Congestion Pricing Gets a Warm Reception in Manhattan

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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.

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"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

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