Gerson: Proposed Pricing Plan Misses the Mark

Council Member Alan Gerson says the congestion pricing plan ignores the car-choked Canal Street corridor

Yesterday we noted that District 1 City Council Member Alan Gerson was the only Manhattan representative to indicate that he would vote against the congestion pricing plan in its current form, according to an "unofficial roll call" conducted by the New York Times. We contacted Gerson’s office to find out why, given the upsides for a district in which 79 percent of households are car-free, which is saddled with chronic gridlock and which, ostensibly, will someday benefit from the pricing revenue dependent Second Avenue subway line. An aide told us the council member’s staff was "trying to get a correction," and has submitted this letter to the paper:

Dear Editor:

Your article, "Traffic Plan In Trouble", misstates my position. I have consistently stated that I would support congestion pricing if the Bloomberg Administration enhances or modifies the commission’s plan in four critical areas, on which the plan remains silent or deficient: the Holland Tunnel/ Canal Street corridor; bus management, including clean engine standards for all the buses the plan will bring into lower Manhattan ; non-pricing traffic management, which carries over into non-pricing hours; and equity among city residents. I have proposed detailed recommendations, based on community and expert input. Implementing the commission’s plan without those enhancements or changes will worsen congestion and pollution on many streets, including the canal street corridor. Meetings are scheduled to discuss these proposals. I remain optimistic that the City Council and the Administration will reach agreement on the best possible traffic plan for all New Yorkers.

At our request, Gerson’s office also sent over the council member’s eight-page position paper on congestion pricing [PDF], in which he describes the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission report as "deeply disturbing."

Significant sustained congestion avoidance and reduction requires focus on the various specific, localized congestion points and causes. It is unbelievable to me, that the TMC’s staff report does not once mention the Canal Street corridor or the Holland Tunnel.

I repeatedly urged the commission to incorporate a focus on this hottest of traffic hot spots. The New York Metropolitan Traffic Consortium (NYMTC) has spent several years developing a Canal Area Traffic Study (CATS). One would think that any serious TMC plan would evaluate how to build on NYMTC’s work and would propose resources to support and implement NYMTC’s findings and recommendations.

Three additional flaws become apparent upon examination of the analyses undertaken by the commission to date: the overemphasis on revenue generation; the failure to consider needed mitigation of adverse impact from increase in commuter buses, proposed in several schemes; and the lack of regard for the impact of different proposals on the integration and unity of the City.

Like some pricing opponents, Gerson worries about a "gentrification of the streets" effect:

Many of us over the years have become increasingly concerned about the widening stratification of our city, with parts of Manhattan becoming elite enclaves. Commission analyses have shown the relative progressivism of most congestion pricing measures. However, those analyses do not take into account the non-financial perception and actual experience of areas cordoned off by several congestion pricing schemes as socially apart from the rest of the city. To avoid this, all plans should aim to minimize the cordoning-off effect.

As also noted yesterday, this isn’t the first time Gerson has been polled as anti-pricing. Considering the number of problems he has with the plan as written, and the reductive nature of "yes/no/maybe so" surveys, it isn’t hard to see why.

Photo: J Blough/Flickr