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.

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