Today’s Headlines

  • Congestion Pricing Still Alive
  • Irrational Fear of Cyclists on the Upper East Side
  • Congestion Pricing Represents Shift in Thinking on Environmental Policy (Grist)
  • Manhattan Needs More Than a Toll to Unclog Traffic (
  • Manchester, UK, Moves Towards Congestion Pricing (Guardian, BBC)
  • Everyone Needs to Vent: For Ambulance Worker, It’s Diesel (Sun)
  • Gansevoort Plaza Could Someday be Like a Dutch "Woonerf" (NYT)
  • Fare Hike: MTA Must Make Itself Clear (News Editorial)
  • Brodsky: MTA Should Ask for More Money from the State (News)
  • Ft. Lee Complains About Pricing and Pleads for GW Bridge Gridlock Aid (
  • Is Ancient People’s End a Warning for the Future?
  • The Importance of Eco-Cities in an Urbanizing World (Planetizen)
  • DOT to Sell 500 lbs of Foreign Coins Found Stuck in Meters (News)
  • gecko

    The Woonerfs mentioned in the 7/29 NYTs article on Gansevoort are going to be real nice and would would be a perfect enhancement to Union Square which has 3 playgrounds, the cities major farmer’s market, and serves as a major ad hoc meeting place.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    If Brodsky can restore enough state aid to make a fare hike unnecessary, that would go a long way towards restoring his credibility with environmentalists.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    On the State MTA aid issue Brodsky is just countering the Mayors parry of his last punch. The fight is for the City Council’s hearts and minds (no jokes that they have neither, please). The Q poll last week showed a majority against congestion pricing until the question was posed as congestion pricing versus fare hikes.

    The truth is that there will always be fare increases, costs go up. Each of the components of the MTA financial system; fares, tolls, mortgage recording and urban taxes, city and state general revenues, phone tax, all of it will go up (maybe not MRT-1, it is up so high now and the business cycle has not been repealed that I know of). This is a propoganda war and this is Bloomberg’s turf. He successfully got the question posed as CP v. Fare Hike.

    So, Brodsky counterpunches with an issue of state tax support. It is one of Bloomberg’s weaknesses in that the city has continued to cut their historic tax support as well. It forces Bloomberg to put up his guard. And, it brings Spitzer into the fight too. What is the state going to do? If the state and city had kept up state support for the capital plan there would be no crisis to react to. And the cast of characters to blame for that cut in tax support is long (Giuliani, Pataki, Dinkins, Bloomberg, all of them).

  • jones

    anyone have some picture of said woonerfs

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I get that, Niccolo, but I have two disagreements:

    1. There is no disputing that some costs of doing business at the MTA (labor, parts) will continue to go up. But the cost of debt service is too high, and can be reduced by paying down the debt. Of course, that raises the question of where the money to pay down the debt will come from.

    2. Rising costs do not automatically necessitate rising fares. The money to pay for the increased costs can come from general tax revenue, gas taxes, toll increases, congestion pricing or other taxes and fees on undesirable activities.

    So Brodsky is trying to win a rhetorical battle, but can that battle be used to force his support on an increase in appropriations to the MTA?

  • Yumm

    The question to ask Brodsky is where he was when the MTA was digging the hole to China it is now in. Spitzer wasn’t in office. Bloomberg was for the tail-end of the process but is not a key actor in this regard. Brodsky and Silver were in office and voted for every step in the process that got us here.

  • Niels

    Jones, just Google for ‘woonerf’. You’ll find plenty of examples. If it still isn’t clear, I can bike to one to make some pictures of you.

    This site has some nice examples of ‘woonerven’ (the correct pluralisation in Dutch):

    The traffic regulations in a woonerf illustrate their purpose and philosophy. Pedestrians are allowed to use the whole width of the street to walk and play. There’s no ‘hard’ speed limit: in traffic laws it’s described as ‘stapvoets’ or walking speeds. In practice the maximum is 15 km/h (about 9-10 mph), but you’ll hardly ever reach this maximum because you have to navigate through the obstacles. Parking is only allowed in designated parking spots – cars don’t own the area, they are just allowed a share of fair use. Pedestrians always have the right of way, and bikes are higher in the hierarchy than cars, but traffic is not allowed to hinder each other unnecessarily.

    One regulation that prevents woonerven to become through streets is that traffic entering or leaving a woonerf always has to give way to all other traffic (including pedestrians).

    The traffic sign at the entrance of a woonerf shows exactly what the hierarchy of the users of the woonerf is:

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I’m not picking nits with your position either Angus and I don’t think we really disagree here.
    1) Yeah, paying down the debt saves money. But it is still a choice between taxing and borrowing whether you are issuing new notes or raising new revenues. If we had a civic culture capable of raising taxes we wouldn’t have borrowed the money in the first place. Clearly, taxing is cheaper than borrowing if you have the political will to pull it off. Same with fares and tolls. Borrowing is the most expensive economically but the cheapest politically.

    2)Again, we don’t disagree, go get it from somewhere else if you will. But, the reality that there are multiple revenue streams (a strength of the financing structure really) means in the real world that when cost increases occur it is reasonable to assume that all of the streams must pump out a little more liquidity. Given that the Mortgage Recording Tax stream has been the strongest and deepest in the recent past, the other streams have been running a little slow relatively. However, the MRT is the more cyclical of all the revenue sources, or at least conceptually so. Chairman Kalikow referred to the MRT funds as “junk food”.

    Actually I find that reference a tribute to Chairman Kalikow and the powerful real estate interests he represents. Everyone else is complaining about the tolls going up and the fares going up, essentially with their hands out. The real estate interests seem to know they have a good thing going and are not complaining about picking up an increasing share of the MTA tab. These are the evil developers that everyone else in the Community Boards dispersed throughout the city, hate with a vengeance. Their holdings have been booming, due in no small part to the success of the MTA, and they are happy to share that with the rest of the system. I guarantee you won’t find that attitude among the outer borough drivers who will cry to the local voting booth when the tolls go up on the TBTA bridges.

    The developers are taking a constant beating from the NIMBY forces in the neighborhoods. The down-zoning jihad in the outer boroughs will cut the available profits available to the developers and cut the Mortgage Recording Taxes available to the MTA to offset all the other sources of revenue. If down-zoning continues to grow in areal scope MRT revenues will clearly suffer. Also, the resulting less dense neighborhoods will be less efficient to serve by transit in effect leaving the more dense neighborhoods picking up more of the operating cost tab.

    A 6% fare increase for the time period covered is really much lower than inflation. A 0% increase will clearly put more asses in the seats (or feet on the train with standing room). Maybe thats a good thing, I guess it depends on the elasticity of demand.

    Fare increases, in addition to financing the system, have also been an excellent source of leverage for the riders advocates to leverage service improvements. A 0% fare increase while all other costs are increasing will probably mean service cuts, at least it will be a sacrifice of substantial political leverage by the rider groups.

    Perhaps the compelling logic of expanding transit services during the era of immediate revenue increases concomitant with congestion pricing will allow the fare to stay low and still increase service. I don’t know, but I don’t think so. I think it is better to bitch about how bad the fare increase (really very moderate by any reasonable standard) is hurting the riders and use it for leverage for more service.

    So, that was really the MTA’s point regarding the fare increases. Yeah, right now the Mortgage Recording Tax is paying off it all and you don’t “need” to raise fares right now. Get your City Councilperson on board of congestion pricing and there will be less pressure on fares going forward. However, if the Council land use powers continue to be used against the real estate interests we will essentially be killing the Goose laying the Golden Eggs. That will put pressure on fares in the long run as well.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Fascinating analysis, Niccolo. I have to admit, I do share some of the concerns of the anti-development crowd, but more along the Jeff Kroessler/Forgotten-NY lines than the Tony Avella/Queens Crap lines. I think the Eastern Queens car-dominated lifestyle is ultimately unsustainable, but the McMansion/Fedders developers just seem to want to build denser car-dominated areas. I certainly don’t think downzoning is the answer.

    Your point about the mortgage recording tax is very interesting. I agree that it’s essentially a form of diversification, but it’s important not to get hooked on it.

    Funny you should mention Kalikow. At a LICBDC event where he gave a speech promoting the Transportation Bond Act, I asked him whether it was a good idea to take on so much debt. His answer was, “Do you own a home? [Yes.] And you have a mortgage on it, right?” At the time I was unconvinced that the debt was “good debt,” but I voted for it anyway.

    Now I can kind of see Kalikow’s strategy: borrow the money while the MRT revenue is strong enough to cover the debt service. And I understand better why our governors keep nominating real estate executives to run the MTA. They feel better about paying the tax if they get a say in how it gets spent.