Congestion Pricing Gets a Warm Reception in Manhattan


Hundreds of Manhattanites braved an indoor congestion zone Thursday night, struggling to find a seat before the New York City Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission hearing. The packed forum attracted hundreds of spectators, leaving balcony-only seating in the Hunter College auditorium.

Over eighty turned out to voice their support and concerns, prevailing over previous congestion pricing hearings in White Plains and Long Island that brought out, respectively, only seven and ten speakers. Attendees continued to straggle in hours into the hearing, having braved subway troubles and a gridlocked Grand
Central Station to arrive.

Those subway problems, long denounced on Manhattan’s East Side due to overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue line, were one of the evening’s focal points. Many speakers took the opportunity to urge 13 of the 17-member Commission to push for quicker construction of the long-awaited Second Avenue subway line. Upper East Side Council Member Jessica Lappin was among them.

"When is that subway going to be built anyway?" Lappin asked.

"Now you’re talking!" a gruff voiced hollered in response, accompanied by widespread audience applause.

This exchange, though slightly veering from the issue at hand, was one of the liveliest moments in an evening filled with significant, if often repetitive, support for Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal. The evening’s consensus differed greatly from that at a Riverdale debate two weeks ago, where speakers largely denounced Bloomberg’s effort to get Manhattan-bound drivers off the road and onto mass transit.

Rather than criticizing the Mayor’s plan, speakers focused more on the details of implementation, raising issues such as residential parking permits, exemptions for drivers with disabilities and charging drivers going out of the zone.

"Maybe people who live in Manhattan and work in New Jersey, for example, should be getting rewarded for leaving the congestion zone!" Christine Berthet of Community Board 4 suggested.

James Conway, director of industry advancement at the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 14-14B, said Mayor Bloomberg "should be applauded" for tackling a problem that has cost New York jobs.

As one of the only noticeable activists in attendance, Ed Grattan carried a pro-congestion pricing sign and wore a "One Less Car" t-shirt.

Grattan has only been a New Yorker for one year, but said he’s confident that Bloomberg’s proposal will benefit the city.

"I came from London," Grattan said, explaining the decreased traffic his hometown experienced after implementing congestion pricing. "The buses go much quicker there now." He added that just as Londoners were once caught up in the controversy of congestion pricing as a policy, New Yorkers need time to warm up to the idea.

"They’ll get used to it," Grattan said. "It’s not that big a deal."

Reporting and photos by Megan Chuchmach

  • Larry Littlefield

    So the borough that doesn’t want too many of other people’s cars, Manhattan, also would rather have other people swallow its garbage trucks rather than have a transfer station.

    The boroughs could compromise the good way or the bad way. But I’m afraid Silver is on the wrong side of each issue, doing damage in a non-parochial way.

  • Larry Littlefield

    And, ironically, the Republicans and the State Senate are on the other side. If I can’t stand either, does that make me bi-partisan?

  • momos

    Go Grattan! New York needs some adopted Londoners to help us get with the program.

  • JF

    Thanks, Megan. From the Sun article, you’d think that there were only complaints and concerns. It’s good to get reporting that shows how much support there is for this.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Manhattan was the location where the support was supposed to be strongest. The Manhattan politicos and activists for the most part are holding back their support pending resolution of their issues. That would make them not a lot different than Weiner or anyone else. Lots of citizens spoke in support but that support was tepid compared to the impassioned Manhattan opponents. One woman in thousand dollar shoes said that Congestion Pricing was going to force her to move to the suburbs.

    The Queens guy Corey Bearak (sp?) was horrible, (he is a spokesman?) but this was an away game for him and he only needed to lose by less than a goal, a draw would have been a win for him. The meetings upcoming in Brooklyn and Queens will probably bring out more of the axe murderers so there should probably be some focus on bringing out some troops to yell and scream alternately support and condemnation.

    And, the mental illness factor will probably be greater in Brooklyn and Queens.

  • Gerg

    It’s not so nice to embarrass the poor guy in the red t-shirt by so prominently displaying his grammar error on a public web site.

  • Niccolo,
    Please explained what you found “horrible.” I tend to be my own worst critic and I rather enjoyed my presentation; I was also very pleased at the pleasant reception my testimony received from those in attendance. Perhaps you just did not like the substance and that fact that the Manhattanites were so warm to a boy from Queens. NYC-TV taped it so maybe someone can YouTube my presentation and we have a nice back and forth.

    As to the report, the auditorium was not packed; maybe 75-80%; a lot of interior empty seats.
    Also while 80 speakers signed up, only 54 spoke, several of them electeds not on the witness list.

    And it was not just Grand Central that was gridlocked. Seven trains passed before I could board a #6 at 33rd Street. I cannot recall a more crowded subway experience. Riders at that stop I queried said the condition happens once every six weeks. So a likely 10 minute ride took 75 minutes including the wait. Perhaps the congestion problem on and in the subways deserve more immediate attention.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I just found you a surprisingly poor speaker especially considering your spokesman role. The arguments you raised were the same old same old though that did not distinguish your performance from the others except Weiner. Anthony is raising the level of his game.

    You raised the chicken and egg thing as did many of the speakers which you apparently find persuasive. My belief is that we will never get to service expansion if we wait to establish new dedicated funding streams until after the service is in place. The political process is simply not capable of yielding sufficient revenues over a long enough period of time to create the capital flows needed for system expansion of that magnitude. The chicken and egg argument, especially with regard to the 2nd Ave Subway is ridiculous on its face. If you were talking about a bus route, even a BRT route you might have an argument. The system is simply not going to expand until more permanent dedicated moneys are committed to it.

    That said, I thought the anti-crowd, though clearly no where near a majority, won the night. This was Manhattan and it should have been a blow out, it wasn’t. I’m looking forward to your performance at the Queens and Brooklyn events. But you should dust up the schtick a little or just spotlight Weiner more.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Oh yeah, and the shocking once every six weeks thing. There are five work days in a week x 6 = 30 days. Thats 3% crowding disaster. Have you seen my block twice a week when the Gowanus backs up and people run for the free bridge in Brooklyn? Thats 40% of the time. The on-time performance of the roadways always gets a free ride from the pro-congestion crowd. Even out by you in God’s Country Queens the roads regularly come to a complete standstill. As you would expect given that they are free.

  • paul

    As a swede living in Stockholm I have found the Stockholm Congestion charging has been very easy to use and worth the investment costs to have less traffic during the rush hours and making it easier and cheaper to go by taxi between the suburbs and the inner city as the travel time has gone down considerable. People tend only to use the car when they really need it. So for both the best of hour planet and for our own health reducing the unnecessary travels are a great plus.


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