Brian Ketcham Proposes a “Simpler, Cheaper Traffic Fix”

ERB_tolls.jpg
Distribution of vehicles entering Manhattan CBD by direction and pricing status (Zupan & Perrotta, 2003).

In an op/ed piece in Monday’s Daily News, Brooklyn-based transportation consultant Brian Ketcham proposed some changes to Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan. Ketcham, who has been pushing for some form of congestion pricing since his time working for the Lindsay Administration more than 30 years ago, argues that New York City should:

  • Put tolls on the free East River Bridges.
  • Move the pricing zone’s northern boundary down to 60th Street.
  • Eliminate all free and long-term street parking and charge hefty garage rates at on-street meters inside the Central Business District.

It is not surprising to see the idea of East River bridge tolls popping up right now. Prior to Mayor Bloomberg’s Long-Term Sustainability announcement in April, virtually everyone who was doing serious thinking about New York City traffic reduction was
focused on the 170,000+ vehicles traveling over the free East River bridges each day.

In July 2003, Ketcham and economist Charles Komanoff published, The Hours, a study that found that tolling the free East River Bridges would "do away with more than 9% of the idle time that motorists, truckers and bus riders now lose in traffic tie-ups throughout New York City" with significant congestion reductions in the outer boroughs, in particular.

Earlier that year, Komanoff also published "Who Will Really Pay," a study that found commuters who drive to work over the East River bridges earn, on average, $14,300/year more than those who don’t drive to work over a free bridge (download it here).

A September 2003 Transportation Alternatives study of East River bridge tolls by Bruce Schaller made similar findings. Schaller also noted the difficult "political realities" of tolling the bridges.

In November of 2003, Jeff Zupan and Alexis Perrotta at the Regional Plan Association published a study that tested four different congestion pricing scenarios, all of which included some form of East River bridge tolls (download it here). One of their models found, "At the East River bridges traffic would drop by about 25 percent, likely leading to the virtual elimination of congestion at those crossings," as well as "relief on local streets" and "less traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway."

With all of that in mind, here is Ketcham’s Daily News editorial, re-printed in full:

Congestion pricing is a terrific and necessary idea, and Mayor Bloomberg deserves great credit for reenergizing the concept. But to have a real chance to work, his plan must be rejiggered – now. It must be simplified in its design and coordinated with proposed fare hikes.

The basics are clear. Across the city, people are fed up with traffic. And they don’t want to pay more for transit until it gets better. That’s why we should immediately halt the MTA fare and toll hike process so we can determine whether a simpler congestion charging plan could net a reliable $500 million a year for fares and capital improvements.

But that’s just the necessary first step to purchase the goodwill of the public. At the same time, Mayor Bloomberg should roll out a much simpler traffic control system that really makes sense to all New Yorkers. The plan that’s currently on the table prescribes a needlessly complex infrastructure and demands costly administration and enforcement.

Here’s how to fix it. First, ditch the elaborate detection grid. For his three-year trial, the mayor has proposed building a full-scale network with 340 charging stations on Manhattan streets south of 86th St. A grid of E-ZPass sensors and cameras would track and charge cars $8 and trucks $21 to drive into the core of Manhattan during the business day. Trips that begin and end in the charging zone would pay $4 a day. Taxis and through-traffic, which are a large part of the traffic, would be exempt from charges, as would residents moving their cars on street-cleaning days.

Charging cars and trucks to get into the central business district makes perfect sense – but the rest of this scheme would be a logistical nightmare. All trips would be screened and photographed, some many times, and payments and locations recorded, producing a database of great concern to the American Civil Liberties Union – but adding little revenue.

The complication, controversy and confusion are not worth the costs – which would be around $169 million more than the federal government has allotted to install the new technology.

There’s an easy alternative that would actually work. New York should capitalize on its bridge and tunnel portals to Manhattan. Close the loophole of the four untolled East River bridges in Brooklyn and Queens – which right now are the source of nearly half the free entries into Manhattan. Install overhead charging monitors on the six inbound bridge spans and set the congestion fee on them so there is no difference with MTA tolls.

Drivers would then no longer clog local streets to find cheaper routes. Research shows that tolls on the four bridges will cut congestion citywide by 9%, which is more than the mayor’s 6.4% traffic reduction goal in his Manhattan target zone.

The bigger challenge is how to charge the more than half of drivers who now enter the central business district free from north of 60th St. This traditional northern boundary of midtown provides an elegant line in the sand – and an ideal site to test charging on Manhattan streets. Tolls would be collected only once on the two highways and on the 11 southbound avenues that cross 60th St. These 19 total stations would cost $7 million to install – well within the $10.4 million in federal funds allotted for the pilot. The low operating cost would leave $500 million a year for public transit improvements.

Supporters of the mayor’s plan might have one reasonable objection to this idea: How can we also discourage people from driving within the central business district? The answer: Eliminate all free and long-term street parking and charge hefty garage rates at on-street meters.

New York needs congestion pricing. But to succeed, congestion pricing itself needs to be transformed into a more sensible version of the mayor’s costly, headache-prone proposal.

Ketcham has more than 30 years of professional experience in traffic engineering. As a New York City official in the early ’70s, he authored the nation’s first transportation control plan to meet clean air standards.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Ketchum is right in many ways.

    Unlike congestion pricing, this proposal would not permit an expansion of the concept to equally congested areas like Downtown Brooklyn. But this is a pilot project. And, moreover, it is possible that the city might wish to have multiple zones with different charges. Manhattan south of 60th Street would be the most expensive.

    Another problem is transferring mid-day traffic from the FDR to the BQE. That could be solved with some additional sensors, to cut the charge for those who just stay on the FDR or West Street on their way through the city. The additional sensors would cost more money.

    Ketchum’s proposal differs from Gridlock Sam in that Sam would kick back savings to drivers going over other TBTA bridges by making them free. I would go half-way, by making them cheaper — driving over those bridges does contribute to traffic, but realistic transit alternatives are not available for Staten Island to Queens trips.

  • uptown

    Ketcham’s ideas are intriguing, if not particularly original. But what’s with moving the boundary to 60th Street? Wouldn’t car commuters who work in the 50s just park in the 60s and walk?

    Surely he’s aware that’s a problem with his plan. What’s his solution?

  • flp

    as far as the pricing boundary is concerned, it occurred to me that the more northern boundary is to protect the UES residents from having to pay for driving to work or shopping or WTF-ever. doesn’t bloomberg “drive” to 59th street to catch the 4/5?

    i could be wrong though, but i would be surprised.

  • Jonathan

    flp, under the Bloomberg plan, the 300-plus “charging stations” scattered over the CP area would toll UES residents “for driving to work or shopping or WTF-ever.”

  • Hilary

    But they’d only pay half ($4)to do so. Under the current CP scenario, these residents will be happily driving their children to school and spouses to work, shopping at Fairway and Trader Joes downtown, driving to Lincoln Center. I think the 86th St. line captures too many residents with cars and tempts them with less congested streets.

  • vnm

    Yeah, not a terrible idea (haven’t I seen this posted on Streetsblog already)? But the idea about moving the northern cordon down to 60th Street would create a border-effect parking hell in the 60s, where as 86th Street wouldn’t do that because there aren’t office towers immediately south of that.

  • joe
  • Sam Lowry

    I think the value to this counter proposal is its simplicity — both from conceptual and implementation standpoints. The mayor’s proposal has three big defects:

    1. It’s pretty complicated to understand. Offsets to tolled crossings, different prices for moving within vs across the boundaries — all that stuff confuses a lot of people. I’ve had many conversations about how the Mayor’s proposal works with some pretty sharp people. It leaves most of them scratching their heads.

    2. It’s extremely complex to implement. It will require an enormous amount of construction, possibly some unproven technologies, substantial enforcement programs, and a huge back-office operation. Just the part about figuring which cars are just being moved for ASP vs actually going somewhere is mind-boggling.

    3. It will radically increase the level and sophistication of surveillance technology installed in public spaces. Law enforcement enthusiasts may like this “two for the price of one” aspect of the Mayor’s plan, but lots of other people don’t.

    Just sticking EZ-Pass readers on the ER bridges (or better yet, the HR bridges as well) avoids all of these defects.

    I think the mayor went with this particular plan because he thought its ability to charge everyone (especially Manhattan-ites and drivers from Westchester who have free options) made it an easier political lift than just tolling more crossings. It may indeed have more congestion-relief benefits than other approaches (by addressing intra-CBD driving), but I don’t think this was the big factor in this decision. I think Bloomberg’s judgement about the difficulty of political lifts has long been poor, and this example does nothing to change my opinion. Just toll the bridges and be done with it.

  • Jonathan

    Hilary, as a car owner myself, I will concede that I can always come up with new reasons to drive somewhere. I will also concede that having to pay $4 to get off my block might be a strong disincentive to using the motorcar. My demand for motorcar trips is fairly elastic, as economists would say.

    Your post refers to another class of economic actors whose demand for motorcar trips is inelastic in terms of price. In lay terms, they will happily shell out $4 for the ability to drive somewhere.

    What you’ve written suggests that somewhere between $4 and $8 is a big inflection point in the demand curve for motorcar trips. Are there any studies on this? My opinion is that the inflection point for intra-Manhattan motorcar trips is around $2, or the transit fare. More than that and it’s just more economical to take the train, and avoid traffic, than to drive.

    As far as tempting people with less congested streets, Schwartz’s plan makes that overt, and you make it sound like a bad thing. But that’s what the “pricing” part of CP does, just like superpremium tickets to Broadway shows “tempt” people to attend theater by allowing them to sit in front.

    An example of a congestion plan without “temptation” would be a plan that banned automobile traffic with certain license plate numbers on certain days. I doubt that this would be very popular.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Wouldn’t car commuters who work in the 50s just park in the 60s and walk?”

    Where? Residents get there first, assuming they don’t pull their cars out for use on a weekday.

    Actually, parking is already hell in the area due to local conditions. While not part of the CBD, the institutional complex (hospitals, Rockefeller University) north of 60th Street on the east side, along with extensive commercial activity serving the hyper-affluent population, is a major employment concentration. I don’t have the data with me here, but I believe it is larger than most CBDs.

    Often far from the subway, and served by the most crowded line in the city, this area attracts drivers. But is one area that will get more service under current plans. If the Second Avenue does make it to 125th, MetroNorth riders will be able to get there via an easy transfer at 125th, with NJT and LIRR riders getting on the Q via the pedestrian tunnel from Penn to Herald Square.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Just toll the bridges and be done with it.)

    Or just toll the bridges as the pilot project, and add to this if required. I think that is the point he is making. Quick, easy and cheap.

  • rlb

    Bloomberg’s plan is better because it can be extended and manipulated.
    After it’s up and running in Manhattan and reducing traffic, other parts of the city will want in. The complicated internal workings will already be figured out, and further traffic problems will be solved by physically installing infrastructure. As the population of New York grows, traffic problems will spread to more and more areas, and tolled East River bridges will be irrelevant in trying to fix them.
    As the pricing area spreads, the concept of zoning will likely be introduced. It probably should not cost the same amount to drive past 86th as it does to cross 60th street, but slap a stationary toll at either location and you’ll never see what the difference may have been.

  • JF

    For Joe (comment #7), I’ll quote Larry’s post #1:

    Ketchum’s proposal differs from Gridlock Sam in that Sam would kick back savings to drivers going over other TBTA bridges by making them free.

    I want to point out that the alternative plans proposed by Assemblymember Rory Lancman, Walter McCaffrey of “Keep NYC”, Jim Trent of the Queens Civic Congress, Representative Weiner and Councilmember Lew Fidler were almost immediately praised by Richard Brodsky or one of the other congestion-pricing opponents. The alternative plans proposed by Konheim & Ketcham and Sam Schwartz are pretty much ignored.

    Of the three (I believe) editorials that Konheim and Ketcham have published, the only comment from an anti-congestion pricing person is this incredibly lame argument from Richard Lipsky, who apparently would be happy to see the subways fall apart in an attempt to punish “the MTA”:

    http://momandpopnyc.blogspot.com/2007/11/can-plan-on-traffic.html

    Figuring out the difference between the plans that Brodsky likes and the ones he doesn’t is left as an exercise to the reader.

  • Hilary

    Jonathan,
    Less congested streets are indeed the goal of all plans — but for whose benefit? To me, I want the streets “cleared” in order to reduce emissions (this requires fewer vehicles, cleaner vehicles, and fewer bottlenecks), and to increase the mobility of transit, bicycles, and pedestrians. A collateral effect (but NOT the goal) is that private automobiles will also move faster. We can hope that the private automobiles that will be favored will be those without transit options and who are somehow contributing to the economy/welfare of the city.
    To answer your first question: what is the inflection point for car owners inside the zone to use their cars? I would say the biggest disincentive for using a car is losing your parking space. This is not a factor for people who have secure parking. They have made large investments in their car and their parking, and will use it on every occasion where it is about the same price and as convenient as a cab. It is certainly higher than $2, which is the one way fare for one person. Now here is what I worry about: when parking reform eliminates all free on-street parking, and finding a spot becomes much more likely, the major disincentive for the rest of car owners from using their cars will disappear.
    In short, intrazone driving is a problem that will not be solved by any scenario put forth. I can’t think of one myself. I only hope that the other modes become so attractive that no one will want to drive unless they have no other choice.

  • Larry Littlefield

    One thing about Ketchum’s plan that will drive people NUTS: the $8.00 surcharge on the taxi ride from the Upper East Side to Midtown. There are some people who actually get around by cab, something most of the rest of us cannot imagine.

    Only $2.00 if split four ways in a cab accessed at a cabstand, which I guess is the argument for it.

  • Charlie D.

    This plan is indeed simpler than Bloomberg’s, and may certainly be a better first step.

    It seems the question that everyone is trying to answer is how to make driving less appealing for those who choose to do it. Certainly, parking is a huge issue. If people have to pay a significant amount for parking, they will be more apt to choose other options. (Parking revenues can also be funneled into a wide variety of transportation improvements, such as mass transit, roadway improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists, etc.

    Another thing that can be done that is relatively simple: take more space away from cars and make it more physically difficult to drive. These are things Transportation Alternatives has already been talking about. Take away general travel lanes and make them into bus lanes, bike lanes, wider sidewalks, pedestrian plazas, etc. Lower speed limits and add traffic calming. Design the roads so that it is still possible to drive in a certain area, but just not convenient.

    With expensive parking and roads that by their nature discourage driving, people will hopefully be tempted to use other modes.

  • Hayley

    Great ideas, making driving less appealing to people is a difficult task. Since people for the most part are lazy, the only way to change their minds about driving is to give incentives, and last time I checked, it’s not so cheap to market when you are targeting the majority of people.

  • Jonathan

    Hilary, you are admirably focused on the parking space, and losing a parking space is a definite disincentive. So if I’m paying $500 a month to stash my late-model luxury car in a garage in the East 60s (real price quote), plus a rather pricey auto insurance policy, is there any amount of congestion charge that would make me think twice about driving?

    On a related topic, I was walking yesterday morning on East 63rd Street between Lex and 1st Avenues. I haven’t been there in a while, and I was really unpleasantly surprised by how noisy it was. Having the congestion zone end at 86th St might make that area a little quieter.

  • Gary

    uptown, to the extent Ketcham’s plan is not “original” it’s because he first put it forth 30 years ago. He still gets the points for originality in my book.

    And I think the plan has a lot to recommend it. Bloomberg’s plan should always have been the starting point for discussions. The whole idea of the CPC is that they can come up with something better, if possible. I like the simplicity of Ketcham’s approach.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    It seems the question that everyone is trying to answer is how to make driving less appealing for those who choose to do it.

    Ah, but is it? That’s what we’re trying to figure out, but Lew from Brooklyn said in no uncertain terms that he thinks it’s a preposterous idea.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Didn’t all the smart people that work for Bloomberg know that tolling the bridges was a superior policy years ago? I thought it was well-established and accepted wisdom, almost a truism. Also, just as true that tolling the bridges was always DOA politically. I always thought that Bloomberg put forward PlaNYC as it was because tolling the bridges had been shot down repeatedly by Albany. Just what is different now? Has the body politic learned some secret code that now makes tolling of the bridges palatable?

    Or is it that, since congestion pricing is going down anyway, it is better to fail with the proper policy rather than the compromise you thought would pass? Just who in the Assembly will accept this proposal who wouldn’t go for PlaNYC? Does Shelly Silver support tolling the bridges?

  • mf

    Why not really keep it simple and just increase the registration fees on automobiles in the NYC area to some fee that approximates all these costs, say $2,000/yr? Many people who don’t “need” cars would get rid of them, which would greatly reduce occasional trips. We could encourage car-sharing services through providing free parking.

    No new infrastructure needed, although a few muni meters would be good, to keep the non-residents from taking a free ride.

  • Jonathan

    mf, don’t you think there are enough cars registered in Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Michigan already in your neighborhood?

  • Chris H

    Niccolo,

    I don’t think it is a well established fact that tolling and cordon would work better. I don’t know if the way its proposed for the Bloomberg plan is better, but I don’t think you *know* that its worse based empirical evidence or even detailed studies. Please correct me if I am wrong.

    People like to make claims about capital and operating costs for running a system without any evidence. You can’t just say since London’s system costs a certain amount that you can scale it up to estimate what NYC’s would cost. There are too many factors. Unless you can come up with solid evidence, not just conjecture, I don’t think you can say its “well established and accepted wisdom, even a truism.”

    Please correct me if I am wrong.

  • Hilary

    This thread has perhaps brought us to a painful but helpful recognition. There is no realistic way to “price” the most affluent city car owners from using their cars. Every tool is counterproductive. Increasing the cost of ownership may discourage some people from owning, but for those who decide to own (or whose employers pick up the cost), they will only increase the incentive to use the vehicle. Increasing the cost of using cars in the city – congestion pricing, bridge tolling, parking reform – have the perverse effect of making driving in the city for those who can afford it even more attractive. Whether we like it or not, the only area where we have any chance of seriously reducing traffic is where price is elastic. That is the middle class minority of driving commuters.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    The anti-congestion pricing people have been making that argument since congestion pricing was first proposed. I’ve understood their argument the whole time and my response is and always has been: these upper-middle-class car commuters still can and should be using the train or the bus instead.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (these upper-middle-class car commuters still can and should be using the train or the bus instead.)

    Instead of those with parking permits, or some other parking deal? Even with a monthly deal, it would cost at least $15 per day to park near where I work, or double the proposed charge.

    So it’s the executive class vs. the political class. I say do what is best for the rest of us.

  • Hilary

    Angus – and they will, when it looks like London and Paris. In the meantime, we shouldn’t design a system that is unnecessarily expensive or intrusive in the determination to “price” these people out of their cars. Larry is right – do what is best for the most of us – the system that captures the most revenue, preserves maximum privacy, aesthetics and other values, etc. So far, that would seem to be Ketchum and Kohneim.
    However, there was a fellow from Toronto who piped up at the end of the Megaregion conference at Rudin Center on Tuesday. He wanted to know if anyone was looking at his satellite-based technology. The short answer was no. I couldn’t figure out whether the guy is a nut or the saviour we’ve been waiting for. Anyone know about Bern Grush (grushour.com or http://www.mobilitypricing.org?)
    Hilary

  • Larry Littlefield

    (the system that captures the most revenue, preserves maximum privacy)

    I didn’t get the whole privacy thing.

    Until I found that EZ-Pass records were being used in divorce proceedings against spouses who had screwed around on their husbands and wives.

    Not something I would have thought of. For some reason our state legislators were way ahead of me on that one.

  • When they spend their time thinking up ways to preserve the great automotive free ride, it’s not really so impressive. 😉

    As driving shifts in NYC from being viewed as a public and protected activity to one that the public needs to be protected from, privacy isn’t going to win people’s hearts. Die-hard weapon aficionados hate background checks, for example, but the public doesn’t pay their privacy much mind. In the future if some Long Island banker wants to cheat on in wife with a woman he’s put up in Manhattan, he’s just going to have to take public transportation to do it (and be careful to cover his tracks there too). Boo hoo.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Instead of those with parking permits, or some other parking deal? Even with a monthly deal, it would cost at least $15 per day to park near where I work, or double the proposed charge.

    I’m sorry, I wasn’t clear. Of course permit reform should happen, but in the absence of any significant movement on that issue, we should do something else.

    Angus – and they will, when it looks like London and Paris. In the meantime, we shouldn’t design a system that is unnecessarily expensive or intrusive in the determination to “price” these people out of their cars. Larry is right – do what is best for the most of us – the system that captures the most revenue, preserves maximum privacy, aesthetics and other values, etc. So far, that would seem to be Ketchum and Kohneim.

    I favor the Konheim and Ketcham proposal over any of the others, but in the absence of any official support for it – say, from at least one member of the commission – we should do something else.

    I didn’t get the whole privacy thing.

    Until I found that EZ-Pass records were being used in divorce proceedings against spouses who had screwed around on their husbands and wives.

    Not something I would have thought of. For some reason our state legislators were way ahead of me on that one.

    Not ahead of me. But then, I seem to have been (and still am) way ahead of them on the privacy implications of requiring name and ID for intercity bus and train travel, of cell phone and cash machine records, and of purchasing Metrocards with credit cards. Our state legislators clearly don’t care about the privacy of anyone who doesn’t drive.

    Anyone know about Bern Grush

    All I know is what he’s posted in the comments here:

    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=+site%3Awww.streetsblog.org+Bern+Grush+&btnG=Search

  • Winston Smith

    The privacy issue is not just for drivers. The Mayor’s congestion pricing approach will have to rely on a combination of EZ-Pass readers and cameras (both for technical reasons, and because not every car is EZ-Pass equipped) — A LOT of cameras, throughout the zone. Those cameras can and almost certainly will be used for non-congestion-pricing surveillance purposes, as has been happening in London. Now I know that we’re already on that slippery slope, and the camel long ago poked his nose into this tent, and all that, what with security cameras everywhere, NYPD’s lower Manhattan “ring of steel”, etc., but this will make for a qualitative jump in the government’s capacity to (literally) watch us.

  • Hilary

    Here is more information on Bern Grush and satellite-based CP, received in an email this am:
    First, his company’s response to the RFEI:

    http://www.skymetercorp.com/cms/images/news/NYCEDCresponseSKYMETER.071002.pdf

    more info:

    http://grushhour.blogspot.com/2007/09/could-sustainability-become.html
    http://grushhour.blogspot.com/2007/08/us-dots-pearl-harbor.html
    http://grushhour.blogspot.com/2007/08/mary-peters-says-it-best_28.html

    The whole blog is dedicated to Congestion Pricing http://www.grushhour.com and is meant as a resource for advocates. Please pass it on…

    Here is what one of Toronto’s top clean-bloggers did: http://tyler.blogware.com/blog/_archives/2007/10/12/3286522.html Maybe his third-party commentary is more useful for Streetsblog readers…

    the most recent item on my blog is to be re-published in UK on Dec 1 to circulation 45,000
    http://grushhour.blogspot.com/2007/11/all-you-can-drive-roads.html

    Our corporate site has other (less edgy) news and articles http://www.skymetercorp.com.

  • As co-author of the article, I am responding to the few items I can recall:
    – we don’t believe in free bypass routes–they would become completely jammed (they’re bad enough now) and squeezing currently dispersed through trips into these corridors would cause spill back traffic deep into the pricing zone. Besides all the interfaces with the bypass routes is the reason for may of the street grid toll gates.
    – we’re not saying charge taxis $8 a ride,
    – there are dozens of reasons why 86th Street doesn’t work — fervently desribed atthe Manhattan hearings. The most unlikely place tto find street parking is north of 60th Strret. At least half the traffic north of there is headed toward the CBD so a c ordon there would capture those trips
    -as for privacy, it wasn’t an issue for me either until I heard the alarms of the NY ACLU at the Manhattan hearings and the extensive (and unkikeky) safegurards needed.
    we’re saying why set up an elaborate detection system when most of the vehicles processed in the zone will either have paid a toll or be designated(as are taxis) as exempt from any fee? We’re saying there are more- effective ways to use pricing to minimize taxi cruising.
    – we disagree that tolls on other major crossings should be less just because there’s no transit alternative. Toll revenues are needed to back bods that finance transit that serves legs of the journey (like the GCP and other approach roads) that would be impassable if there were no transit. They also support the bridge infrastructure and free up other public funds for road infrastructure and hidden costs and taxpayer subsidies of auto use. These add up to about $3 a mile (much more for trucks) which tolls help offset.

  • Dave

    I find the issue of privacy to be specious; why should anyone on the public streets be guaranteed privacy? Taxes pay to create, pave, maintain and police streets. Why should anyone be guaranteed privacy when using a public thoroughfare?

  • Davis

    The privacy issue is utterly ridiculous.

    Many of the biggest problems we have with car culture in NYC stem from the fact that motorists behave as though they believe they are in their own, private living room rather than a public street.

    Horn-blasting, boom stereos, speeding, hit-and-runs… all of these behaviors are related to the motorist’s sense that he can behave however he wants because he is inhabiting his own private space. He doesn’t have to behave with the sense of social contract that one must maintain in the public realm.

    So, I say, please, go, take away as much of the motorist’s sense of privacy as you can, New York City. Make these rude, destructive, insensitive and unaccountable boneheads realize that they are no more private rolling down Prince Street in their SUV’s then I am on the subway, or on my bike or walking down a sidewalk in Midtown in the middle of the day.

    On the whole, the city and humanity will be all the better for this particular loss of privacy.

  • Jonathan

    I think the privacy issue is huge. With respect to Davis and Dave, I don’t believe that the listed objections have to do with a private space/public space dichotomy.

    I believe that ordinary people have the right to travel around in any fashion–motorcar, bicycle, foot, pedicab or palanquin–without being permanently monitored by the government. I do not believe that we have the right to be noisy and violent while doing so, but that’s illegal already.

    I’m not advocating for the repeal of all traffic laws here, I’m simply stating that I feel it’s fundamental to be able to leave your house and go somewhere without being tracked by the government. Even in a car. You might be picking up or delivering something heavy or bulky that you couldn’t carry on a bike. Dave, just because taxes pay for the roads doesn’t mean that the government has to know all about your business; I pay rent to my landlord but my landlord can’t come in and look at my books or papers.

    And Davis, I would like to disagree with you about what you perceive as motorists’ perceived lack of regard for the space around them. I would venture to say that the complicated and often frustrating set of traffic rules that motorists have to follow in the city is enough to make them realize that they are indeed bound by a social contract.

    And there are plenty of people who play loud ringtones on the subway, carry on arguments on their cellphones, or just open the window and play loud music for all the neighbors. It seems to me that antisocial behavior is multimodal.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I agree that the privacy issue is huge. But so are the privacy issues that I mentioned above with regard to metrocards and intercity buses and trains, and as “Winston Smith” pointed out, the privacy issues with regards to pedestrians, especially with the push for facial recognition technology. The ACLU has been doing the right thing by arguing forcefully against all these surveillance plans.

    Unlike the ACLU, the state legislators in question have not raised any concerns about surveillance and tracking of pedestrians or bus and train riders. Sadly, to my knowledge, transit and pedestrian advocates haven’t been in the forefront on this issue either.

    I would be extremely disappointed if transit and pedestrian activists supported the efforts of windshield-perspective legislators in setting a precedent that the privacy of motorists is more worthy of protection than the privacy of pedestrians or bus and train riders. Actually, I’d be fucking furious.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Bottom line, if the state legislature passes a congestion pricing bill that goes out of its way to protect the privacy of motorists, then it had better damn well include a provision forbidding common carriers from requiring intrastate passengers to identify themselves as a condition of passage, and a provision forbidding the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement without a warrant. These ought to be pretty easy concessions to win.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (I’m simply stating that I feel it’s fundamental to be able to leave your house and go somewhere without being tracked by the government.)

    Back in 2000, I worked on a city project to improve the housing unit count for NYC. I got a Census Bureau mug for my efforts.

    I was also applying for term life insurance, and they sent someone out to interview me. I found they wanted to know everything the Census Bureau did — age, sex, family status, occupation, income, industry, housing, vehicle use, past residences, citizenship. Then they asked about my health history. My sexual history. My legal history. My mental health history. Then they took a sample of my blood and urine.

    Seeing the mug, the subject of the census came up. I asked the interviewer, who goes around asking these questions all day every day, if he had filled out his confidential form. “I threw it out, that is none of the goverment’s business” he told me. “They keep sending people around and I tell them to go to hell.”

  • Re: Privacy

    I never gave the issue much heed until I heard the ACLU speaker at the Hunter College hearing describe their concerns about cameras taking in pedestrians, access to databases and misuse of files in the name of Homeland Security. The speaker also described essential highly specific safeguards–most of which seemed to me impossible/improbable. (Someone should post that testimony.) The most effective step to me is to limit the exposure by using bridge spans where there are no peds and cyclists and to monitor one pass across just the northern boundary cordon.

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