City Council Fiddles While New York City Chokes on Traffic


Brooklyn Council member Lew Fidler (above) is circulating an anti-congestion pricing resolution urging Mayor Bloomberg to oppose any form of road pricing. Fidler’s resolution appears to be a shot across the bow in preparation for the mayor’s forthcoming Long-Term Planning and Sustainability speech. Last week, Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff hinted that the speech would include "bold and creative" transportation policy ideas that come with a cost. Fidler, reportedly, will announce his resolution this coming Wednesday. 

In light of that, below is a sneak peak at a new study by transportation consultant Bruce Schaller (download the page here). Analyzing 2000 census data, Schaller found that the vast majority of Fidler’s constituents who commute to Manhattan’s Central Business Distrcit use transit — not automobiles. That’s right: Even in deepest southern Brooklyn 75% of commuters use transit to get to Manhattan south of 59th Street. Schaller’s analysis also explodes the myth of congestion pricing "elitism." In Lew Fidler’s district, the average automobile commuter earns about 14% more than the average transit user.

Photo: Lisa Glogowsky

  • Can we give Lew Fidler an award as a Global Warming Villain?

    As the prize, I would recommend a map of Flatlands showing which parts of it would be under water if we don’t slow global warming.


    The Army Corps of Engineers says 30 feet of storm surge is fixing to roll up on Fidler’s Sheepshead Bay in the case of a direct hit by a Category-3 hurricane, similar to the Monster of 1893.

    How about we just name the next big hurricane to hit NYC, Hurricane Lew?

  • liz

    A better graph to show would be how many of Fidlers TOTAL constituents drive to the CBD. That number is more like 8%. And those are the only people who would be affected by CP.

  • d

    Flattering picture. Fidler looks like he could stand to get out of his car and walk a little.

  • I agree with Liz – just looking at commuters undervalues the very local employment that people probably walk or even drive a short distance to…

  • P

    I’m sure everyone will use their indoor voices:

    District Office Address:
    1402 East 64th Street
    Brooklyn, New York 11234
    District Office Phone No.: (718) 241-9330
    District Office Fax No.: (718) 241-9316

    Legislative Office Address:
    250 Broadway, 17th Floor
    NY, NY 10007
    Legislative Office Phone No.: (212) 788-7286
    Legislative Office Fax No.: (212) 227-3176


  • MD

    I think guys like Fidler and Weprin can be stopped with good organizing efforts. Blanket the districts with flyers accusing them of starving mass transit. Hand out the flyers to express bus, LIRR, and subway riders and speak to them about how drivers are being favored at their expense. Take ads in the local papers making the case against them, etc. It could be expensive, but don’t we have wealthy interests behind the idea of congestion pricing?

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Hm, Fidler represents roughly the same people as Senator Kruger, right? Maybe they were nominated by the same Democratic club? I think someone does need to organize the non-car-potatoes in that area.

  • It’s worth keeping in mind that the number of CBD _drivers_ in Fidler’s district is even less than the figures suggest, since some of those commuting by auto are passengers in cars driven by others.

    If just one in three of those cars have two people, then the 4,644 “auto commuters” to the CBD are using only around 3,500 cars, which means district residents would be paying only 3,500 tolls more or less daily. And if some of them already use a tolled facility like the Bklyn Battery Tunnel, the additional toll incidence would be still less.

    I assume Fidler’s district has ~160,000 residents. (8.2 million divided by 51 districts). Since ~70% are “of driving age” (18-80), the 3,000-3,500 newly tolled commuters would be 2.7-3.1% of the population. Not negligible by any means, but not a tidal wave either.

    These figures jibe beautifully with the borough-wide numbers in my 2003 report, “Who Will Pay?,” for the Bridge Tolls Advocacy Project (, under Research). It’s terrific to see TA and Bruce Schaller get the data down to the district level.

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    Fidler and Kruger have sort of the same clubhouse pedigree but Lew is no where near the piece of shit that Carl is. And, of course, Lew represents neighborhood in City government, Carl in the State Senate and the Federal counterpart is Anthony Weiner. Weiner was chief of staff to Senator Schumer when Schumer was in Weiner”s present Congressional position. There is also a stable of NYS Assemblypeople who flitter around the edges of this constituency. I have been surprised by the work of Mike Nelson who is also on the periphery geo-politically of this group. Mike has done the right thing on several land use issues in front of the city council taking on the Mayoral development jihad.
    Politically I think you have to look at these people mostly as permanent government types singling out Kruger as the most unrepentant panderer.
    There is hope for Weiner, whose brother was killed by a car. I understand that he doesn”t like to talk about it and who could blame him. He has also made noises about road pricing for trucks but not cars. I think Anthony is a bright, aggresive guy. He, and the others, need a nice group of voters who will give their votes to a congestion pricing mayor. However, their politics has been mostly populist, anti-tax, pro-someone else paying.

  • Albertina Gore

    Nice of you guys to pull out a 10 year old photo of Fidler at a camp reunion…
    Also, it might be fair to mention that Fidle rhas consistently had a high score from the League of Conservation Voters as a Council Member. Or that he led the fight before his Council days to restore weekly recycling to the outeer boros. Or his railing that the illegal dollar vanindustry is the privatization of mass transit, efectivelyt destroying bus service in some communities.
    Fidler ahs also allocated more money to parks projects in his district than most any other non Manhattan Council Member. Or that when Kruger wanted to put Lemans racing in Gateway National Park, Fidler screamed bloody murder saying that car racing had no place in a national park next to endangered species.

    You can’t look at a single issue and draw nasty conclusions. Maybe Fidler doesn’t think that taxing Brooklynites for the privilege of commuting by car into precious Manhattan is fair. Maybe you disagree…but Fidler’s environmental record is strong.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Actually, Albertina, I think that the photo of Fidler is quite charming. I’m totally serious. I appreciate knowing those things that he’s done, too. Especially keeping car racing out of the GNRA.

    There are plenty of politicians (your namesake the former vice-president is one) who talk the big talk about the environment but fail to take any strong stances on non-car transportation. Fidler can be pro-transit and pro-recycling, but if he leads the charge to block any attempt to get well-off car commuters to pay for the disproportionate share of city resources they use, then his environmental record is very incomplete. And your characterization of these fees as “taxing” is misleading and inappropriate.

    About the dollar vans: I’ve always thought that the vans in Brooklyn and in Hudson County, NJ (East New York and West New York!) were good evidence that under the right conditions, transit can be profitable. If the service level is equal or better to that provided by the public transit provider, then I say great. Of course, it’s important to regulate the service to ensure that it is at least as good as that provided by the MTA. Even better if the staff is unionized. If Fidler helped to bring those vans under regulation, that’s a good thing; if he just wanted them banned it isn’t.

    BTW, has he done anything to promote increased transit access to his district, like the Nostrand Avenue BRT or the Utica Avenue Subway?

  • Albertina

    Fidler’s point about dollar vans….which operate illegally, outside of regulation, and often uninsured…is that when they operate ona a bus route-which they are not supposed to do-ridership on the route goes down. The TA then reduces bus service citing decreased ridership. And service goes down and more people take dollar vans because the bus is late…and the cyckle continues. He has said that mass transit of this nature is a public responsibility best served as such.

    I have also heard Fidler say that Congress ought to outlaw the gasoline combustion engine-both manufacture and importation-in 10 years…so that we could see just how fast they develop an adequate alternate clean fuel source for cars. So maybe you ought to know the guy, rather than pick on an environmental ally who differs on your view of whether congestion pricing is an outer boro tax.

  • David

    Fidler’s is a lame but typical response to dollar vans. They are clearly meeting a need that is not being met by the MTA. The answer isn’t banning them. The answer is figuring out a way to bring them in to the system.

    Boulder, Colorado did a similar thing a few years ago. Set up their own bus and van system b/c the Denver-based system wasn’t meeting local needs. The new system was so successful that, eventually, the big system came in and bought it up.

  • d

    Someone made this point in a different way before, but congestion pricing is not an “outer boro tax” any more than subway fares are a transportation tax. Congestion pricing is a fare demanded in exchange for a commodity or service – in this case, access to the city’s roads – just as the two dollars riders spend to get on the subway is returned to them in the form of access to underground transportation.

    Calling this a tax is just a simple way for politicians to rephrase the debate to curry favor with a small group of constituents. What’s next? Calling movie tickets an “entertainment tax”?

    To look at it from a different perspective…

    In a way outer boro residents would have an economic advantage over those who live just over the river or immediately outside the congestion pricing zone, in the same way that a person who pays $2 to ride into the city from the end of the C train is getting more value per mile than someone who rides from, say, West 4th Street to Times Square.

    If the city institutes congestion pricing, I would assume that the price of driving into the CBD would be the same whether one is coming from Fidler’s district or from the Upper West Side, just outside the congestion zone. Paying, say, $4 to drive into the CBD seems like quite a bargain if you are coming from the far reaches of Brooklyn, but makes less economic sense for someone who could ditch the car and hop on the subway instead. And isn’t that the point? Not to punish or unfairly “tax” anyone, but to encourage people to take public transportation where it is available?

  • crzwdjk

    “under the right conditions, transit can be profitable.”
    The right conditions being no safety rules and shoddy maintenance. And even then, it probably only works on the most popular routes, with the publicly subsidized services getting left with the unprofitable low-volume feeder routes, without which the popular routes will not be profitable.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    “Tax” is an extremely disingenuous way to describe a fee that less than 4% of people would pay. If you want to talk about taxes, I’m angry that a portion of my income and sales taxes is being used to subsidize bridge and street upkeep for these motorists and their dangerous lifestyle. Oh, and you’ll have to count the cost of my Metrocard as a “tax” too. Can I get some tax relief?

    “Outer boro” is also disingenuous, because it glosses over the fact that many proponents of congestion pricing live in the outer boroughs. I do, and I think a lot of the Streetsblog contributors do too. It’s not a Manhattan vs. Brooklyn issue.

    “Tax” and “Outer borough” are weasel words, and by using them Fidler is letting everyone know that he’s not above stretching the truth for the perceived benefit of a small minority of his constituents.

    With environmental allies like Fidler, Environmental Defense and the Sierra Club, who needs enemies?

    I encourage anyone who thinks dollar vans are inherently bad to visit Boulevard East during the morning rush hours. In addition to the frequent, well-patronized New Jersey Transit buses and ferry shuttles, there are privately-owned, state-regulated vans coming by at amazing headways. I’d love to see an estimate of the amount of people they carry in a day, and how it compares with other routes.

    Finally, does anyone know what Fidler said about his old Buick?

  • Eric


    Lew drove up to MetroTech last August (and took up the valuable time of those of us there to offer meaningful testimony) to jump on the Atlantic Yards bandwagon.

    So I’m looking at multiple issues in drawing my conclusion that he’s an idiot.

  • crzwdjk

    A bus carries about 50-60 passengers. A van carries about 10. Both have one driver, and the driver is generally the biggest expense in any transportation system in this country today.

  • coffee

    Umm, are “dollar vans” really a dollar?

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I’ve never taken the Brooklyn dollar vans, but the ones in New Jersey have varying prices based on the distance. They’re usually a bit cheaper than the New Jersey Transit buses on parallel routes. It can be as little as seventy-five cents to go a few blocks on Bergenline Avenue, but crossing the Hudson is usually a dollar more than the fare for only going within New Jersey.

    Crzwdjk, the NJ vans seem to be much larger, newer and better-maintained than the Brooklyn ones; they’re actually tour minibuses and can seat at least 20 people.

    Here are a few pictures:

    They’re really very interesting, and worth checking out for any transit advocate; you also get to hear Egyptian drivers speaking pidgin Spanish with the radio dispatchers. And the view is great:

    Just go to one of the parking lots on the north side of 42nd Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues and ask for Boulevard East. To come back, just hail a van from one of the bus stops on the other side of the Boulevard.

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    Angus is naive about the effects and character of the “dollar” (really a dollar fifty) van industry. They are really parasite on the MTA. It is a neat game, they clog up the roadway with all sort of illegal driving and pickup acrobatics slowing the MTA busses and radically decreasing the drivers productivity. By doing so they actually increase any “underservice” that the MTA is providing. They stop in the bus stops (they aren’t the only ones) on the heavily travelled bus routes where they depend on poaching riders and they delay the pickup and drop off times for the MTA buses.

    Lots of the vans have out of state plates. They are for the most part a cash (read tax free) business. And, more critically, the drivers are very poorly paid and have no health insurance or benefits, entirely under the thumb of the van operators. That leaves the drivers economically incentivized to drive as fast as humanly possible and as aggressive as they can so that they can cutoff the “competition”, the MTA.

    Also, they only run during prime time, leaving the MTA to serve the off hours and the overnight when no money can be made. That drives down the operating ratio for the MTA and requires more tax support that the van drivers do not pay.

    Though they may fit some Libertarian ideal of ruining public sector employment they represent a very backward and primitive sector that would never be allowed to operate in the wealthier neighborhoods.

    Did you ever get in one Angus?
    In short, and I’m never short, the vans are a nail in the coffin of good bus service.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I’ve never been in one of the vans in Brooklyn, and from your description they sound very different from the ones in New Jersey. I have taken the ones in New Jersey quite a lot. I’m pretty sure that they’re registered and regulated. They sometimes drive a bit aggressively, but not to the extremes you describe, Nicolo. I don’t know about the drivers’ benefits or compensation.

    The vans in New Jersey also run at all hours; instead of running on a schedule they wait at 42nd Street (or the lower level of the GWB bus terminal, or Newport Mall) until they’re full. I’ve taken them very late at night and on weekends. And Bergenline Avenue (as you can see from the pictures) is working-class, but Boulevard East is most definitely a wealthy neighborhood, at least nowadays. Those Manhattan views are pretty expensive.

    I’m not a libertarian and in general I think libertarian ideas are simplistic, but I do know that sometimes libertarians need to be persuaded. The NJ vans show that transit can be profitable under the right circumstances (and safe and effective when properly regulated), which is a good argument against blanket statements by some libertarian anti-transit people.

    At some point when I have more free time I’d like to check out the Brooklyn vans, and I’d be happy to show some Streetsblog people the NJ vans. I think it would be a very interesting comparison.

    Back to Lew Fidler: based on what you all say about the dollar vans, he was right to rail against them. It doesn’t sound like it was very effective, but if they are inefficient, unsafe, exploitative and destructive of bus service, then something should be done about them.

  • Albertina Gore

    Reveal thy true self.
    Tilden ’72

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I have no idea what you’re talking about. Unlike you, I’m posting under my real name.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith
  • Geert

    The data are very convincing:
    !. The myth of the traffic jam: commuting with the car (parking included) goes still faster than commuting with the public transport.
    2. bicycles are a normal alternative in a dense city like New York, if only there were safe possibilities. Seeing the choice for jam creation in the cars department (wide lanes coming together is narrow ones) there are possibilities to create really safe bycicle lanes without touching the flow of cars.
    3. choosing for cars is choosing for the people from outside NY above the ones who pay the taxes for the roads.


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