Sadik-Khan and Congestion Pricing: Ready for Prime Time

Janette Sadik-Khan has one week to go before taking over as
the city’s new transportation commissioner. Not surprisingly, a public appearance Friday found her well prepared to push Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC congestion pricing program.

Pressed into service for the Regional Plan Association’s
day-long 17th Annual Regional Assembly, held at the swank Waldorf-Astoria, Sadik-Khan
served as a panelist alongside other congestion pricing supporters and critics.
Moderated by WNYC’s Brian Lehrer, the panel also featured Julia Vitullo-Martin
of the Manhattan Institute (undecided); Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of
Partnership for New York City
(pro); Walter McCaffrey of Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free (con); and
Council Member John Liu, who chairs the council’s transportation committee

McCaffrey led the attack on pricing, calling it a divisive
policy that will pit the city against the suburbs. McCaffrey said two-thirds of
car trips from Queens to Manhattan
are for medical appointments, and that the sick will "bear the burden" of a
congestion charge. While crediting the mayor for trying to solve the congestion
problem, "There has to be a human face to public policy too," McCaffrey said.

Pointing out that just five percent of New Yorkers regularly
drive into Manhattan’s
central business district
, Sadik-Khan noted the resulting health burden already
borne by city residents due to air pollution. While transit improvements are
needed, and are planned, for underserved areas, 80 percent of Manhattan-bound
motorists currently have a transit option available
, Sadik-Khan said.

Liu, at times appearing to struggle with his own thoughts, said
he finds it difficult to oppose congestion pricing ("It even sounds like a cold
medicine"). To win wider support, he said, Bloomberg should set "a clear
objective" for beefing up transit in the short term. He cited ferry service to
the Rockaways and inner-city access to commuter trains as two relatively simple

McCaffrey — who at one point (wrongly) declared himself
outnumbered on the dais and therefore deserving of more mic time — wondered if
the city was "about to go to war with Long Island,"
and accused pricing backers of ignoring regional commuters. Sadik-Khan
countered that congestion pricing is, in reality, designed as a regional
transportation revenue source, while Lehrer chimed in to say that Nassau County Chief Executive Tom Suozzi
is in favor of pricing
, and that tolls would be deducted from the congestion

McCaffrey then warned that the proposed $8 fee for private
autos is "nonsensical," "delusional," and would be raised "instantly." Again
acknowledging that congestion is an issue, he suggested alternative solutions,
including enforcement of box-blocking laws at intersections and the "significant problem" posed by those who are not driving. "We have to do something
about the pedestrians," McCaffrey said.

While Liu said he is concerned about the creation of another
bureaucracy — i.e. the SMART board that would allocate revenues generated by
congestion pricing — he admitted he does not know how else the city can afford
needed transit improvements. However, Liu said the city should be willing to ensure that all New Yorkers have a 30-minute transit commute with or without congestion revenues. People aren’t
going to care about cleaner air "if it hurts them" financially, he said, adding: "I think we have to get down to earth."

The congestion pricing panel followed a speech by Mayor
Bloomberg, who received a standing ovation after urging New Yorkers to use
their political clout to see the proposal past state lawmakers
during the remaining
weeks of the current legislative session. "The time to do it is right now,"
Bloomberg said. "The stars are aligned."

Also during the speech, the mayor jokingly threatened the
incoming DOT commissioner — and, indeed, the entire city — by reminding her
that newly-retired Iris Weinshall is still close by should Sadik-Khan "screw it

"He says that to all new department heads," Sadik-Khan said

Janette Sadik-Khan photo: Brad Aaron 

  • MD

    So, lets’ just call it a “co-pay” and be done with this silly debate.

  • momos

    Thanks for the report. I wish the organizers of these forums would make an effort to ensure the largest number of people possible hear the discussion. (Podcasting, transcripts, etc.) If not for Streetsblog we would never hear a detailed review of who said what.

    Any sense for how hard the Bloomberg admin will fight for congestion pricing? How high a priority is it? Bloomberg has addressed various interest groups but I don’t think he’s made the case aggressively enough to the public.

    If congestion pricing goes down in flames it will reinforce the media meme that it isn’t politically viable in New York, and city and state politicians will oppose it for years to come.

  • d

    “We have to do something about the pedestrians,” McCaffrey said.

    This is ridiculous, as if we are all born with a steering wheel in our hands. Driving is not a god-given right. If more of New York was designed with a pedestrian-first mentality, congestion pricing wouldn’t be necessary!

  • tps12

    What D said. Cars already do a pretty good job of doing “something” about pedestrians…that’s the whole problem!

  • Steve

    McCaffrey’s just grapsing at straws, trying to divert attention from all the problems in his own position. But quite a slip, nonetheless, in a ped-majority city. I hope he is constantly reminded of it at all subsequent appearances.

  • v

    Sadly, I’m reading this just after my rep Assembly Member Joan Millman (Bklyn) responded to an email voicing my support for cp. She is “unconvinced” of the proposal. I have no feeling for what the majority of NY politicans think. Does anyone have any idea, or is it still too early to draw any useful guesses?

    Bloomberg and company (and, well, the rest of us) need to educate local businesses on why cp is good for them. Of course, I always thought that “more deliveries per day” and “less wasted gas and time” was an obvious benefit. It could be easy if everyone picked one or two places where they know the owner.

  • Helena

    What a pleasure it is to have a DOT commissioner who can actually speak articulately and from the heart about progressive transportation policy. Wow. She has the knowledge and she cares. What a difference.

  • AT

    While I am in favor of doing something for congestions’ sake, but it should not be at the cost of the surrnounding residents to the East River bridges. I am a Queens resident and work in LIC (lucky). In the months past 9/11, the East River bridges had an HOV restriction from 6am to 10AM inbound. This caused the rush hour traffic to start at 4AM !!! This will be the likely scenario for the same surrounding neighborhoods where drivers traverse to beat the toll. Let’s do something better. Let’s reduce the amount of the toll a bit and extend the hours so that the toll is in effect 3AM to 9PM at a cost of $5. So those who still want to drive will pay and not try to avoid the toll by using the Triboro or trying to cross the river by 6AM. Astoria and LIC are already congested on a daily basis. I believe that Brooklyn has the same problem, although I can’t speak for them.

  • JK

    AT — what you didnt mention is that the post-9/11 HOV rule was put in place to reduce traffic back-ups caused by police check points — which it succeeded in doing.

    Before the HOV rule traffic backed-up on Flatbush from the Manhattan Bridge to Grand Army Plaza. After it slowed but moving.

    The much reviled (at least here)Iris Weinshall effectively advocated to keep the HOV rule in place despite much criticism from, surprise, Liu and McCaffrey.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I’m also a Queens resident and have to cross bridge-bound traffic to get just about anywhere. I’m hoping that this proposal will put a dent in the traffic so that our streets can be neighborhood streets again.

    I don’t see a problem with having the congestion charge start at 3-4AM, but why not wait and see if the congestion gets bad enough before 6AM to warrant it?

    I also don’t see what the point of lowering the charge is. If people are bound for Midtown, they won’t get any benefit by taking the Triboro because there will still be EZPass gates at 86th Street. If the charge is $5 and they take the Midtown Tunnel or the Triboro, then they’d pay just $1 extra? That’s no deterrant, and it doesn’t pay for the wear and tear on the streets either.

  • Helena

    The beauty of the new technology is that the toll could be $5 at 5am and then $8 at 9am. The fee could even potentially be set to respond to the amount of congestion on the roads in real-time. There is a lot of tweaking that can be done to make the system work well. It’s the politics that seem less tweakable, unfortunately. Once this plan goes through, any tweak is sure to generate a s4it-storm.

  • rhubarbpie

    What’s particularly disturbing at this juncture is that Bloomberg is mostly preaching to the converted, as momos noted, and that he apparently didn’t succeed in winning the support of any local state legislators before making his proposal. Not all that competent. Shocking, actually.

    But he still has a chance: First by showing Speaker Silver that Canal Street traffic (in Silver’s district) can be reduced and convincing him to back the plan.

    Second, by doing a sweep of Queens and Brooklyn to convince residents there (where he is extremely popular) that this is a smart plan. The legislators will likely then fall in place (with a grassroots campaign accompanying the mayor’s push).

    Bloomberg’s already described some of the transit improvements he’d push forward there; why not make the case in a series of town halls right in Liu and Milman’s home districts? It’s not that tough a sell, since most of their constituents already pay to get into Manhattan. It’s called the subway fare.

  • rhubarbpie

    That’s Millman, not Milman. Sorry.

  • Corporate Elite

    Hello? Have you noticed that Marty Markowitz hasn’t come out against congestion pricing? Do you think that’s just an accident? It’s not. Marty’s not the only one, either.

  • crzwdjk

    I’d suggest having variable pricing based on time. So there’d be a high charge during peak hours, a slightly lower one at midday to allow for deliveries, a low one before and after rush hour to deter a rush of cars trying to “beat the toll”. Maybe even impose the charge on friday and saturday nights until relatively late to encourage people to take the train rather than drive to the places of entertainment in Manhattan.

  • JK

    Pricing is actually off to a decent start. Bruno and Silver have been neutral and no groups representing working class New Yorkers (like ACORN) have opposed it. The enemy here is the clock. Tick, tick. What does it mean if the legislature passes pricing next session and Bloomberg has less than a full-year left?

  • harvey

    Great ideas, but let’s get the darn thing in the ground first.

  • MD

    momos, Saturday’s Newsday had an article saying that Bloomberg was ready to put heavy pressure on anyone standing in the way of his plan. He sounded pretty committed.

  • ddartley

    As long as the anti-pricing crowd has people saying things like “we have to do something about the pedestrians,” don’t worry, you pro-pricing people (whose side I’m slowly starting to come around to) are more likely to get your way.

    That is one of the most damning, embarrassing, ignorant quotations I’ve ever read.

  • d

    Maybe McCaffrey envisions a city where the pedestrian has been eliminated and everyone can drive straight to their desks, to doctor’s appointments, to tables at restaurants, etc. After millions of years of evolution, finally walking will be eliminated!

  • JF

    Sadly, “We have to do something about the pedestrians,” is not an uncommon thing to hear from politicians in Queens. I think McCaffrey just forgot he was at a citywide forum. I hope it bites him in the ass, but we’ll see. Doctors’ appointments? If that’s the best he can come up with, his bosses should be asking for their money back.

  • momos

    rhubarbpie hit the nail on the head: Bloomberg has to convince Silver, and he has to take the campaign to Queens and Brooklyn.

    Although ACORN hasn’t opposed the plan, as JK points out, that’s not the same as applying shoe leather to the pavement and advocating for it.

    The benefits of congestion pricing for blue collar New Yorkers have not been emphasized nearly enough. If it came to be seen as an environmental justice issue and a means of investment in public services used by the working class, the politics around congestion pricing would dramatically change. Most Democrats would have trouble opposing it in the face of activism by unions and community groups (who now are at best tepidly supporting it or are neutral).

    I’m with rhubarbpie on Bloomberg’s poor effort to date in laying the political groundwork. Why isn’t the tempo faster? Why isn’t the campaigning harder? Why is the administration’s discussion of the issue delivered to groups like RPA that hardly need convincing?

  • momos

    Just a quick follow up to the Newsday article mentioned by MD (available here:,0,3629900.story)

    Bloomberg is quoted saying “It’s got to be this legislative session. It can’t be put off any longer.”

    The legislative session terminates at the end of this month. That means Bloomberg has just over 3 weeks to get congestion pricing legislation passed.

    And how far along is he?

    Newsday: “A check of the Legislature’s electronic database yesterday [May 4] showed none had been submitted.”

    Bloomberg will “review details of the plan” with Bruno when he travels to Albany on May 14.

    MAY 14!? The session is over 13 business days later! Who in their right mind believes Albany will get behind congestion pricing in 13 days?

    Give me whatever Bloomberg’s aides are smoking.

  • howie hedd

    This McCaffrey is a real loon !

    So we could reduce traffic in Manhattan by about 10% (2/3 of the Queens burden) just by building hospitals in Queens??

    If it were only that easy!

    And what are we to do about “the “significant problem” posed by those who are not driving??

    “We have to do something about the pedestrians,” McCaffrey said.

    Well I suggest we give them guns, but that would only exacerbate the health care shortage in Queens!!

  • JF

    Actually Howie, in the past few years several hospitals have closed in Queens, possibly because Queens residents are driving to Manhattan. If McCaffrey is right, Bloomberg and T.A. should contact the local hospitals and medical associations and get them to support the plan.

  • Psynick

    Guys, one word: politics. Here’s the deal. Congestion pricing won’t happen without the state legislature. This mean Bloomberg has to win legislators over. The complement of this, is that smart legislators start out from a position of opposition or else they won’t get anything out of Bloomberg in exchange for their support. So what do they want? Campaign money (Bloomberg is a heavy personal donor) and support, commitment from Bloomberg to back pet projects, city jobs for cronies, and (in a small number of cases, e.g. Liu) a seat at the policy table.

    Don’t worry, there is no principled, on the merits opposition to CP, only the usual NY State political BS give and take. The risk here is not that the ill-informed pro-car yahoos will defeat a just cause. The risk is that Bloomberg will misplay the politics. Let’s hope he learned the right lessons from the school stadium and olympics fights.

  • rhubarbpie

    Hey, I’m as cynical as the next guy, but Psynick’s comment essentially says that the only way the mayor can win support for congestion pricing (and anything else, I suppose) is by b-r-i-b-i-n-g our elected officials in Albany. Maybe, but I just don’t believe that he couldn’t have lined up support beforehand, with or without the horse-trading that Psynick suggests is necessary.

    It is indeed possible that Bloomberg will win something in this round, and even that the non-committal responses are just an indication that some key officials are holding back. But as an outsider, I don’t see the kind of support I would have hoped the mayor would have lined up before making this important proposal.

    Nevertheless, there is a way out, as I suggested in my earlier post (thanks, Momos, for advancing my point). The anti-congestion pricing arguments are often easy to beat back, esp. when lobbyists completely make up things. And those that aren’t deserve a hearing. Let’s hope the mayor and allies have a game plan to tackle them.

  • Steve

    Here’s what CM Garodnick has to say about congestion pricing. Since his is a “straddle” district on the East side of Manhattan that is half-in, half out of the proposed congestion pricing zone, I focused my comment and inquiry to him on the reasons why straddle districts should support congestion pricing. I interpret his response, which focuses on the motoring needs of outer boroughs residents and does not directly address straddle concerns, as currently undecided but positioning for potential future opposition.

    Thank you for your thoughtful e-mail about congestion pricing and its potential benefits.

    I agree with you that this is a very promising proposal. The City is going to gain another million residents by the year 2030, and that is going to mean even more significant challenges for traffic and congestion — particularly in our area. The Partnership for New York City recently issued a report that shows that traffic and congestion have become a significant drag on the City and the regional economy – costing more than $13 billion and as many as 52,000 new jobs annually. That is a problem that we will need to address.

    Of course, the only reasonable way to make this work is to couple such a plan with significantly improved access to public transportation for residents in the outer boroughs. The City Council recently held a Transportation Committee Hearing in Broad Channel, Queens (the Rockaways), where it became abundantly clear to me that there are many New York City residents who simply must rely on their cars to get around — because of the absence of real mass transit options.

    The devil is in the details, and I will be meeting with the Mayor’s office to discuss the plan in greater depth. But you should know that I agree with you on the need for bold action to combat our worsening congestion, and have not seen any better proposals to come around to address this problem.

    Please do not hesitate to contact me again about any matter at all.


    Dan Garodnick

  • Psynick

    “… Psynick’s comment essentially says that the only way the mayor can win support for congestion pricing (and anything else, I suppose) is by b-r-i-b-i-n-g our elected officials in Albany… ”

    Or extorting. Not too many things actually get done simply because they merit getting done, particularly in a situation like NYC’s — limited home rule authority; Bruno and Silver (and a lot of other legislators) hate Bloomberg.

    “Maybe, but I just don’t believe that he couldn’t have lined up support beforehand,”

    Couldn’t? Who knows, maybe he could have, but clearly he didn’t. We don’t know whether it’s a conscious tactic or not.

    “with or without the horse-trading that Psynick suggests is necessary. ”

    The mayor of NYC does not have the legal authority to impose CP on his own. He needs both local (City Council) and state authorization. I can think of very few examples of a mayor getting a major, complex new policy iniative through both the Council and the State without having to call in political chits and/or make bargains. The stadium and olympics fiascos make it pretty clear that a) state approvals of the mayor’s personal priorities ended with mayoral control of the schools b) lining up advance political is not Doctoroff’s strong suit.

    As many other posters have noted, most of the objections to CP are specious, but have a certain popular resonance. The people making these objections aren’t stupid. It’s easy to be talked out of these positions. They just need a reason to listen. Do I need to connect the dots any more than this?

  • ER

    Does no one realize how the “benefits” of the plan are simply 4 commuter rail stations, while decreasing pollution in an area with low asthma rates, increasing it in areas with a high asthma rate, and just flooding up the subway system with more commuters (can the L actually handle any more people?). Now I’m from the Bronx so I can only speak for what I know about the proposed stations here, Co-Op City and Parkchester. Building a Metro-North Station in Co-Op city is actually a good idea. I don’t have a grasp on how many people would use it but they’re really left out of the loop when it comes to commuting with just a few express buses. A Parkchester station is useless since they have the 6 train, it’s a relatively poor neighborhood, and would you really spend more money to take a train which shaves 10 minutes off your commute IF you’re going somewhere close to Grand Central. I don’t know how Queens residents feel but if the LIRR stations are near the subways, is it really going to help? I’ve always been an avid Bloomberg supporter but this is just a poorly planned, quick way to make more revenue for the city and exploit the fact that politicians in this city won’t vote “Against the environment”, even though the environmental “gains” of “6% less cars [south of 86th, which they omit]” will be heavily countered by the gridlock above 86th street with people who’d rather park and walk if they work anywhere in the immediate area south of 86th.


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