86th Street: The Congestion Pricing Battle Line

The 86th Street border of Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed congestion pricing zone is emerging as the northern front of an increasingly intense political battle. Last week, Upper East Side City Council Member Jessica Lappin worried that congestion pricing would bring a "crush of cars circling around 86th Street looking for parking spots." Over on the West Side Council Member Gale Brewer and Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal expressed similar concerns.


On Memorial Day, I had a chance to speak with Micah Kellner, the Democratic Party’s candidate for the New York State Assembly seat left vacant by Pete Grannis who was such a strong environmental advocate Gov. Spitzer elevated him to the head of the Department of Environmental Conservation. I asked him to clarify the report in the New York Sun that he opposed Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan, despite supporting the plan "in concept." He said:

The purpose of congestion pricing is to reduce traffic and congestion, not just shift congestion to a different neighborhood. I believe having the border at 86th Street will be a disaster for the people living between 86th and 96th Streets. It will create gridlock there and turn the area into a parking lot. I think the border should be at 59th Street. I also want the mayor to commit to incentives for night deliveries and to support the cross-harbor freight tunnel, which he continually flip flops on.

When I challenged him on his vision of Carmmegedon in Yorkville and Carnegie Hill he responded with a few ancedotes of comments he’s heard on the campaign trail: People looking for parking on 88th Street would not be able to look below 86th Street. People working near 86th street would exit the FDR at 96th street, park and walk the rest of the way.

I told Kellner that my greatest concern was that the bickering over where to draw the line would delay or sink the whole plan. He was not worried. "I think we will see congestion pricing of some type get implemented. There will be a vote and it will pass."

  • Nona

    The whole political critique of the Bloomberg plan by these weak, wimpy pols is one big campaign by anecdote – see “the working stiff who must drive to Manhattan.”

  • Anonymous

    Glenn, I guess you missed the first sentence of the NYPost article, which describes Brewer and Rosenthal as “some of the most ardent supporters of Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion-pricing proposal.” I think it’s pretty clear their concern about 86th street doesn’t nullify their support of the idea in general.

  • Thanks, Anon. I fixed the wording.

  • That wasn’t what I was suggesting Anon, but sorry if it came across that way.

    It does remain to be seen though that if the only option the Bloomberg Administration gets a vote on is at 86th street, would they still vote for it? From their statements it seems they would be willing to let congestion pricing die if 86th street were the only proposed dividing line.

    I think 86th is superior to 60th if only because it more thoroughly addresses their concern. Few people would try to drive to the 86th street border because few people work within 10 blocks south of 86th street, thus forcing people to take two modes – which I really don’t think motorists would do. But at 60th street, there are probably hundreds of thousands of workers commuting within 10 blocks south of that. And the current worst congested zones are around the Queensboro bridge, the 63rd street FDR entrance/exit and the Lincoln tunnel approaches.

  • The question to ask the Carmeggedon Brigade (those who will oppose congestion pricing on the basis of where the border is drawn): Where are those drivers coming from and why would they drive and then take another mode.

    It’s the point you’re making, Glenn, in your comment. It would be helpful to hear specifics from Lappin and Kellner on the issue.

    Another way to look at it is that the area above 86th becomes a quasi-congestion zone. The threat of competition with folks who would otherwise park in the ten blocks below 86th may convince some people who would park above 86th to leave their cars at home.

  • Steve

    Agreed that the cutoff has to be sufficiently far north to force a second, non-pedestrian mode on would-be circumventers. I don’t own a car, and I could live with any of 79th, 86th, 96th, or even 110th.

    I can see how people who do own cars can get worked up over the dividing line. If I am reading the proposal correctly, a person living on 85th Street that moves the car from one side of the street to the other for street cleaning has to (at least in theory) pay the $4 charge (there is no discussion as to where enforcement checkpoints for intra-zone trips will be located). If you keep your car in an off-street garage and want to head out of the city, you still have to pay $8 just to get to the FDR (subject to offset for opportunity to use certain river crossings for free). Some members of the “Carmageddon Brigade” may be holding out for some kind of relief for these type of intrazone activities for their constituents within the zone. You can’t really blame them, though if this is their motiviation they should be open about it instead of hiding behind the supposed displaced congestion burden on their constituents just outside the zone.

    For those jsut outside the zone, the proposed fix of residential parking permits is a windfall. The value of an off-street parking space between 86th-96th Streets is between $500 and $900 (with the exorbitant tax). Those parking for “free” on the street at present would save hours of time space-hunting (and probably several hundred in parking tickets each year) if the residential permit parking is done right.

  • Jmc

    alternate side parking people won’t be charged. bloomberg said that in the original announcement.

  • Larry

    Living just above 86th… we very concerned. Congestion pricing works in Singapore and Toronto, but those are very different cities. Paying $8 to pick up the laundry 2 blocks away is crazy,but the big fear is the parking anarchy that may ensue with everybody looking for a space. The idea of permit parking for residents could work. I’m from Chicago and many near-north side neighborhoods have it. You pay a yearly, reasonable fee for the permit, if you establish your residency. Each block or so has a different permit number and there are signs to denote each area. It would keep out the ‘invaders’, and raise a bit more revenue.

  • Steve


    I’m just above 86th myself and I agree that permit parking is a workable solution. The draft bill (which was posted to Streetsblog yesterday) provides that up to 80% of available curbside parking may be dedicated to residential permit holders, with the remaning spaces to be focused on high-turnover metered parking. Check out page 49 of the draft. Someone from outside the nabe would have to be nuts to cruise for a day-long parking spot under such a regime.

  • Jacob

    How can anyone legitimately claim that this proposal won’t place a massive strain on on 96th and 125th Streets? If these are the -only- cost-free cross-town routes, then they will become busier. It is outrageous to claim that they won’t.

    And when they become busier, carbon emissions in those areas will go up — meaning the whole “public health” argument behind the proposed congestion scheme is geographically (and therefore socio-economically) selective. Life south of 86th street will become healthier; life north of 86th will become less healthy. From the standpoint of social justice, the proposal is a travesty; and from the standpoint of environmentalism, it is simply a lie.


Will Silver Defer to City Council on Congestion Pricing?

While we weren’t looking, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver apparently had a change of heart on congestion pricing, and is reportedly now willing to go along with some version of the plan, as long as it is supported by City Council Democrats. This little bombshell comes courtesy of the Sun: The good news for Mayor Bloomberg […]

Jessica is Lappin’ up the Congestion Pricing Anxiety

At a City Council transportation hearing yesterday Manhattan City Council Member Jessica Lappin expressed anxiety about the effects of congestion pricing on her Upper East Side district. The ill-informed Lappin, who clearly has not read Donald Shoup’s 750-page masterwork, The High Cost of Free Parking, asked DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan if the city would be […]

Congestion Pricing: What’s the Deal?

Nobody knows whether the convoluted and difficult congestion pricing "deal" reached by political leaders yesterday will actually result in anything. The deal is complex even by Albany standards. A few things, however, are clear: Mayor Bloomberg does not have a "green light" to move forward with congestion pricing, nor has he been granted any new […]

New Congestion Pricing Plan, Same Jeffrey Dinowitz

The recommendation of a modified congestion pricing plan put forth last week by the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission has elicited another editorial from Bronx Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz. Tellingly, the piece, from this week’s Riverdale Press, starts off with talking points that fellow Assembly Member Richard Brodsky and "Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free" spokesman Walter […]