Proof That Congestion Pricing Supporters Do Exist in Queens

Transportation Alternatives Queens Committee Chair Mike Heffron sends along this report from last night’s traffic commission hearing at York College in Jamaica, Queens.

No huge surprise, Assemblymen Andrew Hevesi and Rory Lancman both came out against congestion pricing, citing not enough evidence it would work and demanding transit improvements without explaining where the money would come from or why as state legislators they haven’t allocated more money to the MTA themselves. Then they left.

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall didn’t even make it, she sent her Chief of Staff to repeat the same speech from the last public hearing, also calling for lots of great transit improvements without explaining where the money would come or why Queens hasn’t gotten it before now.

That was one step better than Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan who was listed as first to speak, but didn’t make it to the hearing. It’s too bad our elected officials, with the exception of City Councilman Leroy Comrie, couldn’t have stayed or even bothered to come because they would have seen something that they claim doesn’t exist in Queens… supporters of congestion pricing who live in the borough, several for their whole life.

There were still the usual opponents to congestion pricing. One woman voiced concern that the fee on trucks would raise the price of food and essentials. Another man claimed that transit improvements would never come to Queens, although isn’t that really our elected officials fault? One delightful woman claimed that to reduce congestion all we had to do was rewire all the traffic lights to only allow pedestrians to cross when all traffic was stopped. She then blamed the new meters placed near the Bronx subway stop where she used to ride and park before their presence for forcing her to drive into the city, when after all her tax dollars were paying for the streets. I guess my tax dollars go to pigeon birth control and not the city streets.

But the real story last night was the turnout of congestion pricing supporters in the borough that supposedly refuses to accept anything that would keep them from driving. Angus Grieve-Smith told the story of a motorcyclist that was struck by a speeding car and killed, the motorcycle then striking and crippling his friend who was walking along Skillman Ave. all because Skillman is designed to get drivers through Sunnyside and Woodside and to the Queensboro Bridge as fast as possible.

Emmanuel Fuentebella said they he owns a car for work, but because of oil issues worldwide we must be spendthrift in its use. Dan Hendrick of the League of Conservation Voters, Neysa Pranger of the Regional Plan Association and Karla Quintero of Transportation Alternatives, all Queens residents, gave their respective groups’ support for the plan.

The quote of the night came from Eddie Hernandez, a lifelong resident of Queens. “Opponents of congestion pricing preposterously claim that congestion pricing hurts the middle class. I have news for them, if you can afford to throw away $10,000 per year in parking fees in Midtown because you don’t feel like using the subway: Congratulations, you’re rich, you’re not middle class and you can afford an $8 toll.”

Will congestion pricing pass? Time will tell. But as Angus said, “I hope tonight has put to rest the myth that no one in Queens supports congestion pricing.”

  • Josh

    That settles it. Leroy Comrie for Mayor! Who’s with me?

  • Heffron

    Comrie was anti-cp and he did come a little late (I suspect he was just trying to miss all his fellow electeds testimony) but I did want to give him credit for staying to the end and taking a minute to speak with me afterwards. He’s actually a pretty chill dude for a pol. Maura McCarthy the Queens DoT Commish was there at the start and stayed pretty much to the end also, and she was very friendly. But it is disappointing when your elected officials don’t stay to hear testimony from their constituents or don’t come at all.

  • Corey Bearak

    If one looks at the groups represented and the feeling that the commission already decided, it should not surprise the turnout. And it should be noted that the early end of the hearing and delays on the E train delayed the Queens Civic Congress Vice President, Harbachan Singh, who arrived too late to speak but did explain the delay to each commission. The civic congress includes more groups. Also, folks read the Queens Borough President’s testimony – I did – because it makes it clear that she favors one of the options: “Yours has not been an easy task so I thank you for taking on this issue and working to find a workable solution. but, I don’t believe we have found one quite yet.”
    A friend who attended the Queens Chamber of Commerce Legislative breakfast called me this afternoon to note the strength of conviction in speaker after speaker — all legislators — who opposed the congestion tax/toll variants scheme. Already five Queens community boards (4, 7, 8, 11, 13) took positions against the scheme. None took a position in favor. So a few folks connected with groups associated with the scheme support it; so a few folks who only think in their self-interests (which is not a criticism nor meant as one) and have not seen the larger picture. The role or a good policymaker involves the larger picture and if it means not ingratiating oneself with the New York Times editorial board or the “goo-goos” of the moment, that is quite okay.

  • Davis

    “The larger picture,” Corey? What a laugh.

    It’s dark days ahead for New York City’s transportation systems, environment, livability and economy if congestion pricing goes down.

    History will remember where to pin the blame, I assure you.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Corey, I don’t blame you for trying to put a spin on it that’s favorable to your goals. I’m very strongly on record against generalizing from non-representative samples, and I don’t think that the ratio of “pro” to “anti” congestion pricing witnesses means anything.

    Your comments about the significance of “a few folks” is overreaching, though. It is significant that nine Queens residents spoke passionately in favor of one or another of the three serious plans being considered by the Commission. Four of us were not paid to be there, but cared enough to make the trip to Jamaica and tell the Commission how we felt. We’re part of the 36% of Queens residents who support congestion pricing, and the 61% who support congestion pricing dedicated to fund transit.

    Our presence and the poll results are at odds with the often-repeated claim that “Queens is against congestion pricing,” and with the stances of the elected officials you mention. We may be in the sizable minority that’s in support of congestion pricing to fund hookers and blow, but we’re in the solid majority in support of congestion pricing to fund transit. It’s disappointing that so many elected officials, community boards and “civics” aren’t with this majority.

    I certainly don’t take it as a criticism that I think of my self-interest, if by that you mean not wanting to be killed or injured or have any of my friends or family killed or injured. But I’m not sure I want to see a “larger picture” in which my friend’s lifelong disability is somehow justified.

    Finally, the accusation that anyone who spoke in favor of congestion pricing did it to ingratiate themselves with the Times editorial board or unnamed goo-goos is a nasty slur that should be beneath you. I’ve talked to many of the people who have made this issue part of their careers, and I’m sharp enough to be able to tell if they were doing it solely for glory, funding or influence. Instead, what I hear from them is a tremendous pride that they’re actually able to make a living arguing for something they believe in, instead of spending their entire lives shilling for someone else’s profit. I really want to have a relationship of respect with you, so please don’t repeat that slander again. Okay?

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I also wanted to thank Mike and Aaron for publicizing my testimony (PDF). I have one clarification. I was actually talking about three intersections that were close together:

    51st Street and 43rd Avenue, where my friend was hit by the motorcycle
    51st Street and Skillman Avenue, where my neighbor saw an elderly woman making the sign of the cross before engaging with the cars speeding down the avenue
    50th Street and Skillman Avenue, where a van crashed into the front of Aubergine Cafe on November 1, the third such crash in two years

    51st Street is the main route for hundreds of people from two large apartment complexes, two medium-size apartment buildings and many houses to get to the subway station. We all have to cross the two intersections on 51st Street to get to the subway. Many of us cross all three intersections at some point during the day.

    I’ve marked them on this Google map as well.

  • Corey Bearak

    It was nice to meet you at the hearing.
    I did not speak to the motives of folks; I spoke to the fact that most tax supporters have involvements professional or otherwise with these groups. I recall a time when I was like them. My comments about ingratiation was not aimed at those folks who I suspect at some future time will align with me (me with them) on a common cause or two. I aimed that comment at the higher ups and all the new $$$$ that came the way of many organizations that never hand the level of funding since they got engaged and how they got engaged in this issue.
    As to the issue of compensation, I can safely state I NEVER worked for or accepted a professional engagement for an issue where I did not want believe in the person who hire me or the cause I was being asked to advance.
    We can reasonably disagree on how to get to better funded mass transit; that seems clear we do; I cannot see anyone who supports the congestion tax getting very upset if the Queens Civic Congress revenue proposal goes through and the result is my friend Rory Lancman’s carrot approach because the system gets funded adequately.
    I can recall fighting for the 4 borough 2nd Avenue Subway (The original RPA plan). With many of my civic friends I have long advocated for the G. Several times we saved the only true north-south (some go partial but never the whole way) bus line in Queens that the MTA tried to cut three times. The “Limited” buses on Hillside Ave (Q43) and Union Turnpike (Q46) resulted after I proposed them (as then – City Council staffer). I am looking forward to getting it extending to a LIRR station in Nassau County finally that ought to be its southern terminus. I been fighting to get the Access A Ride extension I spoke of at the hearing done, perhaps without resort to legislation. And I organized a forum for the week after next to help the MTA promote its capital plan.
    I think also you gloss over the the broad opposition. The Community Boards – made up of up to 50 community volunteers, Queens Civic Congress (100+) and Queens Coalition for Parks and Green Spaces, as well as the Queens Chamber of Commerce, certainly represent a cross-section of the borough. One might also look at how the legislator or two who say they support the tax but oppose tolls for example qualify their support with statements that the new transit capacity must be in place first. A great example is a letter that appears on the Queens Civic Congress website dated January 3.
    Enjoy the weekend.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I cannot see anyone who supports the congestion tax getting very upset if the Queens Civic Congress revenue proposal goes through and the result is my friend Rory Lancman’s carrot approach because the system gets funded adequately.

    I wouldn’t be upset about that per se, but it doesn’t do enough. It doesn’t change the fact that the “free” bridge draws a heavy flow of cars through my neighborhood, and puts pressure on the DOT to configure our streets for through traffic. Your proposal does not allow the DOT to return our streets to neighborhood use, and it does nothing to relieve the morning traffic jam that holds up our buses. The plans being considered by the Commission do.

    I think also you gloss over the the broad opposition. The Community Boards – made up of up to 50 community volunteers, Queens Civic Congress (100+) and Queens Coalition for Parks and Green Spaces, as well as the Queens Chamber of Commerce, certainly represent a cross-section of the borough.

    Can you tell me a bit more about the decision-making processes for the Queens Civic Congress and the Queens Coalition for Parks and Green Spaces? How did these 400-500 groups under these umbrellas get the sense of their membership on this issue, and then come to a consensus?

  • Jonathan

    Thanks, Corey, for continually posting on Streetsblog.

    For those who want to follow up on Angus’s questions, here is the list of Queens Civic Congress members and here is some information on the QCPGS.

    I leave it as an exercise for informed Streetsbloggers to judge from the list of QCC member organizations how much of their membership also belongs to the 54% of New Yorkers who do not have access to a car and who would suffer no harm if CP was implemented.

    And Corey, the first plank on the QCC’s CIVIC 2030 platform‘s list of mass-transit goals is this:

    Provide Queens commuters a more clean, comfortable, dependable and speedy trip to and from work. Apply Metropolitan Transportation Authority budget to increase mass transit service.

    The part about opposing congestion pricing or bridge tolling is plank no. 6 under “Transportation, Vehicular” (the next section of the platform). Sounds to me as if your organization supports the CP goals more than it disapproves of its implementation.

  • John Morris

    My general impression, from history is that a large number of politicians from Brooklyn and Queens had never been major supporters of transit funding in the past and that’s one of the major reasons we have the poor system we have today.The situation on Long Island and Westchester being even more true.

    The fact is that it’s not Manhattan’s fault that these areas have lousy transportation options oriented around a mode of transit that is not sustainable. It should also be remembered that–Manhattan’s tax base is what subsidises most of the rest of the city and is the reason for the relatively low property taxes on private homes in the outer boroughs.

  • The issue is not lack of support for Brooklyn and Queens electeds for funding for MTA projects. Governors and Mayors cut state and city contributions from each level’s general funds to get where we are today with almost no general revenues going to transit. That is why part of the farebox goes to pay off bonds.
    I have the information somewhere but need to prepare for some non-congestion matters tomorrow. Things affected besides general aid reductions include a unilateral cut by then Mayor Rudy Giuliani of the reimbursement for students who received free or reduced rides on the buses and subways to school.
    Mayor Bloomberg delayed the capital funding — already budgeted and approved — to the then private lines, worsening service and delaying the introduction of new buses to local and express routes just to force the takeover which did not occur the way the administration wanted, which was for the MTA picking up most of the costs (MTA did pick up some but city ended up meeting it existing obligations for the most part.)
    I have no real problem with legislators’ efforts. Folks need to know that the amount of a budget that changes from what a Mayor or Governor proposes has never been more than marginally different. The key has been getting items in the budget as proposed. The most recent example is funding for the Libraries which got baselined recently so the annual Spring service cuts than ran through the summer should no longer be in play (but that is a non-transit subject.).

  • Nicolo Machiavelli

    As much as it pains me I have to agree with the distinguished representative of the Queens Civic Congress in this particular circumstance. It is incumbent upon both the supporters (Mayor Bloomber, Christine Quinn) and the detractors (Congressman Weiner, Walter McCaffery) to state how much and where from future City and State general revenue support can the MTA expect. And, they should also state to what extent future Mayors and Governors will be compelled to deliver that support in the form of dedicated, non-cyclical revenues.

  • Corey Bearak

    The Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free folks have embraced the $1.8 billion revenue proposal of the Queens Civic Congress — if that responds to the McCaffrey reference. Part of the purpose of the Feb. 4 forum noted in Streetsblog’s events calendar is to promote the revenue measure to electeds from Queens and those who hold office or not but have such aspirations.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Yeah, Corey, thats what I keep confusing with the “when pigs fly” revenue proposal.

  • Corey Bearak

    Ah Niccolo, but with a bistle help they do get to fly. But living so many centuries ago one might see how you might not understand.


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