Low Turnout But Surprising Support at Bronx Congestion Hearing

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Erik Shilling reports:

Though many agreed that Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to charge cars and trucks to enter parts of Manhattan could be tweaked, a majority of those who spoke in last night’s Traffic Congestion Mitigation hearing in the Bronx expressed their support.

The theater at Hostos Community College was quite a bit less than half full, and traffic outside later in the night was light. Many at the meeting said turn out was low because of Halloween. Marc Shaw, the chairman of the Congestion Mitigation Commission and the leader of the hearing, said that another Bronx hearing would be held because of the turnout and the holiday, though he did not name a date.

The Commission sponsored the hearing, one of seven around the city, to field public comments about the mayor’s plan.

The strongest opposition came from the night’s first speaker, State Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz. He argued that the plan was discriminatory, that it would exacerbate the Bronx’s parking problems, and that there were better alternatives.

He also suggested that instead of raising money for public transportation with congestion pricing, the city should consider higher car registration fees, or even an additional gas tax. "I know that’s not popular," Dinowitz said, "But this plan needs to be rejected."

Both Dinowitz and City Councilman Oliver Koppel both vehemently rejected the plan’s toll credits for bridge and tunnel fees already paid to get into the city. They both said this was an unfair benefit to commuters coming from New Jersey and other places outside the city. Koppel has said that he is "leaning for" congestion pricing in past remarks.

Though Halloween may have dampened turnout, the night’s testimony was surprising for the number of supporters that spoke.

Sandy Noel, a Bronxite, student, and working mother, said she strongly supports congestion pricing.

"Charging drivers makes good sense to me," Noel said. She attends college in Lower Manhattan, and said she "feels like Ms. Pacman everyday just to get to school on time."

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Others argued the health benefits of congestion pricing.

"Congestion pricing can help people realize better air," Ya Ting Liu, a spokeswoman for the American Lung Association said. She also said that car and truck emissions were a leading cause of asthma in the city.

The most colorful speaker of the night, Mel Peffers (above), a graduate of the Harvard School of Public Health, donned a grim reaper costume, replete with a sickle, to drive home her message of the lasting health benefits of congestion pricing.

"Traffic pollution is killing us," Peffers said. "Right now, we’re paying for it with our health." Even among the supporters of the plan, however, many said they wanted assurances that revenues from congestion pricing would in fact be reinvested in subways and buses.

"This plan is in fact a visionary plan," Richard Gans, who represented Transportation Alternatives, said. "But we need to be sure that we can, in fact, guarantee that this money will be used for public transportation."

Under PlaNYC, only one new bus line is proposed for the Bronx, though cleaner stations and more trains running along the 1 line have been promised. Among other things, many at the meeting pointed this out, and many also demanded more Metro-North stations, as well as an extension of the proposed 2nd Avenue subway up into the Bronx.

Others who didn’t explicitly oppose the plan offered different alternatives, like more water taxis and a ferry service.

Ari Huffnung, President of the Jewish Community Council in the Bronx, said he was working to create a ferry line from Riverdale to Lower Manhattan, on which, he said, commuters could expect a 35 minute ride into the city.

Aside from Chairman Shaw’s brisk speaker announcements, Commission members stayed silent throughout the three hour hearing. They appeared impatient near the end, and, when it was over just before 9pm, a few could be seen heading quickly to the exits.

Reporting and photos by Erik Shilling. 

  • ddartley

    Jennifer Connelly was there? Or wait, she’s playing Sandy Noel in the Congestion Pricing movie?

  • Sproule Love

    Richard Brodsky is a disgrace to this process. I attended the Bronx meeting last night, and he couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to any of the speakers, even the ones echoing his views. Brodsky was obviously doodling the entire time on the materials each speaker handed out. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a way to capture his performance, but I did ask the NYC TV camera man to zoom in on Brodsky’s extensive artwork, so there is footage out there somewhere.

    I imagine that sitting through these meetings is tedious for members of the commission, but everyone else on the panel was clearly paying at least some attention. Watching Brodsky ignore Sandy Noel discuss her concern for her children’s heath made my stomach turn. If there are any members of Brodsky’s constituency reading this, please consider withdrawing your support for this guy. His indifference really stood out.

    Add this insulting display of nonchalance to Brodsky and other’s misguided contention that CP hits the middle class unfairly and I’m left feeling very disillusioned about this process. Why don’t Brodsky and Corey Bearak of Keep NYC CP Free acknowledge Bruce Schaller’s studies that confirm the TSTC.org statistics that Erik Shilling’s posted above. Schaller’s work shows that only 5% of New Yorkers drive to work in Manhattan, and those that do drive in have higher incomes than transit riders. Bearak’s ignorance of Schaller’s work on this issue is particularly irksome considering that the recent report put out by his group cites no fewer than three Schaller studies (see p. 37).

    Regarding the testimony we heard in the Bronx, Richard Gans also made a great point that drivers should not consider driving into Manhattan for free to be their right, when buses and subway trips are not free. He also urged the panel to consider Bloomberg’s smoking ban as an example of another crucial health policy initiative that was previously thought to be politically impossible but has since proven to be a success.

    As a Harlem resident, I agree with the proposal that Curtis Still of CB 10 put forward to extend the CP zone above 86th St., but I acknowledge that this may not be feasible in the pilot program. The experience in London shows that traffic outside their CP zone didn’t appreciably increase, demonstrating once again the reverse of the “if you build it they will come” principal that has reigned supreme in U.S. transportation circles for decades. If you make it harder to drive, people will drive less overall.

    I encourage anyone interested in congestion pricing to attend one of the remaining meetings. It is an illuminating experience to say the least.

  • It’s just unfortunate that NYCEDC, the Department of Transportation and the Commission has not yet caught onto Skymeter’s approach which could address fair and private tolling while also providing a solution to the parking dilemna.

    While the sentiment of the plan and it’s goals are laudable, it’s just unfortunate that it calls for antiquated equipment that other Cities are roundly rejecting for its high capital and operating costs. The brutish, ugly gantries will have anyone who cares a lick about urban design suffering nightmares while the high operating costs won’t deliver nearly the quantity of benefits that would be conveyed to the citizens of New York with a more modern, Satellite-based system that charges for distance, not just for entering a certain area.

    It seems that EZ-Pass has the DoT convinced that their market share should dictate that New York use its’ last-century tolling system instead of the best new systems available for road and parking pricing (not to mention Pay As You Drive Insurance!)

  • vnm

    It shouldn’t be so surprising. The status quo really hurts the Bronx, which, geographically, is the little end of a traffic funnel. Every commuter from a sweeping arc from coastal Connecticut to the east bank of the Hudson must pass through the narrow Bronx to get to Manhattan. More people on Metro-North and fewer driving would really benefit the air quality of the Bronx.

    This drives home the point that the neighborhoods that benefit from Pricing aren’t just the ones in the zone, but those on the way TO the zone.

  • Jonathan

    Justin, how would skymeter track out-of-town visitors who didn’t have a GPS device in their cars?

    In addition, New York has had poor experience with GPS systems to monitor buses in the past, allegedly because of the tall buildings.

    And why do we need GPS for pay-as-you-drive insurance? My car has this nifty device called an odometer, that works something like a unifunctional cyclecomputer without the “reset” button. I could imagine buying insurance in 6,000 mile blocks just as today I buy insurance in six-month blocks; say, insurance from 34,000 miles to 40,000 miles, instead of from January through July.

  • Yeah I’ve been wondering why metered insurance is mentioned only in conjunction with location tracking. (We had some Canadian pol on s.b. extolling such devices a few months back, calling gas taxes antiquated–a very odd conflation.) All it would take is for an innovative insurer to offer lower insurance rates for people that drive rarely who don’t mind having an odometer reading twice a year to establish it. But instead they would rather compete on the dubious principle of not raising rates “just” because of fault in a crash, and how quickly they can put you in your next crashmobile.

  • evan beck

    It’s very clear to me that we will ultimately win out on congestion pricing and would suggest that future arguments be framed for the politicians in win-win terms. I don’t recall who brought this up at the meeting but the analogy to the smoking ban was a home run.
    To paraphrase the logic….what started out as a potential political suicide for Bloomberg (in terms of initial opposition to the smoking ban) ultimately became a shining triumph. He got it done and now is seen in heroic terms for accomplishing it. Likewise with the political football know as congestion pricing many local politicians are doing their best to protect their luxury car commuting residents and in the process are serving up more pork than Texas BBQ. As was eloquently stated at the meeting they should be urged to take the moral high ground with congestion pricing (ala Bloomberg and smoking) and when it works (which it will) they will be in line to reap the benefits of their foresightedness (votes and reelection).

    In addition I want to second the comments of Sproule Love on these pages regarding Mr. Brodsky’s behavior at this hearing. I’m glad someone else noticed. While he had the decency to show up his insouciance on the dias was disturbing at best and downright insulting at worst. He literally was doodling on the backs of presentation summaries for the length of the proceedings. The only time he could be bothered to look up was when Mel Peffers donning a grim reaper costume began to address the panel.
    I can only hope that the outfit she was wearing serves as a harbinger for Mr. Brodsky’s reelection hopes.
    While I wasn’t close enough to notice exactly what he was sketching I’d like to think it was one of his constituents driving their Escalade into the CBD during peak hours and being forced to fork over their 8 bucks. Ahhh dare to dream.

  • Replying to an earlier thread and question about visitors…

    Any tolling system needs a system for visitors or a ‘guest pass’ system. Ours is no different. We simply offer a better, more flexible and cost effective ‘backbone’ to the congestion pricing scheme.

    In Stockholm, visitor passes can be purchased from 7/11. A similar approach, plus online and text registration for guest passes could be used in New York City.

    Also, we are not a bus-type ‘tracking’ system that uses real-time information – which causes the difficulty around signal loss. In fact, our system uses a patented 4-step error-removal process to accurately record when a vehicle has been in the pricing zone, where it has parked and what the resultant charges are.

    In terms of PAYD Insurance, the suggestion of odometer use becomes overly bureaucratic and does not do anything to adjust rates according to the risk of road use. For instance it is much riskier to drive down Broadway at noon than it is at 4am. Premiums could differentiate based on Time, Distance and Location. But hey, if you don’t want to save money on insurance, this is an optional add-on enabled by our system – not a mandatory approach.

    Our technology enables an entire paradigm shift akin to the one created by the introduction of iTunes and iPods. By connecting road use to payment, we offer the ability for motorists to realize the savings connected to better, more efficient, more optimal transportation choices.

    Other fees can be changed to a Pay as You Go basis – from leasing and maintenance plans to vehicle registration fees, licensing and of course, Gas Taxes.

    If we are not smart enough as a species to rationalize transportation economics, perhaps we don’t deserve to survive too much longer!?

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