen disputed Trottenberg’s position that bridge tolls are the sole authority of the state. “There is no question in our mind the city absolutely does have the authority,” he said. “[Professor Hills] has done extensive research on this and says that, actually, the issue hasn’t been looked at in any serious way since 1957.”

Council members who want to see toll reform enacted don’t need de Blasio to conduct a legal analysis and draft legislation, said Matthiessen. “Let’s let the City Council take the first crack at looking at this issue,” he said.

Chart: Charles Komanoff
Chart: Charles Komanoff

The mayor has teased a forthcoming congestion plan for months, but Trottenberg told reporters the plan would be a “rolling” one, of which the broad concepts presented today were the first piece.

  • J

    I believe you mean it will produce $400 million less than the Albany version, not $400,000

  • Could they at least start with parking? Theres no question NYC has full control over that. Why are delivery trucks allowed unlimited free parking – in a travel lane – by simply activating their flashing yellow blinkers?

  • Aaaugh.

    A couple of points to explain my groan:

    Yes, congestion pricing would be the most straightforward and foolproof way to manage CBD congestion while providing the revenue the city needs to expand transit infrastructure. And BDB has always been clear that he won’t be the guy to get it done. That stinks. But, alarmingly, he’s still the most progressive on transit issues, and many of his Democratic rivals have been staunchly against it.

    The state is doing us no favors either, and this IDC garbage is such a huge driver of our woes right now. Republicans do not just manage conservatively, they deprive urban communities of services and necessary government by misapplying rural/suburban priorities.

    Finally, NYC DOT is painfully naive if they think they can be trusted to enact “smart” curbside management. The existing traditional curbside policy model is not enforced in any sort of way that discourages violations. (It’s “enforced” such that lots of vehicles rack up gotcha-style tickets all day, and then those tickets are priced into the vehicle service model, or paid by grudging citizens, or ignored altogether by fleet businesses) Cabs and commercial deliveries double-park all the time without hesitation, right now. Overlaying a complex enforcement model on top of this is a stupid idea unless NYPD is a willing and motivated partner. But NYPD treats the entire city like we’re the boil on its ass. Maybe this would be an exception for them. DOT needs to prove it.

  • Brad Aaron

    Fixed. Thanks.

  • reasonableexplanation

    At least speaking for Brooklyn and Queens, the thing that would reduce congestion the most right now with minimal investment or changes would be aggressively going after double parking/standing on main/commercial streets.

    So many times there will be cars, delivery vans, or whatever double parked on a commercial street, either turning a 2 lane road into a 1 lane road, or forcing other motorists to cross into oncoming traffic to pass them.

    At the same time there will be plenty of ‘standing room’ around the corner on a side street, whether that’s a driveway or a hydrant.

    Asking meter maids to tell these people to move if they’re in their cars, or call the tow truck if they’re not, (and askign them to prioritize this beofre other types of parkign tickets) would free up so much capacity on the streets that actually need it. A double parked vehicle is a lot less of a hassle on a side street, where everyone’s going slow anyway. And more than likely it won’t even need to double park there as there will be ample hydrant/driveway space.

    One of the most infuriating things is when a vehicle double parks despite there being a hydrant or driveway available a car length or two down to block.

  • Flakker

    So this comes down to “asking” people to do things even while acknowledging that the norm for New York City drivers is total sociopathy and needlessly obnoxious behavior

  • reasonableexplanation

    I mean, you can ticket them if you like, doesn’t make difference to me.

    The goal is for people to get the message that double parking on main, congested streets is no longer okay.

    I have a feeling there won’t be significant push-back if people are asked to move instead of immediately ticketed. If you just have ticket blitz, the usual suspects will be yelling ‘cash-grab.’

    (Unoccupied car though? Tow that sucker.)

  • Flakker

    The fact that it took this long to get to this point shows that no one’s serious about anything. The parasitic police load that Bloomberg at least had the guts to confront directly on occasion runs everything. Once the cowards on city council rolled him on hiring more cops for “counter-terrorism” and “community policing”, there was no question about it. They physically prove it every day by seizing up public space all over the city for their own pointless monopoly.

    And while I agree with much of what you say, let’s dispense with the euphemisms. Virtually everybody in the state legislature has a driver mindset and is not particularly motivated by the common good. The Democrats in the Assembly are led by a guy who inherited a condo from his mom’s taxpayer fraud and won’t give it back. The Democrats in the Senate are led by another nobody in a series of them who bleats pathetic pleas to the IDC to rejoin their corrupt clique instead of making every re-election for them a political fight to the death. If Clinton had won, Jeffrey Klein would be well on his way to taking over the Senate Democrats entirely. Instead, because New York City Democratic primary voters are non-ideological, everything is a referendum on Trump, the person. Nothing would be different, transportation-wise, if the IDC collapsed tomorrow. And if it did collapse for its own internal disputes, IDC 2 would emerge soon afterwards, just like the IDC emerged after the 3 Amigos showed that the Democratic Party of New York is impotent.

  • Flakker

    Getting asked to move is the standard for blocking the box behavior etc. It does nothing. Brian is right about the current dynamic being loading up on gotcha tickets that breed justified resentment towards law enforcement while ignoring blatant, more serious violations all over the place.

  • Urbanely

    I don’t think that encouraging people to block driveways is the answer. People take alot of liberties with hydrants and driveways already. It goes from standing for a little bit to standing a bit longer to straight up parking. I live on a corner with a hydrant and a “no standing” sign at right angles to each other. People always end up parking in both. The parking in the no standing is especially problematic because it narrows the street view for everyone on an already curved and narrow street. People should just learn to park a little farther and walk a few more steps.

  • Andrew

    Exactly.

    If you want to double-park your car, and the worst that can happen is that you’ll be asked to leave, you’ll continue to double park. Sometimes, you’ll luck out and nobody will ask you to leave. Sometimes, you’ll be asked to leave. There’s no disincentive to not double-park in the first place.

    If, instead of simply being asked to leave, you know that you might be ticketed to being double-parked, you may think twice before double-parking.

  • AMH

    People will block a travel lane RIGHT NEXT TO available curb space, which is the epitome of laziness.

  • AMH

    Traffic agents need to be empowered to stop this shit. What astounds me is that traffic agents are afraid to confront law-breaking drivers out of fear for their own safety. That says everything that needs to be said about NYC drivers.

  • AMH

    More to the point, why is any car driver allowed unlimited free parking (in most places) simply by parking there?

  • reasonableexplanation

    Although I agree with the goal, I disagree with your analysis of the status quo. Currently meter maids focus on meter tickets and hydrant parking; they’ll walk by the line of cars double parked/standing along the street, unless it;s at a bus stop. I propose updating their priorities.

  • reasonableexplanation

    I think blocking a driveway or hydrant is fine if the driver remains with the vehicle. It doesn’t cause any significant disruption compared to blocking a travel or bike lane.

  • Joe R.

    A good analogy to this would be if we simply asked people who evade the fare on mass transit to pay if they got caught. That would provide absolutely no incentive to pay the fare, just as simply being asked to leave provides zero incentive not to double-park. We fine fare evaders when they’re caught. We should do likewise with people who double park. The fact we encourage this practice with extra-wide parking lanes makes the situation even more egregious.

  • Joe R.

    Another thing we should do is start towing cars with out of state plates after they remain parked in the same area for more than a reasonable amount of time (two weeks?). The fact is quite a few people who own cars couldn’t afford to own them if they had to pay the going rate for insurance in NYC. Fewer cars equals less parking problems. Better yet, pass a law which prohibits cars with out of state plates from parking in the street overnight. If someone is visiting NYC from out of state, they would have to park in either a garage or the driveway of the person they’re visiting. Those who live in NYC but register out of state would have to do the same, or face the possibility of their vehicle being towed. That alone would create a huge disincentive to register cars out of state.

  • Andrew

    Or asking shoplifters to please pay for their groceries if they happen to get caught. Or asking tax cheats to please pay their taxes if they happen to get caught.

    If there isn’t a 100% (or near-100%) chance of getting caught, there needs to be a penalty for noncompliance, or else people will only bother to comply when explicitly asked to do so.

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