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Denny Farrell: Less Traffic and Pollution? No Thanks.

12:17 PM EST on March 3, 2008

farrell.jpgJust two of the 17 members of the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, Assemblymen Richard Brodsky and Herman "Denny" Farrell, voted against the revised congestion pricing plan that now awaits approval by the City Council and state legislators, all of which must happen by March 31 if the city is to receive $354 million in federal funds for upfront citywide transit improvements.

Brodsky's anti-pricing antics are well known to Streetsbloggers. Below is an excerpt from Farrell's February bulletin to his Northern Manhattan constituency, with emphasis added.

Read it and weep.

I would like to take a moment to explain my 'no' vote on congestion mitigation. Simply put, I saw this issue as a matter of fairness, where our community was being asked to shoulder the costs of this plan without receiving our fair share of the benefits.

While this idea of reduced traffic and a corresponding reduction in air pollution in our neighborhoods is appealing, the residents of New York City should not carry the burden for the entire metropolitan area while others use our bridges and tunnels without having to pay a fee. Unless there is some way drivers coming into Manhattan can be required to pay, these persons will continue to avoid paying their fair share, and this will do nothing to solve the pollution problems in our community which are caused by traffic on the George Washington Bridge.

However, my 'no' vote was one of only two cast by the review committee, meaning congestion mitigation passed the first hurdle without seriously addressing the concerns of our community.

From here, the City Council will take up the issue and must make a recommendation of its' own before the issue is considered by the State Assembly. Should congestion mitigation be approved by the City Council and taken up by the Assembly, the Assembly must approve congestion mitigation by March 31 in order to receive federal funding to implement this plan.

While both the Council and the Assembly are committed to meeting the deadline, should congestion mitigation be judges worthy of pursuit, it is imperative that this decision be made after consideration of all the facts. By design, this must include a long hard look at MTA's five-year plan, which was promised to the Council and the Assembly by the transit agency. However, MTA has yet to make good on their promise to release this information.

It's hard to know where to start here, but last things first: the MTA released its capital plan shortly after Farrell wrote this letter, and the overriding message, as expected, is that the MTA needs congestion pricing. But this is almost beside the point, not only because Lee Sander has been saying it for months now, but because a state legislator like Farrell, if anyone, should be well aware of the MTA's dire financial straits. Perhaps Farrell expected the agency to say it doesn't need that $500 million a year after all.

Unlike some of his colleagues, Farrell seems willing to acknowledge that pricing will reduce traffic and air pollution. But that isn't good enough, since New Jersey drivers would receive a toll credit, thereby giving them a "free" ride. This is a classic example of the us vs. them strategy adopted by the anti-pricing crowd from day one: Even if there is less gridlock, less pollution, fewer kids hospitalized with asthma, we don't want it unless the other guy pays his "fair share."

our community was being asked to shoulder the costs of this plan without receiving our fair share of the benefits

Again with the "fair share" bit. If by "our community" Farrell is referring to Northern Manhattan, then he's at least partially right: drivers traveling below 60th Street would indeed have to pay the $8 congestion charge. But since just 3.4 percent of Farrell's constituents commute alone by car to Lower Manhattan from his transit-rich district, most of his community would indeed benefit. Greatly.

this will do nothing to solve the pollution problems in our community which are caused by traffic on the George Washington Bridge.

Not sure what Farrell means here, since the GWB has an inbound toll, and since the east and west side highways are included in the cordon area recommended by the TCMC.

Unless there is some way drivers coming into Manhattan can be required to pay...

Like an $8 charge to drive below 60th Street?

Despite Farrell's apparent willful ignorance when it comes to pricing, as of last week he had not signed on to Brodsky's $4 cab surcharge plan. Being a Manhattan legislator with his sights set on a City Council seat, it's hard to imagine he would. Yellow cabs aren't nearly as prevalent uptown, but Farrell would have a hell of a time justifying a $6.50 drop charge to the 77.9 percent of households in his district (full disclosure: mine included) that don't own a car and rely on taxis from time to time.

But now that Brodsky and his band of non-Manhattanite lawmakers have jumped the shark, what's next?

Photo: Aaron Naparstek

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