Congestion Pricing Q&A With Rohit Aggarwala, Part 2



Rohit Aggarwala models the latest in Long-Term Planning & Sustainability chic: Gray flannel, subway token cuff links, Columbia U. class ring and a global warming mug: Pour a hot drink and coast lines disappear.

This is the second segment of a four-part interview with New York City’s Director of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, Rohit Aggarwala. We’re talking about Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal for a three-year congestion pricing pilot project in New York City. Part 1 of our interview can be found here.

Aaron Naparstek: Why does the mayor’s congestion pricing plan designate 86th Street as the northern boundary rather than 60th Street, which is traditionally considered the top of the Central Business District?

Rohit Aggarwala: There are a couple of problems with 60th Street as a boundary for congestion pricing. The CBD traditionally ends at 60th Street, but on the west side up in the 60s you’ve got Lincoln Center, ABC TV, and other big office buildings. On the east side, you’ve got the hospitals, the buildings to the north of Bloomingdale’s and the museums. There are lots of non-residential destinations for drivers well above 60th Street. That’s the first issue.

Second, if you look at traffic patterns, it’s not as if the traffic immediately dissipates as you cross 60th Street going northbound. Depending on the time of day, depending on which avenue you’re looking at, the traffic really changes in the quality of the congestion and delay somewhere between 72nd and 110th Street. And so while that doesn’t dictate 86th as exactly the right line, it suggests that the boundary should be somewhere north of 60th Street.

Finally, some people have argued that people are going to drive in and park in Greenpoint or park on 87th Street and take the subway the rest of the way in and, frankly, we don’t see that as being a big risk. Compared to a round trip subway ride, you’re only saving $4 and you’re adding a lot of time to your trip, both because the parking itself is scarce and because the subway trip will add time. So, it’s unclear to us why anybody really would do that.

But if somebody is going to Bloomingdale’s on 59th Street, certainly, if you charge $8 to drive south of 60th Street they’re going to park on 61st and walk. And if somebody is going to Columbus Circle or Carnegie Hall, or any of the many businesses and offices in the 50s, you are more likely to have that parking problem.

So, those three reasons combined suggested to us that the boundary ought to be somewhere between 72nd and 110th Street. We picked 86th Street as a place that we thought made sense but as the mayor has said many times, we’re open to conversation about that.

AN: Wouldn’t it be far less expensive and nearly just as effective simply to toll the East River bridges?

RA: Not really. The largest vector through which cars enter the Central Business District is not the East River, it’s 60th Street. More cars are coming south from upper Manhattan, the Bronx and Westchester than are crossing the East River. So, you would get some of the benefit by only tolling the bridges but you wouldn’t get all of it.

Furthermore, we believe that it’s very important to toll traffic inside the zone. You would never want to have the situation where you’re charging people who are driving in from places that have lesser transit access while inadvertently encouraging Manhattan residents to buy cars and drive around Manhattan for free. That would be a complete mistake.

AN: Won’t the current plan send a lot of excess traffic congestion onto Manhattan’s East and West side highways since there will be no charge to drive on them?

RA: I don’t think so. Frankly, with the congestion you have on the Manhattan street grid, it would be a bit of an irrational if your destination is Harlem or the George Washington Bridge and you come across the Brooklyn Bridge, why would you drive up Broadway rather then just getting on one of those highways? What we don’t want to do is charge to drive on the East and West side highways and wind up pushing the traffic that’s currently on the FDR Drive onto the BQE. That doesn’t necessarily benefit anybody.

AN: If New Jersey commuters are only paying an additional $3 atop the tolls they already pay to cross the Hudson, is that really enough of a price increase to prevent them from driving?

RA: It’s going to have an impact. It might have a lesser impact because it’s a lesser increase in the costs that they are currently paying. One of the reasons that we went with the credit and made every crossing the same price is to make sure that you reduce the instance of, say, people driving down Flatbush Avenue to cross a less expensive Manhattan Bridge when the more direct ride takes them through the Battery Tunnel.

Keep in mind, the credit doesn’t only apply to New Jersey commuters. It’s the same thing with people who
currently drive in through the Battery Tunnel and the Midtown Tunnel.
They will have a lesser price increase under the mayor’s proposal. The
fact is they are already paying something. They’re making the decision
that driving is worth the cost. And that’s all we want to do is make
people make that decision.

The goal here is not to force people out of their cars, the goal is to encourage people who have good transit options to take transit and to reduce the perverse incentive we’ve currently got, which is that for some people it may actually be cheaper to drive than to take transit.

AN: Why not feather the fees at the start and the end of the charging periods as was done in Stockholm so, say, driving in at 6:00 am is cheaper than driving in at 8:00 am during the absolute rush hour peak?

RA: It’s a concept we’re open to. As with so many things, the issue is creating a balance between precision and simplicity. The most precise thing you could do would be to have variable fees that depend on the actual level of traffic at a given time. The challenge here is that a price signal only works if people understand it. So, you need some level of simplicity. We went with a very simple approach that’s just kind of binary but I think we’re open to the idea of feathering or any other variation that might make it work better as long as we’re all convinced, and eventually the commission itself will have to be convinced, that people will be able to understand it.

  • Boogiedown

    “RA: Not really. The largest vector through which cars enter the Central Business District is not the East River, it’s 60th Street. More cars are coming south from upper Manhattan, the Bronx and Westchester than are crossing the East River. So, you would get some of the benefit by only tolling the bridges but you wouldn’t get all of it.”

    So let’s build Park-N-Rides at Yankee Stadium so our auto-dependent cousins in Westchester can keep motoring!

  • I think we are making it sound as if we are charging a fortune for traffic to come down to CBD of NYC. You pay $ 3 for a cup of coffee – which helps Star Bucks gorw in leaps and bounds when you ahve an option of $0.99c for a QucikChek coffee.

    I think what Rohit is speaking is really this. One, there is an incremental charge. And the choice of paying the charge is dependent on the traveler. YOU. You choose to go through the CBD, you choose to pay the incremental amount. You choose not to pay the incremental fee, you go on the periphery.

    I think any change will bring in cries from across the people who are impacted. That’s only one view of the issue. Let’s look at the betterment of the citizens for a change. Let’s go with the charging and have a better life.

    01. Lower CO in the atmostphere
    02. Lowering of breathing related health issues
    03. Faster commute and hence savings for businesses
    04. Finally, a better life for NYC and surrounding areas

    Yes, Yankees stadium park-n-ride is a good idea. Just float this and see the how badly it can snow ball against you!

  • Gary

    Funny, one of the newer threads about the ridiculous subsidies for Yankee Stadium parking garages talks about just that . . . park and ride at Yankee Stadium!

  • Gelston

    The question for Aggarwala then is where are the new park and ride facilities supposed to be? I believe two are required under the plan. The only way I can think of that the Yankee Stadium garage could be used to sop up CBD-bound commuters and not induce new demand is to require government employees to use it and take away their parking privileges in Manhattan.

  • Cap’n Transit

    Maybe so, Gelston, but they’ll still drive through the Bronx to get there.

    http://capntransit.blogspot.com/2007/08/park-and-rides-are-not-answer.html

    Clearly, park-and-rides are not the answer. It’s a shame that the city agred to build them. Can’t we build them in some out-of-the-way place where no one would ever use them?

  • Gelston

    Capn Transit has convinced me.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

PlaNYC Mastermind Rohit Aggarwala Leaving NYC

|
Rohit Aggarwala (better known as Rit), the lead author of PlaNYC 2030 and director of the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, is leaving the post he created from scratch, the Bloomberg administration announced today. Aggarwala will be stepping down in June to join his soon-to-be wife in California. Aggarwala was tapped in 2006 […]

Congestion Pricing Q&A With Rohit Aggarwala, Part 3

|
Rohit Aggarwala, New York City’s Director of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, sat down to answer some of the more frequently asked questions about Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal for a three-year congestion pricing pilot program. Below is the third part of our four part interview. Here is Part 1 and Part 2. Aaron Naparstek: Mayor Bloomberg’s plan […]

Congestion Pricing Q&A With Rohit Aggarwala, Part 1

|
Too many unanswered questions. Among New York State Assembly Democrats, that has been one of the most frequent criticisms of Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal for a three-year congestion pricing pilot project in New York City. Last month, Lower Manhattan Assembly member Deborah Glick said that she and her colleagues were “confronted with a dearth of information […]

Congestion Pricing Q&A With Rohit Aggarwala, Part 4

|
DOT’s Dani Simons and City Hall’s Director of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, Rohit Aggarwala, at a joint hearing of Manhattan Community Boards 4, 5 and 6 on July 9; one of many public hearings where Bloomberg Administration officials have met with communities to discuss congestion pricing. Tonight, Brooklyn Community Board 6 hosts a similar public […]

Undecided Council Members Speak Up at Pricing Hearing

|
Janette Sadik-Khan and Rohit Aggarwala (left table) fielded questions this morning from City Council members, including Lew Fidler and Larry Seabrook. At the first part of today’s congestion pricing hearings, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and Rohit Aggarwala, director of the Office for Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, fielded questions from the City Council’s nine-member State and […]

Are East River Bridge Tolls the Better Way to Go?

|
Writing for the Brooklyn Rail, Carolyn Konheim overviews the legacy of "Tammany-style" former Brooklyn Democratic leader Meade Esposito, and posits that the deceased "capo di tutti capi in New York politics" still exerts influence on city transportation policy. Konheim, who is a proponent of tolling the East River bridges, argues that Esposito’s record of protecting […]