Staten Islanders Keeping an Open Mind on Congestion Pricing

"Walking is Transportation" blogger Dan Icolari has extensive coverage of last night’s seventh and final Traffic Mitigation Commission hearing on Staten Island. He reports "a notable unanimity" among Staten Island’s elected representatives. "Even South
Shore Republican Councilman Vincent Ignizio — a reliable foe of
government whose salary is paid by government — said that despite great
skepticism, he was determined to keep an open mind."

All elected officials who attended (Borough President James Molinaro
sent a representative) declared their support for some sort of
congestion mitigation program––but only if Staten Island’s share of the
dollars on offer from the Feds were made commensurate with the problems
of a borough whose average commute is acknowledged to be the longest in
the entire country.

Staten Island may be New York City’s most car-oriented borough, but Icolari notes that many of those who testified at last night’s hearing advocated for improving mass transit:

Patrick Hyland of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce expressed
his organization’s support for Congestion Pricing, provided five
thoughtful recommendations that address a range of transit-related
problems experienced island-wide are implemented. Significantly, every
recommendation involves mass transit.

•Reinstitution of rail service (roadbeds are deteriorated but right-of-way is intact)
•Increase in the number of Bus Rapid Transit routes (the first and so
far the only such route was instituted earlier this year; ridership was
surprisingly strong from the beginning and continues to grow)
•Fast ferry service to and from the South Shore–the most remote and
least well served by mass transit of the island’s three community board
areas
•Full extension of the currently limited-distance express bus lane on the Staten Island Expressway, and
•A fourth bus depot (the third, already in the MTA capital budget, has already been outpaced by demand for express bus service)

The hearing, amazingly, adjourned 10 minutes early, at 8:50 pm. Icolari writes:

I took the bus
home. No one else from the hearing joined me. We’ve obviously got a lot
of work to do on Staten Island.
But the (very) conditional willingness
of many Staten Islanders to at least consider some sort of pricing
scheme to reduce traffic and improve local mass transit services was
encouraging.

  • bob bob

    what’s the point of having bus only lanes, if they are mostly used by single passanger vehicles(mostly city employees), and even when there is a police officer stopping everyone going on that lane right before they enter Verezano, he still let’s them through without any punishment for their abuse(city employees stick together)

  • Eric

    I noticed a number of passenger vehicle using the bus-only lane on Saturday, October 27th, around 2 p.m., while the three unrestricted lanes were crawling along at between 5 and 10 mph. It’s infuriating! I had to restrain myself from veering sharply into the bus lane in the hope that offending drivers would react by crashing into the median barrier.

    Why doesn’t the city, with all its traffic (and spy) cameras, train a few on these bus-only lanes? It would seem to be a terrific revenue generator. And instead of my blood boiling as these miscreants whose time is apparently more valuable than mine zip by illegally, I’d be able to relax and crack a smile knowing they had a $200 ticket coming.

  • Lew from Brooklyn

    Dan, I am amazed. I attended the SI hearing last night and there was virtual unanimity among elected officials that while they wanted to do someting about traffic congestion that congestion pricing was NOT it.

    Ignizio’s sentiments were crystal clear and when he returned to his seat I said that sounded like a resounding “no vote”. He did not disagree.

    Essentially, they testified that SI had been promised promised promised for umpteen years and that this plan provided only something like 20 new buses—not routes—but buses for SI.

    Senator Savino was extremely negative. Assemblyman Cusick essentially said little or nothing. CM Oddo did not testify but was clearly frsutrated at the lack of true SI participants who “weren’t ringers” for one side or the other.

    CM McMahon came up with some interesting proposals, none of which were congetion pricing at least one of which was designed to make it easier to drive on SI by creating a causeway from the VNB to Perth Amboy.

    I do believ my proposal for a Trans Narrows Tunnel was greeted VERY warmly by the small crowd.

    How different people view reality is often subjective. But how anyone could have witnessed the same hearing I sat through and thought it was pro-CP, I will never understand.

    Lew from Brooklyn

  • Eric,

    If you can believe it, the City needs permission from the State Legislature in order to install bus lane enforcement cameras. It’s part of the PlaNYC legislation.

  • Eric

    The S.I.C.C.’s recommendations make a lot of sense, though they shouldn’t hold up some sort of congestion-pricing program.

    It appears that Staten Island has some real opportunities to turn their sprawl problems around. The fact that they have intact railroad rights-of-way in such a densely populated area is a huge advantage, and it means they could develop a light-rail system without the huge costs of land acquisition and clearance. They could then concentrate future developement around rail stations.

    BRT also has great potential, as does an extensive high-speed ferry system, given that Staten Island is, in fact, an island. There really is the potential for a quick commute to Manhattan.

  • Eric

    So what you’re saying, Aaron, is that I would get quicker satisfaction by applying to MI6 for a “double-0” number.

  • Camera Man

    Lew from Brooklyn, would you co-sponsor city home rule legislation asking for bus lane enforcement cameras? Bills regarding same have been introduced a couple of times in the assembly by Pete Grannis.

  • Dave

    Shouldn’t someone remind those on Staten Island that they already get more of a transit subsidy than anyone else in the city via the free Staten Island Ferry?
    And how much of a savings do we give Staten Islanders via discounts on the VNB?
    So sure, build them their light rail network but tie it to accepting two-way tolls on the VNB which along with two-way tolls on the Hudosn River crossings will take traffice from the Gowanus and lower Manhattan.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I forgot Lew, what was the price tag on that Tunnel and how is it to be paid for in your plan?

  • I stand by the account of the November 5 Congestion Pricing hearing that appears on my blog, walkingistransportation.com, despite Lew from Brooklyn’s assertion that it’s inaccurate.

    My account does not say that any elected official voiced his or her support for Congestion Pricing per se. What it says is that all politicians present stated their willingness, despite their skepticism and despite the countless promises broken in the past, to at least consider some sort of congestion pricing scheme if it were tied to tangible improvements in Staten Island’s transportation system.

    For example:

    In the first sentence of his testimony, Councilman Michael McMahon stated that he had not made up his mind about Congestion Pricing. He then went on to say, “I’ve come here tonight with a few recommendations for major capital transportation projects that could make this plan a little easier to swallow.”

    Senator Diane Savino, as Lew from Brooklyn states, was extremely negative about the proposal (in my account, I described her comments, and McMahon’s, as ‘scathing’). But after her barrage of negative comments, Savino’s told the Commission to: “give [Staten Islanders] some improvements, then they’ll back Congestion Pricing.”

    Most of the tangible improvements referred to by various speakers were part of the list presented in the testimony of Patrick Hyland, who spoke for the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce. Those tangible improvements were enumerated in the account on my blog.

    The concluding two sentences of my account summed up the overall point of the story, which was that despite their negative comments, “The (very) conditional willingness of many Staten Islanders to at least consider some sort of pricing scheme to reduce traffic and improve local mass transit services was encouraging.”

    I stand by what I wrote.

  • Lew from Brooklyn

    Camera Man, Yes I would just as I have supported legislation that would return powers over rent regulation to the City. In fact, when I wargued that Congestion Pricing required a home rule message while the Mayor was busy trying to get the legislture to do it without our input, I pointed out that it was absurd that we needed Albany’s approval AND our home rule message to install red light cameras, but we were supposedly not to have a say in the installation of hundreds of CP cameras. Check the video tape on my BCAT appearance with Paul Steely White (who btw, strikes me as a sincere and good natured fellow).

    Nicolo, your sarcasm aside, it would likely cost about $4 billion dollars. Of course, you could net that from the revenue of people who might not use it and not be taxing the VNB etc. But the one third of one percent Regional Payroll Tax would more than pay for it during the life of the PlanYC period as that tax would gerneate over a billion dollars a year, over $2 billion based on natural growth after about 12 years.

    As to the comment about the Ferry being free, far be it for this Brooklyner, an outworlder on SI, to have to defend SIers. The Ferry is only free for people who live right near it and work in downtown. Otherwise, as Sen. Savino said, it is at best an extension of the subway fare from South Ferry to midtown where you might actually work. Worse, if you have to drive to the Ferry and park in mass transit screwed SI, there is a six dollar fee on top of that. So to call the Ferry free is a bit unfair.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I took the bus home. No one else from the hearing joined me. We’ve obviously got a lot of work to do on Staten Island.

    I guess we’ve got less work to do in Queens. I was pleased to ride home from the hearing on the subway with a neighbor of mine who’d gone to observe. We went part of the way with another livable-streets advocate from Middle Village, and I saw a guy in the Jamaica subway station who I recognized from the hearing.

  • Staten Island will never get the transit right if it doesn’t address poor land use decisions. Big box stores going in along the West and South Shores, for example, which require big parking lots and encourage driving. The borough and city should figure out where to concentrate development– then there would be centers for bus service to stop and ridership would increase.

    Also, interesting note: TSTC’s survey of New Yorkers on congestion pricing in May 2006 actually found stronger support from Ststen Islanders than from residents of any other borough. (58% percent of Staten Islanders thought pricing was a good idea).

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    It appears that Staten Island has some real opportunities to turn their sprawl problems around. The fact that they have intact railroad rights-of-way in such a densely populated area is a huge advantage, and it means they could develop a light-rail system without the huge costs of land acquisition and clearance. They could then concentrate future developement around rail stations.

    I agree with the general idea, Eric, but I have no idea why everyone keeps talking about “light rail” for the North Shore. You only need light rail if you have a significant amount of street-running, as in Jersey City. Otherwise, “heavy rail,” like the current SIRT, is preferable.

    As you say, the right-of-way is completely intact, and so is the connection with the mainland network. Why build a two-car line that only goes to other parts of Staten Island, when you could have a real commuter line that connects to PATH and NJ Transit trains in Newark?

  • To Lew from Brooklyn:

    It is good to have your answer that the tunnel would cost $4 billion.

    Could we have your answer to a more important question: how many tons of greenhouse gas emissions would the tunnel generate each year?

    And how many tons of greenhouse gas emissions could we eliminate by spending that $4 billion on public transportation instead of on promoting automobile use?

  • To Lew from Brooklyn:

    It is good to have your answer that the tunnel would cost $4 billion.

    Could we have your answer to a more important question: how many tons of greenhouse gas emissions would the tunnel generate each year?

  • To Lew from Brooklyn:

    It is good to have your answer that the tunnel would cost $4 billion.

    Could we have your answer to a more important question: how many tons of greenhouse gas emissions would the tunnel generate each year?

  • @alex

    Charles – get that sticky mouse button fixed!

    As for the Trans-Narrow-Tunnel that Lew (Fidler) from Brooklyn is proposing – it is actually a subway tunnel that would link the Bay Ridge line with the SIRT (this misunderstanding has come up on several threads here).

    Whether building such a tunnel is the best use of $4 billion is a good question, but I would guess that the tunnel would lead to a net decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Lew from Brooklyn

    Thank you Alex. I don’t need to get up at both ends.

  • anon

    Lew-

    I just don’t understand the concept of taxing payroll- something we want to increase in New York City- and not excess traffic- something we want to decrease.

    Adding to the cost of any good will- at some point- decrease the attractiveness of it. Lets tax bad things before taxing good things.

    I understand you want this to be as equitable as possible. But people work around these added costs: they come into work a little earlier; they plan trips for the weekend; they take transit; they work from home.

    Additionally, as others have pointed out, I am troubled by the incredible lag time for the projects you propose. I also support a Gowanus Expressway tunnel and a Cross Harbor Tunnel but can we really afford to wait?

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Sorry about the sarcasm Lew, I try to fight it. But it is one response to cynicism, maybe not valid or tasteful, but a response nonetheless. I’ve always liked you as an old school Brooklyn clubhouse pol, something I respect. However, taxing payroll, to pay for transportation in stead of taxing automobiles and calling it Progressive, is cynical anyway you cut it.

    Tolling the Gowanus and transferring that money to tunneling both the Gowanus and your pie in the sky SIR tunnel, now that would be policy. Policy that incidentally would result in cleaner air in Brooklyn.

    Meanwhile, why can’t you do something about that traffic sewer out on Flatbush and U? All you do is add lanes and by God all we get is more traffic, what a shock. I guess you need the space for all the Dollar Vans.

  • Lew from Brooklyn

    Anon, You say you don’t understand the logic but then you state immediately that you understand that I am trying to be equitable. That’s half of it. I am also trying to be effective. It is clear that CP will not raise real revenue. We will be charging people for the privilege of paying for the collection of the tax. The amount that CP will cost to collect percentage wise is unheard of. It is also extraordinarily speculative. We will raise $3-400,000 million a year AT BEST, without significantly raising this charge. BTW, that’s the London experience too.

    My plan, which IS more equitable, would raise over a billion dollars in its first year and grow to 2 billion a year over a dozen years. And it will cost almost nothing to collect. THAT will be an effective infusion of money for transportation.

    As to lag time, I remind you that every journey begins with a first step. The Trans-Narrows Tunnel was begun in 1923. If only they hadn’t stopped. ST would have a s subway. Do we want to be having this conversation just that way again in 25 years?

    Not to mention that PlanYC is about a vision for NYC in 2030, no?

    Nicolo, I am not sure whether to be flattered or annoyed. I doubt that Clarence Norman would call me an old school Clubhouse pol. I have been pretty damn independent in my life. I think there is a Speaker of the Assembly lying in political oblivion because of an insurgency that I was a key player in, but that may just make me old. And you have me at an advantage as I don’t know who you are.

    If you take my view that cars are not evil, my view is not cynical. I believe that our city must use all forms of transportation to survive and flourish. Your fave may not be your naighbor’s fave. But we need both of them. We can do better with all of them. (Need we discuss the boondoggle that is Robo train?)

    As to Flatbush Avenue and Avenue U, in my first year in office I compelled DOT to do a study of this non-CBD congestion zone. NYPD refused to implement their recommendation. I have battled the illegal dollar vans. We have made a great deal of progress on that one.

    However, my innovative solution was to allow all buses to enter the parking garage of Kings Plaza. Get them off the streets, give their passengers the advantage of getting on and off indoors. Let them go where dollar vans could not. Kings Plaza would have been forced to give up some parking spaces, but it would have been worth it.

    This would ahve required reconstruction of the entrances and exits to the Parking lot and some work on the lower level parking plaza. Kings Plaza was not interested. They don’t care. Suffice it to say that Vornado Realty, the KP operator and owner and I are on less than good terms. Perhaps it was my returning the $1,000 campaign contribution that they tried to gie me when I first ran for the Council that gave them the clue that I don’t care for their bad neighbor policies.

    FOR THE RECORD, I will be out of town for a few days and probably not available to the internet. I am not “retreating” from this dialogue, but if I am unavailable to reply, please understnd.

    I will be back.

    Lew from Brooklyn

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    It is clear that CP will not raise real revenue. We will be charging people for the privilege of paying for the collection of the tax. The amount that CP will cost to collect percentage wise is unheard of. It is also extraordinarily speculative.

    I agree with you there, and I personally prefer Konheim and Ketcham’s alternative plan:

    http://www.brooklynrail.org/2007/9/local/whiter-congestion-pricing

    (I’m not sure what you’ll think of the rest of the article.)

    The K&K plan would raise real revenue with relatively low overhead while discouraging car trips to the CBD. It wouldn’t be incompatible with your plan, as long as you’re willing to put tolls on the “free” bridges. It’s favored by many here, although it’s considered a long shot.

    That said, I still think the Mayor’s plan is better than no congestion pricing at all. The main value of congestion pricing to me will be to get people to take the bus or train instead of driving through my neighborhood. I’m on record as saying that the congestion charge would be worth it if the money all gets spent on hookers and blow. I still think so, although it’s becoming more and more apparent how much that money is needed just to pay down the MTA debt.

    I don’t believe that cars are evil. They can be a lot of fun – when there’s nobody else around. I just can’t get past the killing-people aspect of them, though. Interestingly, I meet a surprising number of people who feel the same way but aren’t activists or Streetsblog posters or anything like that. They just choose not to drive, or else hate every minute they spend behind the wheel.

    Sure, let’s use all forms of transportation. I’m willing to put up with cars in the city, but I don’t want to subsidize them with my tax dollars or give them any priority over me or the buses that I ride. That means no expensive tunnels for them, among other things.

    Have a good trip; looking forward to your response.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I don’t find cynicism in your view that cars are not evil, cars are just machines, I don’t think they are evil either. The people who (often from Jersey and Pennsylvania, or at least their plates are) who drive down my block at 50 mph are evil. The cynicism arises from your willingness to tax payroll to pay for mass transit capital projects, but not charge automobiles for the space they take. And then, to accuse congestion pricing of being regressive. Hah.

    I know you have fought the dollar vans publicly and clearly lost, I was just rubbing your face in it. They continue to run through your turf sucking revenue from the MTA.

    As far as funding mass transit capital goes I don’t care where you get the money. Right now a lot of the capital is being funded out of the farebox. I don’t care whether you call it a tax or a toll or a fare. But congestion pricing , while there clearly are administrative costs associated with it, is the only way to fund mass transit capital while simultaneously decongesting the streets.

    I would prefer you feel annoyed rather than flattered. It would be a bigger favor to New York politics if you put your efforts to ending term limits.

  • Lew from Brooklyn

    I’m baaaaak.
    Nick, Not sure if that last comment was meant to be sarcastic. I do appreciate the thought however.
    We have not lost the fight against dollar vans. In fact, we have taken a great number off the streets. Not nearly enough and not nearly done.
    My biggest frustration on this issue, other than my local police commander who cancelled some more radical efforts that I had been supporting, was the unavailability of the Transit Workers to support this effort. Helping was obviously in their best interests, so their unwillingness to engage with me was frsutrating.
    To Camera Man, if you have any current state leg on enforcement cameras in bus lanes, please email that to my policy director at Sheadayny@aol.com. We are looking for it now, but if you have it, that would save time. If such legislation is pending, I will indeed sponsor the home rule on it and have instructed my legislative staff to work on it.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

We Win!!!… a Trip to Albany?

|
This morning’s Crain’s Insider names Streetsblog one of the winners of Monday’s congestion pricing vote in City Council. While we’re honored, no one around here is spiking the ball or dancing in the end zone until New York’s famously dysfunctional state legislature is done doing whatever it is they’re going to do to the plan. […]

Gridlock Sam’s Compromise Plan

|
As if we didn’t already know it, last week’s Traffic Mitigation Commission hearings revealed that opposition to Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan among outer borough and suburban legislators may very well be intractable. Even in traffic-crushed districts where one would almost certainly find a majority in favor of some form of congestion pricing, we didn’t […]

Congestion Pricing Supporters Speak Up in Queens

|
Meghan Goth reports: With city buses slogging their way past double-parked cars on Archer Avenue just outside, Queens community members and elected officials testified on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal for a three-year congestion pricing pilot program at York College Performing Arts Center last night. The Traffic Congestion Mitigation hearing, one of seven being held around […]

Hillary Feels Staten Island’s Pain on Traffic

|
While transportation issues are clearly not very high up on Mayor Bloomberg’s agenda, at least one New York elected official is acknowledging that the city has major traffic problems in need of big solutions. At last week’s Staten Island Chamber of Commerce breakfast, Clinton focused almost exclusively on transportation issues, according to the Advance: From scorning Staten […]