4:00pm Gridlock at the 86th Street Boundary

In this StreetFilm
, Upper Green Side’s Glenn McAnanama takes viewers on a brief tour of 86th St. and Second Ave., a heavily congested intersection on the northern boundary of Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed congestion pricing zone.

It’s 4:00 pm and it’s ugly.

  • Jim

    I’m a resident of East 89th Street who favors congestion pricing — but it absolutely must include some mitigation for the parking impact in our proposed boundary area.

    This is a huge problem that not enough people are talking about.

    Think of the 86th Street boundary as a dam. Cars from points north will pile up against it, turning an already-tight neighborhood into a madhouse.

    Yes, I have a car, and while I leave it with family in the suburbs when possible, there are times when I need to have it in my neighborhood. As things stand now, it’s very difficult for residents to find spots.

    My solution is to issue and require resident permits. I don’t mind “fighting” my neighbors for parking, but if everyone from Larchmont and Darien is suddenly thrown into the mix the neighorhood will just about blow up.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Water metaphors are incredibly problematic with regard to traffic. If you want to think of the 86th Street barrier as a dam, you’d have to think of congestion pricing as an earthquake that made the slope into Manhattan a lot less steep, so a lot of that water would never get to the dam. Transit could be the underwater aquifer, which is still just as porous, allowing water to seep through at the same rate. Any hydrologists out there?

  • d

    I think it’s funny that people think drivers would descend upon the boundary area, search for parking, and THEN get on the subways to their final destinations.

    This might happen for the first month or so of congestion pricing, but once people see that they are wasting 20 minutes or more of their commute circling for parking in the east 80s and 90s only to have to park in an expensive garage when they realize they’ll be late for work, they’ll switch to other options where available. Give it some time and I think we’ll see that just as in London, fears of congestion boundary madness are unfounded.

    If people are going to drive and then get on the subway, they’ll figure out points further up the 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 lines or on MetroNorth where they can easily park or be dropped off and then make the switch.

    Obviously we have to assuage the fears of people in the boundary zones and residential parking permits would go along way towards doing that, but I think some realistic thinking about people’s driving habits is needed. People drive because it’s convenient. Take away that convenience and replace it with competition for on-street parking and people will change their behavior.

  • If we use water analogies and each gallon of H20 is a person (not a car)then Congestion pricing is not a Dam, but rather redirecting some of those gallons of water to another place far upstream, at the point of origin or the nearest train/bus station.

    I will say one part that I am interested in seeing some novel ideas is that at 5:59am it costs zero and at 6:01am it costs $8.00. Same problem in the evening. It creates an incentive to either speed before 6am or alternately slow down and wait to enter the zone after 6pm. Making this more of a sliding scale 30-60 minutes before and after might smooth this out a bit.

  • Hilary Kitasei

    I too am a proponent of congestion pricing, but do recognize the need to plan for the impact on areas like this. I think the fear of out-of-towners parking here is overblown. I would expect Zone-residents who own cars to be the greater problem, driving up the cost of parking garages and competing for space. My guess is that residents of northern Manhattan will see the benefits of being in the zone and clamor for its extension. In which case, wouldn’t it be easier to put all of Manhattan in the zone now, and toll every bridge and tunnel instead of the zillion cameras?

  • Hilary Kitasei

    Also agree that there has to be a phasing in and out of the fee period lest we induce deliberate congestion of cars cruising and idling – exactly what we’re trying to eliminate as the worst source of pollution.

  • Jim

    (first poster)

    Angus, D and Glenn make good points — certainly most people who currently drive would find alternatives that don’t involve parking in my neighborhood.

    However, it would take only a small percentage of them to have the effect I described — and I think that for a variety of reasons, that small percentage would indeed fetch up against the “dam” every morning.

    Commuter X usually drives to work in Astoria but today he’s got an MRI appointment downtown, so he’ll leave the car, come back for it, and hop on the Triboro. Commuter Y has a meeting on 41st St. followed by a parent-teacher conference on 96th St. and then back to the office in Westchester. And so forth.

    The more detailed I try to make these examples, the more nitpicking I’ll invite, but the point is they’ll happen and they’ll add up. The population of “dam parkers” may be small, but the area they’re trying to occupy is small too.

    And since local parking is at capacity now thanks to people who live there, the tipping point won’t be hard to reach.

  • Steve

    I live in the UES above 86th St. and I think the residential permits are a good idea, a step forward from the current situation with substantial amounts of free curbside parking available to anyone who wants to waste time and gas looking for an empty space. No matter how diligent you are, if you are resident who parks curbside, you get hit with at least a few tickets each year. Instead, let these folks pay for a permit, face less competition for sapces and get something for their money. The city may want to have the resident permit only spaces metered as well, so that an element of market pricing is introduced. Whatever it ends up costing, it will feel and in fact be less arbitrary than the current system where you never know when you will find a space, and you can never quite rule out getting a ticket for being a minute or two late to move your car.

  • Spud Spudly

    There won’t be many new people searching for parking spots just north of a theoretical congestion zone (which is what it is at this point and probably always will be). I doubt many people actually think it would be worth their while to look for parking on East 89th street just so they can then get on a subway.

    However, there’s a very high possibility that the neighborhood will back up with southbound traffic at 5:45 PM every day. And they’ll be people speeding south down Fifth, Park, Lexington, Second, etc. every morning at 5:45 AM.

  • d

    Unlikely. People tend to adjust their commuting hours to beat traffic, not to beat fees. If traffic is lessened at all hours of the day, there would be little need to change when one commutes.

    On top of that, those who were so desperate to save $8 (or less depending on the amount of bridge/tunnel tolls already paid) would not likely be in a position to adjust their hours accordingly.

    Even if it did back up with traffic 15 minutes before and 15 minutes before congestion pricing hours, how would that be worst than the current situation, where traffic is backed up for a growing number of hours in the morning and evening?

  • rlb

    Additionally, people that rush to get into the
    zone before 6 will be committing themselves to a 12 hour work day if they’re planning to avoid the charge. Maybe that’s why the fee applies for leaving the zone as well.

  • Spud Spudly

    d, how can you possibly conclude that drivers won’t alter their travel plans based on a time-adjusted fee. Considering that we don’t currently have any time-adjusted fees for motor vehicles in this region, nobody really knows, do they? The toll on the Triboro Bridge is the same 24-hours-a-day, as is the toll on the Turnpike, Lincoln Tunnel, etc. Surely people whose travel schedule causes them to cross 86th street around 6 AM every day will be motivated to get there a bit earlier. And someone who’s cruising down Lex at 5:50 PM is likely to make a right on 87th and go around the block once or twice (which is kind of sucky for people on 87th street, eh?). Don’t you think there are people who intentionally travel at “non-peak” times on Metro North or the LIRR if it’s not too much of a hassle for them? I’m not saying that it would be calamitous for anyone, but it is a possibility.

    The unwillingness by CG advocates to admit that anyone might be adversely affected even a little bit by CG undermines their credibility. Tell them that the poor or middle class will be shut out from driving and they say that they either don’t own cars or don’t drive into Manhattan (totally wrong and insulting as well — go try to find a parking spot in the affluent community of Washington Heights and tell me that people there don’t own cars). Tell them that it’s like a tax and they say it’s not a tax because people won’t pay it because they’ll be using the subway instead. For all its proclaimed benefits at least admit once in a while that someone may actually really be hurt by CG. You can’t even acknowledge that maybe the relatively small number of people living just north of the zone might be affected for 1/2 hour a day.

  • Good point rlb. I forgot that it’s a zone, not a traditional toll line.

    Does this mean that you can’t really know if some camera picked you up at the 86th street line or somewhere else in the zone on your way to your destination? And it will just charge your E-Z pass on your way out before 6pm. TO avoid the charge, it would seem you would have to make sure that you were not even moving your car on the street between 6am and 6pm. That’s a pretty long day.

  • d

    People will adjust their travel schedules, certainly. I wouldn’t disagree with you on that at all. But what is likely to happen is that the people who will do it are the people who are already driving in very early in the morning. If leaving 15 minutes earlier saves you $8, then of course you’ll see some people shift their commute, but only by degrees. If I can stay at work until 6:15 instead of 5:45, I’ll save a few bucks. But I highly doubt that someone who doesn’t have to be at work until 8, 9, or 10 AM would shift their schedule so that they are coming in to the city 2, 3, or 4 hours early. Does anyone really believe that people who once worked 8 or 9 hours a day will suddenly stay at work for 12 hours to avoid the fee? And even if you do, do you think that the numbers will be so significant that traffic will merely be shifted to different hours of the day?

    Opponents of CP should also back up these assertions with facts. Most CP studies and the actual results in London have shown that this is one area (work start/completion time) that would not be affected significantly. Yeah, some people will circle a block if they are a few minutes early for getting out of the zone, but since you admit that it won’t be a calamity, why shouldn’t we try it?

    Regarding your other point:

    Yes, people in Washington Heights own cars, but not very many of them drive them into midtown for work. (The A train is just one reason why that neighborhood is gentrifying.) Statistics and facts are not insulting; they just are what they are. Is it insulting to read studies that show that only about 5% of New Yorkers commute by car? I think its patronizing for for CP opponents to say they are speaking for the little guy when what it really sounds like is that they are speaking for wealthy constituents who can afford to drive in to the city every day.

    Also, since people in that neighborhood are outside of the CP zone, if they needed to drive to work in NJ or to other areas such as the Bronx, Queens, or Brooklyn, they would not be charged for accessing the FDR or West Side Highway.

    I am a CP supporter AND I recognize that some people will be adversely affected by the plan. The two sentiments are not mutually exclusive. That’s why I hope the legislature will figure out ways to offer tax credits for low income people who can prove that they need a car for work, provide rebates for senior citizens driving into the city for medical reasons, and throw other bones to anyone who can reasonably assert a hardship. The city provides discounted subway fares for seniors and students and I imagine it wouldn’t be hard to do the same thing for eligible drivers.

    Perhaps CP opponents should also do some thinking. “For all its proclaimed benefits at least admit once in a while that someone may actually really be hurt,” not by congestion pricing, but by congestion. That affects pollution, asthma rates, deliveries, businesses, and more 24 hours a day.

  • Gelston

    Remember that people who have to drive as part of their job or for medical reasons will be able to deduct the fee from their taxes as an expense. Let’s not pile up the exemptions. It will create another placard situation.

  • deb

    Spud Spudly said: “Considering that we don’t currently have any time-adjusted fees for motor vehicles in this region, nobody really knows, do they?”

    But we do. In 2001 the Port Authority launched a new pricing structure with tolls varying on a rudimentary schedule by time of day and payment technology used (i.e. cash vs. E-ZPass) on its bridge and tunnel facilities connecting New York and New Jersey. This has had an impact:

    Also, the Thruway Authority has operated variable tolls for commercial vehicles on the Tappan Zee Bridge (southbound) and at the Spring Valley toll barrier (northbound) since 1997, with a pretty sophisticated toll schedule – eight price increments, with the highest peak tolls costing twice that of the most off-peak tolls.

    Also, the Tappan Zee study has a good analysis of potential variable pricing on that facility: http://www.tzbsite.com/tzblibrary/research/study-199908.pdf

  • Not only is it a scary place for pedestrians to cross but I never feel safe with speeding taxis cutting across lanes.


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