Jessica Lappin: Congestion Pricing Advocate

This recent constituent e-mail shows that Council Member Jessica Lappin’s lukewarm support for congestion pricing seems to have turned into full-fledged support now that the proposal has no chance of being implemented (taking a page out of Assemblywoman Joan Millman‘s book). In Lappin’s defense, she did vote for pricing when it came before the council. But it might have been helpful had she found her voice a few months — or even weeks — before the plan went to Albany.

Thank you for contacting me in support of Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal. As you probably are aware, on March 31, the City Council approved a home rule message authorizing the state to approve Mayor Bloomberg’s plan. The vote was 30 members in support and 20 against. I voted in support of the proposal. However, neither the State Assembly nor the State Senate acted in time to move this plan forward.

Anyone who drives in New York understands that congestion is a major problem, particularly in the Central Business District (CBD). Heavy traffic doesn’t just anger and inconvenience drivers. It impacts our economy and environment as well. It is estimated that congestion costs the city $11.6 billion worth of lost business revenue, productivity, operating costs, and fuel and vehicle costs. In addition, because of our poor air quality, New York City asthma hospitalization rates are more than twice the national average.

Congestion pricing was one significant way to address these issues. It would have reduced traffic, improved air quality and public health, and provided critically needed funding for mass transit. Currently, our public transportation system is stretched to the limit. Nowhere is this more evident than the East Side. The Lexington Avenue subway line is operating at 110% capacity and, with 65,000 riders daily, the M15 is the most heavily utilized bus line in the Western Hemisphere.

Congestion pricing would have allowed the city to receive a one-time federal grant of $354 million for short-term mass transit improvements and allowed the city to use the congestion pricing fees to bond out an estimated $4.5 billion for major transit projects. These funds would have gone towards critical capital projects like the Second Avenue Subway, Bus Rapid Transit on First and Second Avenues, and East River ferry service. In addition to these large scale projects, if congestion pricing has been implemented, my Council District will have benefitted immediately from these short term transportation improvements:

  • 46 new subway cars, primarily for the E & F lines
  • 5 additional buses on the M101/M102/M103 lines
  • 4 additional buses on the M86 line
  • 2 additional buses on M66 line
  • 3 additional buses on M31 line
  • 6 additional buses on M15 line
  • 10 additional buses on X90 line

Unfortunately, we won’t be seeing these short term transportation improvements any time soon. However, I remain committed to the long term goal of reducing traffic and improving air quality in our city and will continue to work with our city’s elected leadership to advance those goals.

Thank you for taking the time to contact me on this issue. I heavily weighed your views, and those of my other constituents, in formulating my position. As always, please feel free to contact me with any specific questions about this or any other issue facing our city.



Council Member

5th District – Manhattan

  • gecko

    Hopefully, some time soon there will be a tipping point of political will for major change.

    The Kheel Plan would be a good start.

  • Lappin’s 2nd graf starts thus: “Anyone who drives in New York understands that congestion is a major problem …”

    Framing congestion as a problem only for “anyone who drives” is unfortunate. It doesn’t just betray a windshield perspective. It reduces congestion to a problem for drivers, thus eliminating from the equation the time costs to bus riders, walkers and cyclists, not to mention the maddening impact on all of us from the sheer physical presence of all that traffic.

    Lappin’s framing also brings back my frustration over remarks I heard from lots of nice New Yorkers when I tabled for c.p. last summer: “Congestion pricing? Doesn’t affect me, I don’t drive.” Grr. That’s the silent majority that didn’t go to bat for congestion pricing.

  • gecko

    With free mass transit it would be difficult to label the Kheel Plan as elitist with a major benefit to a potentially not-so-silent majority.

  • This is a classic example of politics winning over betterment of citizens in general. This is a classic example of incompetency that we see amongst legislators and law makers. Misusage of power – for ego trips, for winning votes and staying popular (presumably so). There are times, when the council members or politicians in general need to move beyond business as usual and get more sensitive and pragmatic about the present and future of the city and citizens.

    Michael Bloomberg, Jessica Lappin have done their bit for congestion pricing and certainly are seen as strong citizen centric officials.

    But hey, just singing in the choir does not make you Pavarotti. I think it is a systemic failure by each and every individual who is at the helm of things and could have made a positive impact on citizens.

    Very sad! We seem to be our greatest enemy!!!

  • I think Charles has a very valid point. The ones promoting congestion pricing are very limited in their view of why we need congestion pricing. And if they them selves see it only for drivers, then how can they move public (read sleepy council members) to vote for it.

    Thanks Charles. Good point.

  • Nassau Nell

    This legislator is hot!

  • Greg R,

    I’m back to emphasize branding! As someone watching from afar (and missing the place), I just want to re-iterate: Congestion Pricing is a great idea with a phenomenally crappy name. Rebrand! Rebrand!


  • Larry Littlefield

    Unfortunately for free transit, transit costs lots of money.

    Not so bicycle riding. Lappin’s flip is as a result of this — with CP dead, drivers are satisfied, so you have to be more afraid of non-drivers — especially as the MTA budget problems intensify.

    Walking and biking costs little in the way of public money, however, so it’s a cheap way to placate Streetsbloggers. Hence Plan B.

    This whole debate has changed my mind. So others as well. If I’m paying as much per person as drivers for scarce space, how about giving me my share of it?

  • As if we needed reminding, more evidence that legislators’ votes are but one measure of their effectiveness.

  • ManhattanDowntowner

    You want to know why congestion taxing failed?
    This letter is in response to anti-pricing calls and emails from Harvey Weisenberg, Member of Assembly

    Dear M. XXXX:

    I have received your letter regarding congestion pricing. After much
    debate, this controversial issue has concluded, with the state
    legislature declining to act on this measure. While the issue was
    pending, I received hundred of e-mails, phone calls and letters both
    supporting and opposing the initiative.

    In order to clarify my position, I would like to share the following
    observations of events as they unfolded in Albany, leading to my
    opposition to a plan that I believe was fiscally unsound, ethically
    questionable and legally problematic:

    · The absence of environmental impact review of the plan, as mandated by
    current law under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, which
    requires review before an action. The City of New York, who have become
    experts at avoiding environmental reviews like this, planned to adhere
    to SEQRA after its implementation

    · Ethically questionable political tactics by Bloomberg supporters who
    attempted to exploit environmental groups to sway legislators through
    political contributions and intimidation. Simply put, my vote is not for
    sale to the highest bidder. It already belongs to the people of the
    20^th Assembly District, the majority of who oppose this plan.

    · A New York City official was ticketed in transit to Albany for using a
    city vehicle with lights and sirens and excessive speed in order to
    lobby for congestion pricing, a fine example of the lengths Mayor
    Bloomberg will go to flex his muscle.

    · The plan was widely touted to be a 3 year pilot, but 30 year bonds
    were built into the plan, which closed the doors of opportunity to
    revisit the issue, even if things went awry upon implementation.

    · According to our state’s fiscal experts, the MTA was under funded by
    $14 billion in the plan. When has the MTA kept their promises, even when
    funded adequately?

    · Once approved, the cost to commuters would have automatically and
    steeply increased, again with no opportunity to revisit.

    · When taken as a whole, the City of New York wanted Long Island to pay,
    but not New Jersey.

    As a staunch environmentalist who has received ratings of A+ from our
    state’s environmental groups on my earlier votes, congestion pricing
    proved to be a difficult issue to grapple with as a legislator. I know
    that many people are happy with my decision and some are not. Sadly, as
    the situation unfolded, the issue was no longer about congestion
    pricing, tolls, or even the environment. It became an issue of power,
    money, greed and politics at its worst. As a state leader, I believe we
    can do better.

    Thank you for taking the time to contact me to share your views.


    Harvey Weisenberg

    Member of Assembly

  • I see. This staunch environmentalist rejected the most far-reaching environmentally beneficial policy likely ever to cross his desk because the DOT commissioner’s driver was caught speeding to Albany on the Thruway.

    Manhattan Downtowner: Enjoy that Nassau County motor vehicle traffic rumbling over the free Manhattan Bridge and clogging up Canal Street on its way to the free, west-bound Holland Tunnel. Those are Mr. Weisenberg’s constituents driving through our neighborhoods, filling our air with the sound of horn honking and the stench of tailpipe excretion.

  • Stone

    Feeble minded “environmentalists” fixated on billboards and bottles are part of the problem in Albany. The least important enviro issues have gotten the most attention. Otherwise Mr. Staunch Environmentalist wouldn’t stand a chance of getting a D, let alone an A+. Something for Streetsblog to watch is the enviro grades given to electeds who opposed pricing. Something made tougher by the no vote, but the leading blow hards are known.

  • Last year, the NYLCV decided not to endorse any incumbent for office based on the overall failure to not pass the most important pieces of legislation. They got a lot of attention for it, but it left many elected officials upset.

  • ManhattanDowntowner

    To 11. Aaron:
    You are totally cherry picking Sadik-Kahn’s illegal use of a siren and speeding to Albany here. All the other points made by Weisenberg are far more validating and substantive.

    Congestion pricing failed not because it was a bad idea or a bad vision, it failed because it was a bill that was shot full of gaping wide holes on so many levels, and Bloomberg was trying to shove it down NYC’s throat in an unethical and questionably illegal manner. Weisenberg’s letter touches on most of the significant points of why this tax bill was shot down, and that’s why I posted it. If you want to back and support a bill that’s shotty, then that’s your business.

    Right after the congestion taxing bill was shot down, I was in a conference call with my councilmember and other activists to see what concessions were made – and believe me, there were tons of concessions made for NYC councilmembers to get them to vote pro-price; a significant portion of the concessions were not even related to congestion pricing itself! That may be Bloomberg’s way of doing business, but it’s no way to run NYC!

  • JF

    Okay, so if Bloomberg tries to avoid making deals he displays stunning political naivete, but if he makes deals it’s no way to run NYC? He could definitely have handled the issue better, but it sounds like he can’t win either way.

  • Roxanne

    Lappin supports the congestion pricing but what about the ban on horse drawn carriages. IT is cruel and unsafe and causes a lot of congestion in Midtown. i wonder if the slush funds when into some organizations related to the horse drawn carriage industry

  • Janie

    Lappin needs to do some serious thinking and come to the right decision on horse-drawn carriages: ban them now, as all major cities already have done.

  • Conchetta

    Most major cities have horse-drawn carriages. Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington DC, St Louis – they all have carriages, and none of them even have a park like Central Park! They ride in the streets. Not to mention big cities in Europe – London, Berlin, Paris, Dublin, Madrid, and actually nearly every city we went to last year through all of Eastern Europe on our tour had carriages.
    What on earth are you talking about?

  • Janie

    London, Oxford (UK), Paris, Toronto, and even Beijing have banned horse-drawn carriages; I am not sure what you are speaking of or when you visited. Spain is legendary for its animal abuse and this represents an opportunity for change.

    In the United States, the list is growing constantly as people and municipalities become educated about the cruelty in the industry. The list of cities that have banned horse-drawn carriages includes Kenneth City, Key West, Deerfield Beach, Palm Beach, Panama City Beach, Pompano Beach, and Treasure Island. Biloxi, Mississippi banned them, as did Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada. In South Carolina, Broadway at the Beach banned this archaic industry, as did Camden, New Jersey and Virginia Beach, Virginia.

    You may not consider Camden, NJ, a major city but London, Toronto, and Paris surely are.

  • Conchetta

    Sorry, Janie, but you really should fact check before you repeat things that are untrue. We took a carriage ride in London last year, with Westways Tours – went right past Buckingham Palace! The ones in Paris start near the Eiffel Tower. There are carriages in Brussels, Rome, Dublin, Prague, Madrid, Warsaw, Vienna, Budapest, Berlin. In Canada, Ottawa, Montreal, and Vancouver all have them. As a matter of fact, it is the rare city I have been in that DOESN’T have carriages. As far as the States, like I said, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington DC, St Louis, Dallas/Ft Worth, St Augustine, Denver, all across the South etc etc – all have carriages. If you Google, you will see that they are popping up in smaller towns all over America as well. It doesn’t take much to prove anything I have said here – just Google.

  • Sheila Jaworski Of New Jersey

    Not every place has banned horse drawn carriages, i urge you to take a look at two facts in ever single accident i have read over the years, two parts stand out on the horse drawn carriage issue one is the accident is always a car hit the carriage. the other is the reaction to “the car” the horse is spooked. I don’t know about anyone else but if i was hit by a car I’d be spooked as well. This is what happens when cities become over populated but not with only people per say but with cars. I’m sorry but the horses were here first not us and I stand by there drivers (As long as the horses are well cared for) if there not of course that’s an issue of abuse and that needs to be directed to the humane society and of course the owner should be fined.

    We indeed have horse drawn carriages still running here and it’s a shame that some owners/riders do not know how to care for these beautiful animals.

    a few tips everyone can agree on is:

    fresh water
    Of course the heat being bad some relief for the horse is nice too.

    a blanket (encase it is chilly)

    Blinders are good to keep the horse focused
    training for the horse as well so it doesn’t startle easy

    Training for the driver if it’s a carriage drawn horse.

    there are a lot of things we can do ourselves to make the carriages safer as well. Like when seeing one don’t blow your horn, or ride to close, always be watching where you are driving so you don’t hit the carriages. that also goes for the drivers of carriages if your slow please go only where you are supposed to go unless of course it is your transportation then for goodness sake use some common sense to keep yourself safe.

    I personally have a few friends who use horse drawn carriage and there amazing to ride in they use common sense and always make sure there horses are well cared for. But with anything car, horse, person a lot of times you see people who don’t use common sense and get hurt, or don’t watch what there doing. It’s not a thing to be government and say lets ban this or that because we feel it’s bad or wrong like you would a child taking a toy away from them when they do something wrong. No you should however blame the parties involved for there lack of common sense. And lets surely not sit there and take it out on everyone who haven’t done a thing wrong.

  • Sheila Jaworski Of New Jersey

    Lets make another point congestion there is a lot of it in NY no kidding? Of course there is it’s a major city with thousands of people traveling in and out of it every single day. lets take down town away from the horse drawn carriage and guess what still congested i wonder why. Lets be honest it’s not the horses it’s people. People drive cars in numbers going to one place at a time causes major congestion. case in point the l.i.e the George Washington bridge. they don’t have horses on them yet there congested too. So please stop blaming horses for this issue the issue is we are trying to shove an orange the size of a watermelon into a hole the side of a pea and expecting it not to be squished, It just wont happen, it’s called tolerance and common sense if you can use those two idea’s then congestion is the least of your worries. What about car pooling? I understand not everyone lives close by. What about mass transit that’s congested no horses there either. I know this sounds silly but to blame a horse and carriage for something that was already there made by people is just plain outrageous. Here’s something though how come in the early ages when there were just horse drawn carriage there wasn’t any congestion. A little something to think about. Let’s stop blaming what is there (car’s, truck’s, horse’s, people) and lets start thinking of a way we can all co exist without having to have the government hold our hands. One nation “We the people” how about let’s we the people come up with a plan together and let the government deal with the bigger issues that we need them for.

    Here’s one:

    Horse drawn carriages the horses Must be well cared for and can not drive within peak times of the day unless in specified area’s due to the fact that accidents between carriages and cars have happened and have killed many people and horses a like. Motorists must stay out of or away from these lanes made specially for these carriages or they will be fined and have there license removed. Horse drawn carriages can not use any other lanes than the ones made specially for them or they will face a fine and have there license removed for failure to follow that simple rule.

    That would solve that issue plain and clear, cars stay away from the carriage lane, carriages stay away from the cars lane there nice and simple

    other things that have been in place are motorists must be in control of there motor vehicle at all times. This should go for horse drawn carriages as well. There is a leash law yet one incident involving a horse drawn carriage and a dog no one said if the dog was on a leash, if it was why did the owner of the dog not keep the animal near him or her and why did they bring it near the horse? (common sense here with that one)

    Just trying to figure out since it’s mostly car congestion and a horse drawn carriage is hit by a car then if that’s the case which it is on everyone i have read in accidents why not take away the cause which is “The car?” here is why because if we take away the car then who gets to work? ok so lets take away the carriage cant do that either because people use it for work. Well then since we cant do either and it’s really none of the governments business no offense governor. If we start now bothering our government officials with petty arguments over who is right who is wrong when will they have the time to actually do things we need done, Sorry but congestion is a fact of life in a big city with lots of motor vehicle traffic. You cant help that unless you move so might as well get used to that idea it wont change unless everyone but a few hundred move away and that will never happen.

    So here’s the plan lets make the fines a little steeper for those breaking these two items i set above.

    1. cars stay out of the carriage’s only lane
    2. carriages stay out of the cars only lane
    3. operators of each YOU need to be aware of your surroundings
    4. do not pass each other STAY in YOUR own lanes!
    5. you MUST be in control of you vehicle (carriage) at ALL times.
    6. Maintain your vehicle (carriage with or without horse)!

    and lets all try and get along were going to be here on this earth for a very long long time lets not nit pick now. Lets try and get along. people and animals were here before car’s and trucks and bicycles. We need to learn tolerance as well as to use common sense. It’s all i am asking please stop blaming others. If you aren’t the cause of the solution to the problem which is congestion in general and are blaming others for it, then you are the cause of the problem.

    This is our history we are the ones who make the world go round we are the ones who show are children the right from wrong. We all need to start taking responsibility for our actions and stop playing the blame game.


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