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“Not Getting Anywhere” at Bronx Pricing Forum

2:06 PM EDT on October 12, 2007

And we thought Bloomberg had a tough crowd...

Filed by Megan Chuchmach:

Parking at the Riverdale Temple in the Bronx was at a premium Thursday night, with cars lining Independence Avenue in front and packing the lot out back. Inside, the owners of those cars, for the most part, raised a stink about Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan.

"Something needs to be done about the traffic, but not the way it is in its current proposal," Riverdale resident Helen Morik said at the event, a pricing forum hosted by Bronx state Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz.

That was the common theme among residents of the 81st Assembly District, clearly mostly motorists, who came to listen to Kathryn Wylde speak for and Westchester Assembly member Richard Brodsky speak against Bloomberg's proposed plan to combat Manhattan traffic problems. Wylde and Brodsky are both members of the Congestion Mitigation Commission.

Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, argued that people who drive cars from the Bronx into Manhattan shouldn't be exempt from helping ease the plague of traffic congestion.

"We all need to share the burden," Wylde said. "The only solution is to figure out how to discourage people from driving into Manhattan." She said the city is laden with a $13 billion a year price tag for excessive congestion, which is exhausting the economy and costing jobs.

Brodsky, Chairman of the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, shot back that the pricing plan is "sticking it to the middle class and the poor." He said he is fighting the principle of charging taxpayers for access to public goods, not the $8 itself.

Dinowitz, a frank critic of the congestion pricing plan, argued that Bloomberg's proposal would make the Bronx a huge parking lot, forcing Bronxites to suffer extra traffic, extra parking and extra fees.

"It just shifts traffic outside the congestion zone," Dinowitz said, adding that drivers from the suburbs would park in the Bronx and take public transportation over to Manhattan.

"What's the incentive for our community?" he asked. "The tax is not only regressive, it's discriminatory."

Traffic relief advocates weren't out in strong force and, if they were in attendance, were trounced by angry drivers.

Kingsbridge resident Jeffrey Otto was one of the few attendees to speak in favor of congestion pricing, arguing the plan would reduce traffic on the Henry Hudson and Major Deegan expressways.

"My kids will breathe a lot easier," Otto said.

But Otto's concern over air quality and environmental pollution were dismissed by Brodsky.

"The city doesn't know what will happen to air quality," Brodsky said. "And the pollution is going to just be moved, not reduced, from parts of wealthy Manhattan to working areas of the Bronx and Queens."

This was just one of the evening's constant back and forth volleys that seemed to raise more questions than answers, with Wylde and Brodsky contradicting one another with ongoing rebuttals.

"There was never any middle ground," said disappointed Riverdale resident David Knapp. Knapp works in eastern Manhattan and drives his two children to school on the West Side because buses got too expensive.

"Tonight was just too ideological," Knapp said after the debate. "We're not getting anywhere."

Photo: Megan Chuchmach

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