Disconnect Between Pols and People at Brooklyn Traffic Hearing

On balance, speakers at last night’s traffic mitigation hearing in Brooklyn delivered a pro-pricing message — a strong one if you discount the politicians who said their piece and left the auditorium before their constituents got to the mic.

About 60 people came to Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights and weighed in on the five options presented in the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission’s interim report. It quickly became clear that the evening was really a referendum on the two pricing proposals in the report; none of the other options were viewed as viable. By the time it was over, half the audience had testified before commission members Elizabeth Yeampierre, Andrea Batista Schlesinger, and Gene Russianoff. (Richard Brodsky, who came to the Brooklyn hearing instead of the one closest to his Westchester district, left before it ended and missed several pieces of testimony.)

Most encouraging for pricing advocates: Several residents without any group affiliation testified, expressing a unanimous desire for better transit, cleaner air, and safer streets. Congestion pricing, they said, was the surest means to achieve those objectives. (Noah Budnick of Transportation Alternatives emailed us to report that pro-pricing speakers out-numbered anti- in the Bronx and Queens as well.)

But first the elected officials spoke, leading off with Congressman Anthony Weiner. In his allotted four minutes, he repeated the canard that congestion pricing is a conservative ploy to enact a "radical change and reduction in the amount of [federal] transit funding we receive." Then Council Member Lew Fidler and Assemblymen Hakeem Jeffries, Vito Lopez, Alan Maisel, and Alec Brook-Krasny each took a turn to bash both pricing proposals (their most common refrain: "too Manhattan-centric").

The one semi-exception among electeds was Council Member Tish James…

who skipped the meeting but had an aide read a statement that in order to curb asthma rates, "residential parking permits are an absolute necessity" for any areas immediately outside the congestion zone. Many of the community board reps and neighborhood association members who followed echoed that argument, offering support if a permit plan was attached to pricing, because they feared a park-and-ride spillover effect.

The non-profits in attendance came out strongly in favor of the commission’s alternative pricing plan (which would raise more money at a lower cost than the Mayor’s plan), countering the assertions of previous speakers with hard numbers. Here’s a snippet delivered by Wiley Norvell of TA:

Congestion pricing will benefit the entire city, not just Manhattan. Nearly three-quarters of the congestion reduction from pricing will take place outside Manhattan. 40% of traffic in the neighborhoods of Downtown Brooklyn is from Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge-bound motorists avoiding the Battery Tunnel toll. Congestion pricing, by equalizing tolls, will cut congestion and finally give traffic relief to neighborhoods adjacent to the free bridges. It is estimated that pricing will reduce traffic by 29% in Downtown Brooklyn and by 24% in North Brooklyn. That is staggering.

Personal note: While the pricing advocates were testifying, I was in a politician sandwich, sitting between two pairs of electeds, and could overhear their snickering and backslapping.

When the "ordinary people" got their chance to speak, they also endorsed the alternative pricing plan by a wide margin. The politicians had already left at that point, a fact that wasn’t lost on Sunset Park resident Kay Young. "I have to note the seeming disconnect between our elected officials and everyone else," he said.

They haven’t done their homework. They cite no statistics, just general specters. The fact that they left is unbelievable. They didn’t even stay to listen to their constituents.

Looking at the stage, there was no sign of Brodsky, either.

  • Tim

    why such a disconnect between the people and the electeds on this issue? i think it is because electeds drive much more than average so they see things from a “windshield perspective”.

  • mork

    In my dream world, CP will be successful enough that people will be able to run in opposition of the windshield perspective — and win.

  • Jonathan

    When you let anyone who gets a driver’s license register to vote, this is what happens.

  • Josh

    It’s pretty pathetic that the elected officials blew out of there without listening to their constituents.

  • I was there last night, and what truly galled me were the disingenuous and often outright false arguments advanced by opponents of congestion pricing.

    What sickens me the most is the false populism of many of these pols.

    Particularly sad was the gentleman from Brighton Beach. He was there to fight for the rights of the 6% of his constituents (he acknowledged as much) who would be impacted by CP.

    Apparently, the remaining 94% can go to hell.

    The political posturing on this has been a disgrace.

  • Hilary

    Jonathan – Glad you brought up the increasingly incestuous relationship between drivers licenses and other rights. While I fought hard for the Motor Voter law as a way of increasing voter registration, I now look with dismay at how we’ve made the driver’s license the de facto “proof of residency” and government ID. People who have no particular need to get a driver’s license do anyway. It’s a gateway drug.

  • Jonathan

    If it were only so: I wish my library card or rec-center pass was the de facto proof of my identity.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “I have to note the seeming disconnect between our elected officials and everyone else.”

    FYI, it isn’t just congestion pricing.

    But let’s look at the good news. The leaders of the worst group of poltiicans in the bunch, the state legislature, have been responsible. Far from just throwing up red herrings, the commission collected facts, and the proposal may very well end up better than Bloomberg first proposed.

    Moreover, the Commission looked at the big picture — we’re broke, and how are we going to finance transportation? Everyone else has refused to do that, and not just with regard to CP.

    No guarantees. But for the moment, the legislature is acting like one, rather than whatever the hell it is.

  • Larry, you’ll have to remind people of that when the Brodsky’s and McCaffrey’s start in on the “sham” process by which the Commission came to its conclusions.

  • fdr

    So how is CP going to pass the Legislature if all the electeds are against it?

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    If it passes the City Council and enough quid and quos are offered to Shelly Silver by the Gov. and the Mayor it could conceivably pass. Linking it in the hated “three men in a room” government (now four including Bloomberg) to the Legislatures salary increases could do it up there. Also, many state legislators know better than Bloomberg’s people that if CP doesn’t pass the MTA will have to get some state and local funds from somewhere. Bloomberg and Weiner share a peculiar denial in that regard. Bloomberg fails to identify where he would get the MTA financial support he states is so critical to the city’s future. Weiner expects someone else to pay for it all even though it is well establish that the more money the locality puts up the more the Feds will support transit.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Also, many state legislators know better than Bloomberg’s people that if CP doesn’t pass the MTA will have to get some state and local funds from somewhere.”

    Right, and speaking of Bloomberg, the company not the Mayor, you all should do so reading over there. We are heading for bad times. The MTA operating budget (no, not capital) is dependent on sky high real estate transfer taxes. My guess is that those have disappeared. There is a credit crunch on in commercial real estate, as a result of the mortgage crisis in residential.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Actually the Mortgage Recording Tax (MRT) has long been assumed to be headed for a down turn. That was one of the assumptions behind the fare increase. Since the MTA is supposed to be doing long term planning, reasonable cyclical assumptions have to be built into that budgeting. But the Daily News and assorted critics didn’t need no stinking counter cyclical planning. They know better. Someone told them the MRT will grow forever, a new paradigm.

    And, the MRT has had its own sort of split personality identity crisis in the last couple years. The suburban portion has stagnated, then fallen, in concert with the slumping real estate market in the burbs while the high density urban portion of the MRT has continued to grow although at a slower rate. Real Estate density has been paying by far the bulk of the MRT.

    The down-zoning frenzy in the outer boroughs portends badly for long-term growth of the MRT in the city. The same neighborhoods that so resist congestion pricing are thereby shirking their MRT responsibilities. Not surprisingly they are also the neighborhoods that least support the MTA farebox.

    Some sort of attitude credit ought to be given to the billionaire real estate moguls, Kalikow, Mack and Hemmidinger, who sit atop the MTA board. Although it is their industry that supplies the MRT revenues and those monies are the only thing keeping the MTA budget afloat,
    they are the only ones consistently without their hand out to the MTA, the only group not crying about their deal.

  • Eric

    Bruce Ratner is in line for a mortgage-recording tax exemption for the Atlantic Yards project, which will save him $77 million and bilk the rest of us taxpayers out of a like amount. So much for the real estate industry “supplying” the revenues.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Apart from Ratner exemption, will the buyers of his residential space be exempted as well? Just curious. If so that would amplify the 77 million, if not that would minimize it. Still the RE industry has been pumping several hundred million a year into the MRT and when the Finance Committee meets on Monday the expectations are that despite the nationwide downturn it has continued to grow.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Actually the Mortgage Recording Tax (MRT) has long been assumed to be headed for a down turn.)

    Yeah, from $1.6 billion to $1.2 billion. Until the last few years, it was running at about $300 million to $400 million per year. The anectdotal reports are that commercial property transactions have come to a screaming halt. I’ll be looking with great interest when my firm releases 4Q data on the subject on February 1.

    The future of the transit system may rest on this: does the government assess MRT and real estate transfer taxes on foreclosure sales?

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I think fire sales normally have a waiver Larry. Regardless, in the end real estate is much more cyclical than congestion. Transportation really needs acyclical or counter-cyclical sources of revenue.

  • jacknyc

    TO JOSH:
    WHAT IS PATHETIC IS THAT ONLY 3 OUT OF 17 COMMISSIONERS EVEN SHOWED UP… SO MUCH FOR THEIR BEING OPEN TO PUBLIC COMMENTS. THIS WHOLE COMMISSION IS NOTHING BUT A TAX RAISING
    FARSE,

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Jack, they ALL showed up – but there were six simultaneous hearings that night. Three were in Brooklyn, four were here in Queens, two in Staten Island, and the other eight spread out in the Bronx, Manhattan and Long Island.

  • Lew from Brooklyn

    A quick comment and then out.
    The person who made the morality comment to me was not Assemblyman Maisel, but rather Community Board Chaiorperson Alvin Berk of Board 14 in Flatbush Kensington.

    As to the disconnect, there is none. I invite Mr Fried to come to ANY civic meeting in my district and see for himself.

    Finally, the ridiculously ill publicized hearings, planned so as to have 6 going on on the same night meaning that we got to talk to three commissioners—much as I have come to like Ms Schlessinger—was an affront to BOTH sides of the debate.

    Clearly, advocates wree well organized and present. ORDINARY citizens were scant and scarce. There was NO notice to anyoen in my district save my public announcement at 2 meetings a week before that the eharings would be EITHER Wedns or Thurs and they should call my office for more info.

    Isuppose I could say that few came because they were totally satisfied that I, and Assemblymemebers Weinstein and Maisel were fully representing their position.

    Nice seeing you all. And I was disappointed that wehn Mr Naoprstek’s name was called form the speaker’s list, he too was absent. We really do have to meet so you can give me my award.
    Lew from Brooklyn

  • Ben Fried

    Thanks for the fact check, Council Member.

    I have to echo what Gary said: Decrying the number of ordinary citizens present seems disingenuous, to say the least, when you got up and left before any of them had a chance to testify. Plenty of people took a turn at the mic after the advocates spoke.

  • Lew from Brooklyn

    I promised myself I wouldn’t do this…but…

    Ben, Since you must know as you were sitting right in front of me, I testified almost immediately on arriving and stayed for over an hour and half listening to the testimony.

    Most everyone who got up said they were from one group or another, most of which I had not heard of.

    As to the disingeuousness of it all—-it is the COMMISSIONERS who were the ones there to hear testimony. I assure you that I will be present for MANY hours of testimony when the plan gets to the Council. THAT is when it is my job to sit and listen to testimony.

    As a CM who has gone to several communities other than my own to debate this issue, it is kinda snarky to suggest that I have not been around to hear from people. Should I remark that you have not come to a Community Board meeting in my neighborhood to report on the give and take between MY ordinary constituents and their elected on the issue? Of course not. Its not your job. And at this stage, despite the fact that I remained for 90 minutes, it wasn’t my job to be there to listen. It was the Commissioner’s. And I believe I used the first two of my four minutes commenting on the disgracedful fact that there were only four of them there…whether you were FOR or AGAINST.
    If you didsaggree, go to the videotape, please.

    Lew from Brooklyn

  • Lew from Brooklyn

    BTW, apropo of nothing, the Mortgage Recording Tax is not headed for a down turn. Re-fi’s are likely to go up in the face of “cheap” credit. However, Transfer taxes, those fees gained from the SALE of property, especially those generated by large transfers, are likely to go down more than the mortgage recording tax goes up.

    I hae suggested that while the dollar is soft, a fact which strongly impels foreigh tourism in NYC, we can add a small surcharge on the Hotel Occupancy Tax. Going from 5% to 8% will not deter any foreign tourist while the dollar is soft. And it will raise about $220 million without hitting a single New Yorker in the pocket.

    Lew from Brooklyn

  • contrarian

    except the trysting class, that is.

  • Nicolo Machiavelli

    One of the supreme, emperor has no clothes concepts for funding transit is the unlimited piggy bank of the MRT. The ultimate contradiction is that when Bloomberg and Spitzer offer up Property Tax rebates at the same time the MRT is driving MTA finance. Not since Giuliani held out the cup for the Real Estate Industry has there been a more contradictory policy. After the suburban and rural legislators saw that from Giuli they decided the city didn’t really need the Commuter tax. Now the City Council man and Mayor 2B Weiner expect the Legislature to cough up another commuter tax. Anyone want to buy a bridge?

  • Astor

    13 of the 14 Queens City Council members will be term-limited out of office in 2009.

  • Ed

    I wasn’t there and I am against CP due to the set-up costs that will cause the CP system to not be self-sustainable for the first two years (at least). Only then will there be funding for transit. Also, I think that this will become a slush fund like the Port Authority. It is more money for politicos to play with. And the MTA already has to beg for money; once upstaters and feds see that this money is available, do you really think it will be any easier to get other monies for funding?

    I make the point that I wasn’t there to say that my reps were representing my well-thought-out point of view rather than buying into the asthma-reduction claim by Bloomberg. I don’t have a car, I use the subway every day and it is already overcrowded. The money won’t come in fast enough to make a difference. Setting up tolls on the East River is easier, less costly and will reduce traffic but CP is flashier, novel and so English-like. So trendy! but so impractical and a lie.

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