Congestion Pricing Plan Includes a “Livable Streets Lock Box”

There is a nice surprise for City Council, neighborhood groups and transportation reformers in the congestion pricing plan approved by the Traffic Mitigation Commission yesterday. On page 8 of the plan, in a section called "Securing of parking revenues," the commission proposes dedicating all revenue raised within the congestion pricing zone from additional parking meter fees, a taxi surcharge and parking garage taxes to a new, New York City DOT fund for street and transit improvements.

While congestion pricing revenue will go to the MTA "lock box," this much smaller fund would be used by DOT for bike, pedestrian, traffic calming, parking and BRT improvements that would be approved each year by City Council. This DOT fund is potentially a big deal. It’s a major change, and would be the first time the city created a dedicated funding stream for bicycle, pedestrian, and parking improvements, and other transportation projects. Call it the "Livable Streets Lock Box:"

Securing of parking revenues: All funds from increased on-street parking rates and the elimination of the resident parking tax exemption within the zone should be dedicated by the City of New York to additional transit, pedestrian, bicycle, and parking management improvements, including, but not limited to, expanded ferry service, bus signalization, BRT investments, bicycle facilities, and pedestrian enhancements. NYCDOT should submit an annual plan to the City Council for approval on the use of these funds and shall report on the actual expenditures of such a plan.

New York City currently funds almost all of its bicycle, pedestrian and non-automobile transportation work with federal funds. Until now, it has been a fundamental principal of the mayor’s powerful Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that the city will not dedicate funding raised from transportation sources to transportation projects. Previously, the city has rejected the idea proposed by Transportation Alternatives and neighborhood groups like CHEKPEDS to "return" parking meter revenue to Parking Improvement or Business Improvement Districts for local streetscape improvements. In Los Angeles and San Diego, such "revenue return" has been a huge incentive for adopting smart curbside parking policies using vacancy targets and variable pricing.

The new DOT fund should appeal to council members because it is a new funding stream for highly visible pedestrian and bicycle improvements to their districts. That’s a lot of ribbon cuttings for projects people love, like Safe Streets for Seniors and Safe Routes for Schools.

Much can happen as the council drafts authorizing legislation for the congestion pricing plan. Skeptics will point out that this funding may simply substitute — not add to — existing city transportation funding. But since the city spends very little on cyclists and pedestrians, any new funding stream, especially one tied closely to council districts and neighborhood projects, has to be seen as a major gain for the livable streets movement.

  • Jonathan

    JF & Hilary, remember that those 1907 diagrams predate most of the subway tunnel construction. Subways run through routes, unlike the trains on the Queensboro and Brooklyn bridges, and are more convenient.

  • JF

    JF & Hilary, remember that those 1907 diagrams predate most of the subway tunnel construction. Subways run through routes, unlike the trains on the Queensboro and Brooklyn bridges, and are more convenient.

    Give it a closer look; the only 1907 diagram is the Brooklyn Bridge. Some of the bridges did have through service, on the Nassau Street Loop and the Second Avenue El. Overall you’re right in that many of the “peak” diagrams are from right before or right after the construction of a parallel subway tunnel.

    Still, it’s still surprising that people thought, “Hey, we’ve just added capacity to relieve crowding on this bridge. Okay, let’s reduce the capacity on the bridge!”

    I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that the for-profit companies that ran the trains and trolleys either didn’t anticipate that demand for the crossings would ever rise that high again, or they didn’t have the savings to wait for it. There was also a feeling that trolleys and subways were outmoded technology, and they needed to make way for the future – cars!

  • Jonathan

    JF, those are some thoughtful comments. I think the savings issue is kind of a big one; why continue to maintain the tracks when ridership has diminished?

    Reading up on the Queensboro Bridge’s history, it seems to me that once the 2d Ave elevated was shut for teardown (1942), the 60th St tunnel (built 1920), was the only through link between Queensboro Plaza and the subway system. In order to maintain transbridge rail service, the IRT would have had to build a station at the Manhattan side of the Queensboro Plaza station at a minimum.

    The Q60 bus (16-page PDF schedule), which is the successor to the trolley lines, runs from South Jamaica to 60th Street & 2d Ave.

    So my conclusion is that once the el was closed, some kind of capital improvements were necessary to continue using the rails, such as the Second Avenue Subway or a 20th-century form of East Side Access that would have brought those tracks into Grand Central. And that ties in with your point about the motorcar being the technology of the future; why invest more dollars to build new unneeded capacity in the legacy system of rails when there are new and exciting technologies to support?

  • JF

    Another thing that Lew said that really frustrates me:

    I see a HUGE difference between paying a fee designed to pay for at least part of a service [subway fare] and a fee which is part of structure created as its stated purpose the restriction of access to a core [or any] neighborhood.

    Lew, how do you feel about laws against dogs in restaurants? Don’t they restrict access to particular spaces?

    Please stop with this nonsense about “restricting access.” No one is restricting anyone’s access to any neighborhood. We just want to discourage people from bringing their cars with them.

    If congestion pricing would restrict access to Manhattan, then the lack of subways restricts access to your neighborhood. But I don’t see you trying to get a subway built.

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