Traffic Relief Advocates: Meet Your Opponents

Front row, left to right: Councilmember Melinda Katz, Councilmember Leroy Comrie, Councilmember Helen Sears, Councilmember David Weprin, Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free spokesman Walter McCaffrey,  Ray Irrera from the Queens Chamber of Commerce is behind McCaffrey, Joe Conley of Queens Community Board 2 and John Corlett from AAA. (Photo: Aaron Naparstek)

In response to the Partnership for New York City’s report, Growth or Gridlock: The Economic Case for Traffic Relief and Transit Improvements for a Greater New York, Queens City Council and Community Board members, labor groups and the Automobile Club of New York rallied on the steps of City Hall yesterday afternoon to make the case that a London-style congestion charging system would be unfair to New York City’s outer borough neighborhoods, workers and businesses.

Here is some of what they had to say:

John Durso, President of Local 338, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union: 
Congestion charging would transfer congestion from Manhattan to the streets of the other four boroughs. Traffic congestion is a citywide problem. It’s not fair to shift the burden to one borough over another. We dispute the claim that this has worked in London.

John Corlette, Automobile Club of New York:
There were some good ideas in the Partnership’s report but congestion charging isn’t one of them. Better ideas to solve the city’s congestion problem: Fixing signal timings, more enforcement of blocking the box, more off-street parking, and bus rapid transit. We’ve got a new governor and a new Congress. Hopefully they will bring home more dollars for transportation.

Joe Conley, Queens Community Board 2: 
We’ll be bearing the price for congestion charging. It will force more traffic into our neighborhood streets.

Councilmember David Weprin:
A tax is a tax is a tax but what’s different about this one is that it predominantly effects four of the boroughs. The nearest subway station is three miles away from my constituents on the Nassau County border. The answer to congestion is better enforcement. In Manhattan you’ve got double and triple parked cars all over the pace. Taxis pick up passengers wherever they want. They stop in the middle of the street. That’s where our resources should be going in reducing congestion — enforcement.

Councilmember Leroy Comrie:
Congestion charging has proven not to work in London. The answer is better mass transit into Queens. Better express bus service.

Councilmember Helen Sears:
We’re not against the environment. We have to think about pollution and health problems. But this is such a punitive measure. If you do this, neighborhood streets around the subway stations will be loaded with parked cars. Trucks are a big problem. We should study trucks. Before we do something harmful this has to be studied further.

Councilmember Melinda Katz:
We have to think about what kind of precedent this sets — to make people pay to go into a particular area of the city [Editor’s note: You mean, like subway riders do?]. People will be parking on our streets and taking subways into Manhattan. We are all one city. We have to work with each other and deal with each other.

Walter McCaffrey, Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free:
The economic effects of this plan will be devastating. The Partnership’s proposal is all fluff at the moment.

  • Media Boy

    Geez, looks like they got a lot of tv coverage, how many microphones do I count, em, er, one?

  • There was hardly any press there.

  • Amazing that from your report, that out of all of the people speaking the automobile club guy seemed to say the most intelligent comments. The councilmembers need to be schooled, especially Weprin who just speaks nonsense everytime he opens his mouth.

    Dangling a big system of REAL bus rapid transit in front of the Queens congregation would probably get their support from these comments, well until you’d mention that it would involve taking automobile space away. Then they would go back to crying about cars….

    Outer Queens does need alot of BRT.

  • mike

    The lack of press coverage, I think, is less important than the behind-the-scenes power these politicians and organizations have.

    Also to note is the level of ignorance their comments reveal. If politicians are this uninformed about CG, then we can certainly expect residents to be too.

    We have a lot of educational work to be done. Too bad the Mayor has essential whimped out. I don’t see any leadership there.

  • d

    This “we are all one city” business? Bull. A subway ride costs $2 whether you are coming into Manhattan from the outer reaches of Queens and the Bronx or simply going three stops along Eighth Avenue. By Councilmember Katz’s logic, all New Yorkers should then share an equal burden of subway expenses. My two-dollar, five stop trip subsidizes a lot of two-dollar twenty-stop trips.

    It’s funny how they all think that a congestion charge would unfairly push the burden of traffic to outer boroughs. Right now the burden of traffic rests squarely on the residents and businesspeople of midtown Manhattan and spillover neighborhoods, such as the Upper East Side or the area around the Midtown Tunnel.

    Share the burden, indeed.

    If Conley is worried about traffic on his district’s streets, then perhaps a congestion charge would be a good idea there, too.

  • “…proven not to work in London.”

    Is there another London I don’t know about?

    mike is right about education. Somebody needs to reach these people and hit them with a cluestick.

    “A tax is a tax is a tax…” ???

    Dude’s stuck in the ’80s. People like taxes now when they know they’re getting something for their money. Like, you know, congestion relief. For the people who need to drive to Manhattan. Your constituents.

    The ones who don’t need to drive need better transit so you should get your hammer down on the MTA et al., not congestion relief which will only help your constituents.

    “People will be parking on our streets and taking subways into Manhattan.”

    No, they’ll be selling their cars and taking subways into Manhattan. If they’re smart. Meaning fewer cars parked on your streets, not more.

    Of course we need better transit in addition to this. Where do you think some of that money’s going to come from? Say, I don’t know, congestion charging?

    Catch the wave or drown, says I. And now you know why I’m not the “somebody” who gets the job of educating these people. My attitude wouldn’t help! 😛

  • alex

    The silver lining of this non-event is that it sounds like these folks want to see enforcement of current laws. I’ll go for that! Who has the ability to bring the city council together to REALLY pressure Kelly et al. to actually begin enforcing moving violations in NYC? I, and it sounds like these people too, support actual enforcement 100%. However, once traffic rules and reulations are enforced to the degree these folks want, I suspect congestion will remain a serious issue. But, let’s worry about that later and get a bandwagon moving with these people. So, what is the best way to raise a stink about enforcement of current laws? Could anyone conceivably be against actual enforcement of existing rules?

  • d,

    Actually a lot of the congestion burden falls on the outer boroughs too. Check out Downtown Brooklyn, Long Island City and the South Bronx. These are bridge and tunnel choke points too.

  • AD

    Alex wrote:
    “Could anyone conceivably be against actual enforcement of existing rules?”

    Yes. But not out loud.

  • d

    Aaron. I agree, especially having had a few heinous experiences sitting in traffic trying to get from the airport into Manhattan and finding weights of over an hour at the Holland tunnel.

    Congestion pricing would reduce the number of cars coming into the city from all access points, and neighborhoods on the non-Manhattan sides of the Brooklyn Bridge, Holland Tunnel, GW Bridge, etc. would all benefit. The spillover effect would be enormous.

  • Doubling the tolls on all of the city’s bridges and tunnels would also be a very effective way to reduce the huge traffic jams, like the one I experienced last Saturday afternoon at the Holland Tunnel. If the toll were raised from the current $6 to, say, $12, some of the people driving into Manhattan might opt for the train instead.

  • brent

    If these politicians were actually serious about enforcement, change could happen within a week. What they all know perfectly well is that enforcement doesn’t work long term and can ebb and flow with the political tide. If double parking laws were enforced on a serious level, the trucking and retail interests would be hurt. Consequently they could benefit from congestion charging- more productivity, less fuel, citations, etc.

  • keri

    re: parking near subways. let’s buy these guys copies of shoup’s book “the high cost of free parking”!!! they could implement parking districts and price curb parking correctly to eliminate subway commuter parking and ensure constant turnover to benefit local shopping streets…then they could plow that meter revenue into sprucing up those streets and storefronts to make them hot destinations, alternatives to manhattan! i bet the local chambers of commerce would love the idea of controlling a little pot of money for local improvements.

  • Steve

    The frustrating thing about the comments at this press conference is that most of the alternative proposals–like better enforcement of traffic laws and improvements in mass transit–and insincere and voiced only to make the anti-congestion pricing agenda appear reasonable. I will be shocked if CM Sears does anything to study the environmental impact of trucks, if CM Weprin does anything about enforcement, or if AAA advocates BRT again.

    Speaking of parking enforcement and congestion, I learned today that New York City already has a congestion pricing plan of sorts: the “Commercial Collections” and “Stipulated Fine” programs of the Department of Finance.
    Under these programs, commercial parking violators may violate certain lesser parking laws with impunity, and more serious ones for as little as 25% of the cost you or I would pay, in return for agreeing in advance not to contest tickets they do receive. The effect of these programs is that the city sells to private businesses the right to create congestion with unlawful parking–analogous and more objectionable than the goal of the proposed congestion pricing program now under debate, under which the city would sell the right to create congestion through lawful entry onto the local streets of midtown and lower Manhattan.

    Here is the relevant page at Department of Finance:

    Under the programs, the parking violations of a participant are classified as “amenable,” “partially amenable,” or “not amenable” to adjustment, based on the type and severity of violation (no details are provided). DoF explains:

    “In lieu of contesting their tickets, participants in the program receive the following benefits automatically:

    – All amenable violations are dismissed.

    – Partially amenable violations are reduced by about 75% of the scheduled fine.

    – Nonamenable violations are reduced by about 15% of the scheduled fine.”

    The DoF further states: “This program requires participating companies to make good-faith efforts to comply with New York City Traffic Rules. . . .” But while the program application requires the applicant to certify a number of things, the applicant’s agreement to “make good-faith efforts to comply with New York City Traffic Rules” is NOT one of them. Perhaps NOTHING is done to foster general compliance with traffic rules among program participants.

    It seems to me inevitable this this program encourages certain types of routine parking violations–whichever have been classified as “amenable.” those violations come at zero cost to the participant (there is no cost to joint the program and no apparent processing charge or other “transaction cost” for a dismissed ticket). Thus program participants are given an incentive to commit violations instead of, say, paying $0.25 to park at an available metered space. My guess is that the cops know which are the “amenable” violations, and refrain from ticketing any commercial driver for them in the first place on the assumption that if the violator is a program participant, the city is paid nothing.

    I wonder how “amenable” certain violations are, such as vanilla double-parking, double-parking in a bike lane, or parking in a crosswalk is. I have written a letter to DoF about this; let’s see what they say. In any event, it seems clear that the city is already selling the right to congest the streets UNLAWFULLY; so how can there be principled opposition to a program to sell the right to congest the streets lawfully, through congestion charging?

  • Robert

    “People will be parking on our streets and taking subways into Manhattan.”

    And this is BAD why?!

  • David Chesler

    This is bad because it creates a shortage of parking spaces at those places where are served well by subways into Manhattan but served poorly by public transit further out into the borough or suburbia. (If they were well served, then the bimodal commuter would only drive in as far as the outermost place that isn’t well served and park THERE.)

    Lack of parking is bad for a local business that depends on customers driving to the business; it is bad for the residents who have adapted to the status quo on public parking. Many of these residents have cars because they don’t always want to go to Manhattan.

    I am not making any comment about the net effect, nor about how many commuters who formerly drove into the congestion-priced region will go that far instead of driving to a commuter rail station nearer to them, just pointing out the downside that is perceived by those neighborhoods. Key phrase: “our streets”

  • Lane Wyden

    Isn’t that Kenny in the back row left?

  • Why is everyone still debating 20th Century solutions, when 21st Century solutions could be implemented faster.

    Get on the keyboard to your elected official and challenge them to start the CHALLENGE to eliminate multi-vehicle accidents, halve vehicle insurance, eliminate traffic congestion, and raise average passenger miles per gallon above 50 pmpg with a net decrease in everyone’s transportation expense by 2020.

    If you aren’t already aware that we have the technology, ask a few visionary Intelligent Transportation Systems experts (not the ones still hung-up on drive-by tolls or automated signs). If you want to know how to organize a CHALLENGE ask the Defense Acquisition, Research, and Procurement Agency (DARPA). For more specifics google ‘V2V GM’ or ‘Guardian Angel Cars’ or ‘Car2Car’ or ‘Vehicle Infrastructure Integration’ or “DARPA Urban Challenge.”

    This technology is happening anyway, but many more of us will die (43,000 Americans per year)and it won’t be safe for pedestrians and bicycles unless you convince elected leaders to run the CHALLENGE.

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    I guess you guys know my line by now but I can”t help but repeat it after the latest in a long line of techno salvationists. This is all about politics, political-economy actually.

    Who is the most important outer-burough politician who supports congestion pricing?

    Who is the most important Mayoral candidate in any burough who supports congestion pricing?

    Even when all of NYC is together on an issue it is very difficult to push through Albany which must be done because city residents rule really very little of their home.

  • Mike

    No one from Brooklyn there. Anyone know why? We have plenty of idiot politicians in our boro too.

    I’d love to know how many of Weprin’s constituents drive into Manhattan each day and what they’re average income is.Would the Komanoff/O’Neil bridge-toll data give us some insight?

  • jonathan

    judging by the photo, looks like some of these pro-traffic, pro-auto peeps would benefit from gettin outta there cars and riding a bike.

  • Mike —

    Steve (O’Neill) and I broke down East River bridge commuters by borough but no further. Here are numbers for Queens:

    # of adults (ages 18-80): 1,617,000. Of whom 1.4% (23,400) currently commute into Manhattan (i.e., travel more or less daily) on a free E Riv bridge. (Another 0.7%, 11,900, are passengers in those 23,400 vehicles.) Not included in the 1.4% are Queens commuters who use tolled MTA facilities.

    This is from our Who Will Pay? report, in 2003.

    Amazing, isn’t it, how such a tiny slice of the population can exert such a hold on politicos and government.

    BTW, I was impressed that no electeds from Brooklyn were in the City Hall photo. Could that be a hopeful sign?

  • Sproule

    Did you look at incomes of that small group of people who do commute by car over the East River? This was a point of debate in the Brian Lehrer show on congestion pricing earlier this week – the contention was made that only wealthier people were commuting into London by car before the higher tolls went into effect.

  • ABG

    Aaron, thanks for pointing out that LIC is a choke point. LIC, Sunnyside and Woodside are clogged with unnecessary bridge traffic. That’s why it’s especially frustrating to see Joe Conley of Community Board 2 in that picture. He really ought to know better.

  • Yes, Sproule. Incomes were also studied in the Who Will Pay? study (linked above in Komanoff — December 6, 2006 @ 10:25 pm).

    Compared to their neighbors who don’t drive to work via an East River bridge, bridge commuters earn, on average, $14,300 a year more — enough to cover a solo driver’s annual bridge tolls almost ten times over. See Section 7.

  • brent

    Aaron, ABG- Here it what is so confounding about the fact that LIC political figures oppose congestion charges. The traffic in this area is 99% just passing through and LIC decided long ago to accommodate the cars. No one stops in LIC to support the few local businesses or considers it a destination, despite the recent spate of gentrification. Compare this to other free entry points into NY such as Williamsburg or DUMBO. These areas have a few fortunate design advantages that have discouraged through traffic even though they are by no means serene and auto free. I think this is a huge part of the reason that these neighborhoods are so vibrant and interesting to the point that they get “tourists” from Manhattan.

  • People have to write letters to this CB2 fellow and try to help him understand this issue better. Congestion charging could be a huge boon for LIC. Not only would it reduce needless through-traffic but it could also keep some discretionary dollars in LIC and help businesses develop there.

  • Steve

    Brent is right–I lived in LIC near the Citicorp behemoth during most of the 1990s, and pass-through traffic between the Q’boro and the LIE was one of the major drags on the neighborhood (along with the general lack of business and services owing to the dearth of residential housing). The local pols are obsessed developing a power base among the new developments at the tip of Hunter’s Point, and those developments have their own system of newly laid roads that don’t get any of the through traffic. Since few want to live where I was in “Upper Hunter’s Point,” even next to oh-so-cool P.S. 1, there are few restaurants and other amenities to draw tourists from Manhattan. On the other hand, this means that artists can still find affordable loft space there. That’s no longer the case on the Brooklyn waterfront near Manhattan where the Manhattan tourists decided to stay. The continuing economic viability for artists is a perverse benefit of congestion in LIC.

  • Sam

    Here’s an idea: Get rid of the Williamsburg Bridge, FDR Drive, Harlem River Drive, West Side Highway, Henry Hudson Parkway, Battery Park Underpass, South Street Viaduct, Long Island Expressway, Major Deegan Expressway, Staten Island Expressway, Cross-Bronx Expressway, Gowanus Expressway, Belt Parkway, Northern State Parkway, Southern State Parkway, Hutchinson River Parkway, Broadway, Park Avenue, West Street, 42nd Street, Lexington Avenue, Eighth Avenue, Seventh Avenue, Sixth Avenue, Houston Street, 59th Street, Varick Street, Brooklyn Queens Expressway, Grand Central Parkway, Van Wyck Expressway, Whitestone Expressway, Throgs Neck Expressway, Cross Island Parkway, Belt Parkway, Shore Parkway, Sheridan Expressway, Bruckner Expressway, Bronx River Parkway, Prospect Expressway, and any other expressways that I forgot. Then replace all major streets in Manhattan with streetcar lines, and all the minor ones with pedestrian malls. Removing all the expressways would ease traffic. And besides, think about how people got around before cars were invented.

  • Carl

    Much talk about London. Check out the results from a much more sophisticated congestion charging solution tested in Stockholm, Sweden, last year.

    Public opinion swinged in favour as people learned that the benefits from reduced congestion far outweigh the low ($1-3) fee per passage. Especially delivery truck drivers and heavy commuters turned around and favoured the concept.


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