A Brief History of New York City Congestion Charging

Car-Free lunchtime on Madison Avenue, April 19, 1971. New York City policy-makers haven’t seriously considered traffic reduction since the Lindsay Administration. (Image courtesy of Jeff Zupan)

This week’s New York Magazine publishes a brief timeline of the history of congestion charging in New York City, adapted from a much lengthier article that I reported and wrote a few months ago. I’ll publish the longer piece later today here on Streetsblog. For now, here is New York Magazine’s Unlocking the Gridlock:

It’s traffic week! And not because of holiday shoppers. In the eye of the storm between election cycles, city politicians have exactly one year to tackle one of the most pressing yet sensitive issues there is: congestion. "The gridlock on our streets has become a brake on the city’s economy," asserts Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, an association of top city business leaders. This week, hers and a handful of other groups will roll out reports and hold conferences on the topic. Opponents have been prepping for an all-out spin war. A few weeks ago, Walter McCaffrey, a city councilman turned lobbyist, says he was hired by a nascent group calling itself the Committee to Keep New York City Congestion-Tax Free. Wylde says it’s really just "a front" for the Metropolitan Garage Owners Association. (McCaffrey says the New York State Restaurant Association is with him.) Wylde’s report will propose "anything from improved mass transit to road charges."

Read on…

  • Who’s Nick Naperstek?

  • Mitch

    The first time I looked at this item, I read the group’s name as “the Committee to Keep New York City Congestion Tax-Free.”

  • He couldn’t be related to me. The last name is spelled differently.

    Can you believe it? I spent hours working with the fact-checkers over there and that’s how my byline turned out. Oh, well.

  • ddartley

    One concern I have:

    In 1975 Singapore such a program resulted in 22% increase in traffic speed?

    I am really on the fence about congestion pricing in NYC, largely for that reason.

    Whether or not it comes to pass, I think substantial, universal traffic calming would be a bigger boon to public health and safety.

    There was a brief discussion of NYC speed limits in a recent thread. As a former driver, and now a NYC pedestrian/cyclist, I see no reason for speed limits to be as high at 30 mph on city streets.

  • Steve

    I agree on 30 MPH being too high–especially since there is always the free “+10” that virtually every driver takes. You could also consider a differential limit depending upon street width, mix of anticipated street users, arterial role of roadway, other factors. Residential cross-streets should be 15 MPH in my view, to hold drivers down to 25 MPH.

  • Dartley: If a congestion charging program is done correctly then the reduction in motor vehicles will be matched by a tightening of street space allocated to motor vehicles. The newly freed up street space will be given over to buses, bikes and peds. You’re not going to see cars screaming through Midtown Manhattan on wide, empty streets.

  • ddartley

    Aaron, I would not be on the fence if I were confident that the vision you describe would be fully realized. But I am very skeptical about government getting new, exciting, positive initiatives right or complete.

    (Just look at the “keep out of the way-rrows.”)

    Still, these are hopeful times.

  • Am I missing something – is it only the timeline that got published?

  • Nicolo Machiavelli

    Watch out Bro., that Garage group and the Restraunteurs were the ones who paid Sam Schwartz to massacre the decongesting traffic control systems in place after 911. Schwartz has a lot of cred but knows how to cash a check.

  • Mike

    I wonder how much garage owners would suffer, given that a congestion charge would eliminate mainly the people who couldn’t afford parking to begin with.

    Moreso for restaurants. I would imagine their are plenty of big spenders who wouldn’t drive into town for dinner because the streets and bridges are clogged with night-shift doorman, hospital workers, cops, etc.

  • David Chesler

    A 22% increase in speed does not mean the speed _limit_ would go from 30mph to 35mph; it means that much less time spent in the kind of traffic where it would be faster to walk.

  • ddartley

    David, I know the 22% was not in speed *limit.*

    We all know that currently, when there is any stretch of Avenue even slightly clear of traffic, motorists hit 40 mph and up all the time. I’m just worried about that being a dangerous side effect of something otherwise good.

    I’m concerned that if congestion pricing does happen, there will be political backlash against “the anti-car nuts,” and SAFETY improvements such as reducing speed limits (which in my opinion should be #1), will not be happen.

    Any congestion pricing scheme that takes effect had better look like what Aaron’s #6 response describes, or else, I fear, it will damage safety while it improves health.

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    The Garage owners are affected by increasing land rents (R.E. Prices). Their property will become proportionally more valuable and they will be displaced. Restaurants will actually make more money because less of it will go to time spent driving to the resaurant. But you cant tell them that until after you set up the system. Until then they will hire Sam Schwartz, or anyone else with some cred, to kill the system.

  • David Chesler

    I admit I’m out of the loop. What speed are the avenue lights synchronized for now? (Not that it stops people, but there’s no point in speeding faster than the synchronized speed once you’re near the front.)


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