How Green Is Our Mayor

Bookending his much-vaunted Earth Day speech with congratulatory video clips from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mayor Mike Bloomberg called for New Yorkers to take the initiative in the international fight against global warming, positioning himself as a leader on the issue.

"Climate change is a national challenge,
and meeting it requires strong and united national leadership," the mayor said to an appreciative invited audience at the American Museum of Natural History. "The fact
is, the emerging consensus among scientists is that, to avoid serious
harm, we must reduce our emissions by 60 to 80 percent by 2050.  That
means we can’t — and we won’t — wait for Washington. The time to act
is now.

Bloomberg set forth some particulars of an ambitious agenda — dubbed PlaNYC, and first floated at a speech he gave last December — for remaking the city’s infrastructure in order to prepare for a city with 1 million more inhabitants by the year 2030.
Many of the initiatives he announced were aimed at reducing New York’s output of greenhouse gases 30 percent by 2030, creating "the first environmentally sustainable city of the 21st century." The mayor got a big round of applause when he said, "The science [on climate change] is there. It’s time to stop debating it and to start dealing with it."

Bloomberg’s wide-ranging speech covered everything from affordable housing to cleaner power plants to refurbished parks to cleanup of brownfields. And as expected, a plan for cars to pay to enter Manhattan was a key part of the mayor’s wish list. "As long as we’re at the Museum of Natural History, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: congestion pricing," said the mayor, getting a good laugh.

Here are the basics on the mayor’s congestion-pricing plan:

  • It would cover Manhattan below 86th St. from 6am to 6pm, Monday through Friday.
  • Autos would pay $8 to enter, leave, and move within the zone; trucks would pay $21.
  • Trips bypassing the zone on the FDR and West Side Highway would be exempt.
  • E-Z Pass users would be credited the amount of their round-trip tolls toward the charge.
  • Handicapped license plates, emergency vehicles and transit buses, and taxis and livery cabs would be exempt.
  • Payment would be by E-Z Pass; vehicles without E-Z Pass would get bills based on camera-recorded license-plate readings.
  • All proceeds would be dedicated to transportation investments.
  • The NYC DOT would control the system.
  • A three-year pilot program would be paid for with federal funds.

Bloomberg, in anticipation of criticism that has already begun, rolled out a lengthy defense of the idea, mentioning equity — in effect, congestion pricing would level the charge for entering Manhattan, regardless of which crossing is used — along with economic and health benefits.

"As the city continues to grow," the mayor said, "the costs of congestion — to our health, to our environment, and to our economy — are only going to get worse. The question is not whether we want to pay but how do we want to pay. With an increased asthma rate? With more greenhouse gases? Wasted time? Lost business? And higher prices? Or, do we charge a modest fee to encourage more people to take mass transit?

"I’ve thought about this question a lot. And I understand the hesitation about charging a fee. I was a skeptic myself. But I looked at the facts, and that’s what I’m asking New Yorkers to do. And the fact is in cities like London and Singapore, fees succeeded in reducing congestion and improving air quality. Many people are already paying to drive into Manhattan — there are tolls on most bridges and the four tunnels. But to avoid those tolls, many people drive through neighborhood streets. That not only clogs the streets, it increases air pollution — and asthma rates."

The mayor acknowledged that paying for all his ambitious plans wasn’t going to be easy, but said the city’s fiscal health made this the right time to tackle big projects. He also called for the creation of a new financing mechanism for mass transit. Dubbed the Sustainable Mobility and Regional Transportation (SMART) Authority, it would be funded through contributions from the city, the state, and congestion pricing revenues.

Although the word bicycle didn’t cross his lips during the speech, a detailed, glossy report handed out afterwards (you can download it here) listed the promotion of cycling (through accelerated implementation of the city’s bike-lane master plan and more bike parking) as one of 16 transit-related initiatives. Others included expanded ferry service, improved access to existing transit, better bus service, strengthened enforcement of traffic laws, and more Muni meters.

Many of the plan’s components will need approval from lawmakers in Albany — approval that is anything but certain. But the folks under the big whale at the museum liked what the mayor was saying just fine.

During the standing ovation that capped things off, one woman was heard shouting, "Bloomberg for President!"

"What, you want another Republican?" her companion asked her.

"I don’t care what the label is," she said. "I’d vote for him."

Photo: Sarah Goodyear

  • david

    Great stuff!

  • momos

    On bicycling, the mayor’s plan also calls for legislation requiring all major new development in the city to include bike parking facilities. This is intended to address the frequent complaint that commuting to work by bike is complicated by a dearth of secure bike parking. Read about it here:

  • rhubarb

    I wish the mayor luck. Wish he had made many of these suggestions years ago, not in the last couple of years of his administration when there’s just a lot less time to win them.

  • cp

    lots and lots and lots the mayor has to get from albany.

    where was car-free central park? it is something the mayor can order done today.

    would be nice symbolism the “lungs of the city” and all that.

  • momos

    People, call your reps and make this happen.

    Sheldon Silver: District office 212-312-1420
    Joe Bruno: District office 518-583-1001
    Eliot Spitzer: Albany office 518-474-8390
    Christine Quinn: City Hall office 212-788-7210
    John Liu: District office 718-888-8747; Legislative office 212-788-7022

    I’ve been calling this morning and I find them to be cautious and uncertain where public opinion is headed. The state reps in particular are poorly informed on congestion pricing. Set them straight. They need to hear from you.

  • snooper

    Great paln – now we all have to push for it to happen –
    Use the phone number sin #4 (above) and call !! make sure to get your friends to call as well.
    Albany and the city council can prevent this from happening.

  • alex

    Following up on the comment by momos – It is pretty easy and very helpful to call one’s representatives in both the assembly and senate.
    You can search for your representative using your zip code at the websites of each legislative body.


    I called my reps Rosenthal and Duane and asked “Hi, I am consituent of Representative/Senator XXX. Does Representative/Senator XXXX share my support of Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan?”

    It was simple.

    For what its worth, neither office had a position at this time.

  • alex

    These are the direct links to the representative search functions mentioned in post #6.



  • Let’s hope the Mayor takes it one step further and puts a fee on each cab ride that enter lower Manhattan. Why not request that the city purchase only electric busses in the future. We can also request that Police and firefighters walk to emergency locations.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Can I have an ad hominem with that strawman, Dennis?

  • alina

    Horray for Mayor Bloomberg! A bold and fantastic initiative. I do hope lawmakers in Albany take a good hard look at the reality on the ground and realize that they need to act now to save the environment from going to hell.
    And kudos to the mayor for launching even though he is nearing the end of his term.
    I agree with the woman quoted at the end of the article. I want him to run for president too!

  • lee

    police and fire response times should improve if the decrease in traffic is comparable to london.

    any ideas as to why bloomberg decided to propose this now and not a year ago, or a year from now?

  • It would appear that he learned something he didn’t know before and changed his mind. So much for boundless political pessimism! Next thing we know he’ll start talking nice about bicycles.

    Here’s the congestion pricing part of the sppech (YouTube).

  • MD

    Thanks for the link, Alex. It took me two seconds to call my Assemblyman(Jeffries), who was quoted in the Post as being against the plan.

  • chuck

    I just called Joan Millman and Velmanette Montgomery of Brooklyn. They are undecided. Wanted to know what I thought.

    So momos (poster #4) is right. Your reps are afraid to have a position on this. Call them and tell them how much you’ll vote for them again if they support congestion pricing.

    Assemblywoman Joan Millman

    Senator Velmanette Montgomery
    Albany Office
    Tel: (518) 455-3451

  • Rob

    How do the reps for Astoria (my hood) stand on this issue? First inclination says they would be against it.

  • d

    People should also contact Congressman Anthony Weiner, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, and will run for Mayor in 2009. He has said that congestion pricing would be a tax on working families. (Odd, considering that most working families probably take the subway or bus into Manhattan.)

    Call him or email and let him know what you think.

    In fact, anyone else who is running for mayor? This idea shouldn’t die when Bloomberg leaves office.

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    Gee what a brave speech. Lame duck Mayor, knew it was good policy five years ago but passed. When only people with nothing to win support your position you should know it to be lost.

    Bigger picture, this is what you get with term limits. First term, no balls, just wants to get re elected and find the keys to the mens room. Second term, proposes unacheivable but good policy, New York Times editorial board swoons and the good government groups (3Gs) bemoan the loss of the progressive visionary.

    It should be clear that the genius of the other rich kid, Ron Lauder (the father of term limits) sold the people on a term limit system that was supposed to weaken the special interest groups. We are shocked to find that it did just the opposite, empowered other rich people and strengthened the interest groups that can at least contest the next election.

    Sorry to distract the euphoria with a little thing like politics.

  • V

    Yeah, let’s talk politics. Pricing may lose, but once the Partnership, building trades and TWU 100 start slinging bags of money around you could see some surprises. Notice that Silver and Bruno both made neutral comments? Also neutral was former opponent, union big Ed Ott and big mouth Marty Markowitz.

    The trade unions and contractors smell big money for their members in the transit projects funded by pricing. Standard practice is for them to grease the pols to help make the big money things happen.

    The unions aren’t stupid. They know the MTA — a huge source of construction contracts — is is in big time trouble. There aren’t a whole lot of sources of funding big enough to solve the problem. Pricing is about it. So, politics wise, this is a pocket book issue for a lot of people, not just opponents.

  • Folks, these calls to your state legislators and other electeds with reports here are very valuable – please keep doing it and posting what they say here.

  • M-R-S

    I’m very much in favor of the principle of congestion pricing, although I do disagree with some of the provisions of the mayor’s proposal.

    I believe that it is important to try to achieve this proposal while there is still momentum. The way of doing this is by giving the “aggrieved party” something in the nature of compromise and hopefully build enough political support for the program.

    Currently, Brooklyn/Queens/Long Island is on an island (of course). In order to go anyplace else by car, you have to cross on a tunnel or bridge. The 4 East River Bridges are free, and the other crossings charge $4.50 each way (cash) whether you are going to Manhattan, Bronx, or Staten Island. The Verrazano charges its fee in one direction only, $9 one way by cash. As we all know, not only does this scheme encourage auto traffic to Manhattan for those going to Manhattan, it also encorages cut through traffic that would otherwise take the Verrazano or Bronx crossings.

    The pols in Brooklyn and Queens likely view congestion charging as an attack on their constituents who drive. Extra taxes on hard working people who drive. While I believe this is a wrong viewpoint, the only way to get Brooklyn and Queens politicians on our side is by giving a “bone” to drivers in their districts.

    If you charge a toll on the four East River bridges, lower the toll on the Verrazano and Bronx crossings. I imagine that in each political district of Brooklyn and Queens, there are more people who commute to Upper Manhattan, Bronx,Westchester, SI, or NJ by car than those who commute by car to Manhattan below 86th Street. The drivers to the suburbs will be the political support for congestion pricing that the drivers to Manhattan oppose.

    I would place a $5 base cash toll (charged only in the direction leaving Brooklyn/Queens) on the Verrazano, Triboro, Whitestone, and Throgs Neck. I would place a $9 base cash toll (charged only in the direction leaving Brooklyn/Queens) on the 4 East River bridges and the 2 tunnels. The toll can be adjusted for time of day, vehicle type, and whether E-Z Pass is used. I would make the reverse direction free.

    While Manhattan commuters may pay more under my plan, commuters to other parts of the region would pay a lot less. I would exempt buses and taxis from the tolls.

  • nimby pimby

    It’s so nice when people like M-R-S chime in. Because I’m sure the extensive studies the City’s done of how to properly congestion price and the very smart political people they have working there didn’t think of his/her alternative.

    We can debate the specifics of it all we want, but finally something’s on the table. Rather than trying to modfiy and bicker and hen peck what’s already out there, do what so many smart people reading this have done already. Call you representatives and tell your friends to do the same, especially if you have any who live in Nassau county.

  • Re M-R-S’s “plan”: I’ll be less diplomatic than nimby pimby … No one gives two hoots about
    M-R-S’s plan, or my erstwhile plan (straight-up
    tolling of the E Riv bridges), or Sam Schwartz’s elegant plan (w/ which M-R-S’s has a few points in common). All these alt plans are moot. The only game as of now is the Mayor’s plan. Sure, it’ll get modified down the road, but if you want congestion pricing you’ve got to speak up for that plan, now (as Orcutt and others have observed). I couldn’t get down to City Hall this morning, but I did voicemaile my State Sen. (Connor), and was assured by his staffer Matt Viggiano that Connor will support loudly. I e-mailed my State Assemblymember Glick. I intend to write a personal note to Assemblymember Brodsky appealing to his intelligence and progressiveness to moderate his announced opposition. Glad to see others doing likewise. No more dreaming, folks, let’s make those calls and send those e-mails NOW.

  • Dennis

    The residents of Long Island are a little sick and tired of being taxed by the city. There is no way to get off the Island without paying a fee to the city. The ferry is the only option and if I need to get to upstate NY I take it. I have no problem paying for the maintenance of the bridges and highways the I use. But let’s face it. The prices that are being charged are in excess of the cost for the infrastructure and subsidizes the taxes paid residents. I use the train if I go into the city and pay taxes on everything I buy while I’m there. Why do I have pay to get to the othe side of the city ?

  • crzwdjk

    Dennis: may I recommend the Manhattan or Williamsburg bridges? Neither of these have tolls, and if I recall, both of them have recently gone through major and very expensive reconstructions. Which were paid for by the NYCDOT. Nobody forced you to live on an island, and if you don’t like having to pay NYC to drive off your island, well, there’s the rest of the country for you to live in. It’s not like I particularly like the idea of you coming through my city and polluting my air and causing congestion either.

  • d

    Dennis, the health of NYC directly affects people in Long Island, Westchester, CT, and NJ. If more people can get business done in the city in a quick and efficient way, that means more money for places like where you are from. The bedroom communities surrounding the city need an economically viable NYC. All the mayor wants to do is make it easier for traffic to move in the city. That benefits everyone, no matter where they live.

    Plus, that congestion charge will be put towards projects that will make your train ride in to Penn Station much more pleasurable, in one way or another.

  • Those poor people on Long Island are really suffering because of the taxes they have to pay – but they don’t seem to think about the tax they are imposing on future generations because of their decision to live in a location where they drive everywhere.

    Calculate the carbon footprint of your car: it is about 20 pounds of CO2 for each gallon of gasoline you burn. Then think about the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change saying that, unless we act dramatically to slow global warming, drought will kill hundreds of millions of people in this century.

    Maybe those poor, suffering people in Long Island don’t really have it so bad compared with the people who are threatened by drought. Maybe they should be willing to back policies that make them cut back on their driving a bit in order to slow global warming.

  • momos

    Dennis – actually, the congestion pricing plan exempts the FDR drive, West Side Hwy, etc, precisely to address your complaint. People driving “to the other side of the city” will not pay a fee. There is a charge only for using city streets.

  • mfs

    Dennis- I’m confused as to how the residents of Long Island are taxed by NYC in a way that’s different from visiting any other city.

    Also for the record, the Throgs Neck, Midtown tunnel, Triboro, Whitestone, and Verrazano bridges are all owned by a state authority, the MTA, which if I recall correctly, operates a big, heavily-subsidized commuter rail system somewhere on Long Island.

    Also didn’t NYC-working Long Islanders get a big tax cut in the late 1990s with the repeal of the commuter tax?

  • Also, if you look at the facts of the plan, the Manhattan perimeter highways are not included in the priced zone, so you could come from Long Island, cross the QB Bridge, get on the FDR and head north or west (across the GWB) without paying. Details about getting from QB @ 2nd Avenue to the FDR (pay or not pay) so far unclear.

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    The congestion pricing portion of the plan has my full support and I will work hard politically to put it through. However, its core appeal beyond the obvious decongestion strategy is to transfer financing to mass transit. This will not create any renaissance in MTA capital financing. It will only partly replace the cuts in tax based financing that were at the core of the Pataki and Giuliani eras. The black hole of MTA debt created by those two will suck up all of the congestion pricing dollars and then more. The real boon for the MTA will be on increased ridership, loads and capacity utilization. And, the riders have already been picking up a heavier and heavier debt load since those tax cuts. The fares will be supporting even more of the capital program. Standing room will continue to pay for the MTA Capital program.

  • Call your reps, people! I just called mine. They have **no idea** if this is a good idea or not. They need to know that LOTS of people support this, so we need to speak up.

    I’m so glad that this is being talked about. NYC is always the first city in the US to get a clue about these things. Let’s lead the way for the rest of the US!

  • Tax or Fee

    Please ask Carrion, Weiner, Quinn and the other mayor wannabees what their genius plan is.

    What chumps.

    Someone please stuff the “This is a tax on working people” rhetoric up their a**es. Everyone who rides a subway bus or commuter rail is already paying a “tax” to not pollute the air and not jam the roads.

  • lee

    as much as i like the idea, i am beginning to think that in its current configuratin it wont work. if tolls paid at river crossings are discoutned from the congestion charge then anyone currently using a tolled crossing wont see any change in cost and no incentive to change their behavior.

  • Howard

    Bloomberg was introduced by Tony Blair, which is completely appropriate: Everything Bloomberg is proposing and more has already been done in Britain and it hasn’t made a difference. Growth in aviation and shipping has overwhelmed whatever slight gains were made by congestion pricing and other reforms.

    “Scientists say British greenhouse gas emissions now higher than in 1990”,,1727885,00.html

    The fact that this information about shipping and aviation emissions has been in the public record for over a year even debunks the notion that Bloomberg has good intentions for the environment, but is misinformed. He wants to become president by looking like he gives a damn about our future when he really doesn’t.

    Re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic aint gonna cut it, particularly when people like James Hansen of NASA say we’ve got 5 years to save ourselves. Aviation and shipping have gotta go down within the next five years, and there’s no way that’s going to happen under a growth-based economic system.

    “A report by the Tyndall Centre [University of Manchester] said a UK government target of a 60% cut in emissions by *2050 is insufficient* and needs to be 70% by 2030.

    But it requires a major programme of action within *the next four years*”

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Lee, I don’t think that’s that big a problem. The current tolls already work to deter congestion; the leaks are really in the so-called free bridges.

    If the zone limit is at 86th Street, maybe it would be too much work to put an EZ-pass gate on Park Drive South. They might just have to close the park to cars.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Howard, the mayor said “The question is not whether we want to pay but how do we want to pay. With an increased asthma rate? With more greenhouse gases? Wasted time? Lost business? And higher prices?”

    He did not focus exclusively on greenhouse gases. If all you care about is global warming, maybe the political will is better spent elsewhere. But if you add to the greenhouse gases the asthma, crash deaths, etc., it’s definitely worth it.

    I’m starting to get frustrated at rebutting single-issue environmentalists.

  • Howard

    Angus,please re-read the Bloomberg speech:

    “Climate change is a national challenge, and meeting it requires strong and united national leadership,” the mayor said to an appreciative invited audience at the American Museum of Natural History. “The fact is, the emerging consensus among scientists is that, to avoid serious harm, we must reduce our emissions by 60 to 80 percent by 2050. That means we can’t –- and we won’t –- wait for Washington. The time to act is now.”

    Climate change was clearly the focus. How could it not be? We’re speaking of a threat to the planetary support system. Local quality of life issues are a sideshow in comparison. The program will be judged on the terms it originally chose.

  • Xue

    Howard – I haven’t heard you make any useful suggestions yet. If you’re saying that you’d rather the mayor of the largest city in the US do nothing rather than make an unprecedented, humongous step in the right direction – in comparison to any other US city, or perhaps international for that matter – then I disagree with you completely.

    It’s a lot easier to demand change than to actually make change – so consider putting your obviously passionate interest in global climate change in a more productive direction than slamming as inadequate the most progressive activities by our current politicians to date.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I read that, Howard. Yes, his main focus was on global warming. But he did not focus exclusively on it; he mentioned several other reasons to implement congestion pricing.

    Also, what Xue said.

  • Steve

    There is a factor that may end up pushing the congestion pricing proposal over the top: security. It cannot be the City is proposing a surveillance ring around Manhattan south of 86th Street without considering its utility in monitoring potential security threats. Don’t try to tell me that data gathered by congestion pricing enforcement cameras will not be used for surveillance purposes (along with the cameras involved in the “dramatic expansion of electronic red light ticketing”). There are a lot of people who don’t give a dman about the environment who will be sold on the idea that “no one gets in or out of midtown or lower Manhattan in a private vehicle without us seeing them.”

    In the end it may be hard to tell whether this proposal co-opts the liberals on civil liberties issues or co-opts the conservatives on environmental issues.

    The police have conducted such oppressive video surveillance of bicyclists for so long, now its the motorists’ turn.

  • Folks, these calls to your state legislators and other electeds with reports here are very valuable – please keep doing it and posting what they say here.

    Dear Mr. [Steveo]:

    I have not taken a position regarding congestion pricing and am reviewing documents provided to me by the Bloomberg Administration. I thank you for your calling.

    Letitia James

    (No reponse yet from Joan Millman or Eric Adams.)

    (Find out who your reps are and/or their contact info here:

  • gecko

    Without having sweated the details, what’s interesting about Bloomberg’s plan is that it seems to be a big systems and big business approach — speaking to the people and institutions that can make things happen — in an attempt to put the money, resources, and human capital in place to adapt to the currently unknown and potentially daunting dynamics of dramatic climate change where the concept of paying eight dollars to drive into the city, let alone driving into the city at all, may hopefully soon seem as naively retro as paying a nickel to take the Staten Island Ferry.

  • Alexandra Woods

    I will contact my legislators right away. And I have some questions/suggestions. Would it be possible for hard hit communities to target themselves, and require specific new bus lines in exchange for voting for this plan? How would small business truckers which often serve small businesses survive with $21 tax? What about exempting trucks which bring in locally grown, especially organic, produce? NY State’s organic farmers are being wiped out by “organic businesses” in California etc. which get tax credits to offset their gas consumption across the country. See recent Maxine Hong Kingston article – sorry I can’t remember source – Google it. How about working with Genara Carter who got a McCarther Award for her work on environmental racism in the South Bronx? This is a really interesting discussion.


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