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Congestion Pricing

Glick’s Excuse: Everything But the Kitchen Sink

Welcome to Glickville

As Deborah Glick herself would tell you, no state legislator had more reason to support congestion pricing than she did. In a district where 95.4 percent of working residents would not have paid the charge, where households with a car are outnumbered by households sans vehicle three to one, and which nonetheless finds itself in hellish, fume-choked purgatory largely due to transient car commuters lurching their way to and from the Holland Tunnel, the city-initiated program to reduce gridlock and clear the air while improving transit should have been a gift.

But to Glick, it wasn't. To the contrary, when the Lower Manhattan Democratic Assembly member said anything about congestion pricing -- which, publicly, wasn't all that often -- it was likely to be negative. Rather than tout its obvious merits and work to amend its shortcomings, Glick remained a skeptic throughout the eleven months of the plan's life, repeating often unfounded criticisms spouted by the likes of Richard Brodsky and Anthony Weiner while adding a few zingers to the canon for good measure.

Now that she and fellow Assembly Democrats have killed pricing in its original iteration, Glick has issued her own post-mortem in the form of a constituent letter. After the jump: a breakdown of each of her anti-pricing points, followed by the letter itself.

Here are Glick's "concerns about congestion pricing," as enumerated by the author:

1. Congestion pricing would hurt small businesses. Glick cites "concern" from the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce that the $21 truck fee would harm homegrown entrepreneurs. Never mind that these businesses share the annual $13 billion burden imposed by congestion, or that pricing was endorsed by a coalition of small business groups from across the city. These realities don't mesh with Glick's narrative.

2. The MTA can't be trusted with the money. In her letter, Glick says the city refused to make changes in the pricing proposal as requested by state lawmakers (a ridiculous charge we'll get to in a minute). But this complaint -- that the MTA, with its "abysmal management record," can't be relied upon to use pricing revenues as promised -- is but one example of how those same lawmakers set the plan up to fail. The original pricing proposal included the creation of a separate SMART authority to monitor and allocate pricing revenues. This was one of the first elements of the plan to be seized upon by opponents, and the city, in spite of its supposed stubbornness, dropped it without a fight. In fact, in a March meeting with pricing advocates in Albany, Glick herself mentioned her distaste for the SMART authority (though it had long been removed from the proposal). If neither a separate board, nor the MTA, nor even a lock box set up by the Legislature itself was good enough for Glick et al. to ensure that pricing revenues would be used as promised, it's difficult to imagine that a satisfactory funding mechanism can ever exist.

3. Congestion pricing is a Bush conspiracy. Here, Glick quotes a Washington Post article claiming that congestion pricing is part of a Bush administration plot to "leave a legacy of new tolls roads across the country, a growing number of public roads leased to private companies, and dozens of stalled commuter rail, streetcar and subway projects." You mean as opposed to now, Assemblywoman Glick, when commuter rail, streetcar and subway projects are stalled as motorists wear out publicly funded roads and bridges at no charge? That Post story was truly the gift that kept on giving, providing pricing's Democratic foes, particularly Congressman Anthony Weiner, with a Bushian bogeyman to point to at every opportunity. But a close reading of the piece, as reported on Streetsblog, showed no connection between congestion pricing and reduced transit funding. Instead, its appropriation by Glick and Weiner epitomized a topsy-turvy political scenario in which a lame duck Republican administration's push to apply free market principles to road use clashed with liberal Democratic dogma that regards unfettered automobility as a righteous social construct.

4. Congestion pricing could hurt the environment. In her letter, Glick likens congestion pricing to the controversial Catskills resort development proposal, which would have undermined the SEQRA process had it been approved prior to environmental review. While New Yorkers should certainly be wary of setting a precedent for bypassing such analysis, the congestion pricing legislation dictated that the program would have been monitored after implementation and adjusted as necessary. This is nearly beside the point, since the purpose of pricing is to attach a fee to behavior that harms the environment. At this moment in history, do we need years' worth of analysis to tell us that fewer people driving is a good thing? The baselessness of this argument was laid bare when Glick said one of her concerns was all the dust that would be raised by subsequent transit construction projects. Get real.

5. Congestion pricing wouldn't really reduce traffic. According to studies cited by the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission -- the body that Glick had a hand in creating (and which the supposedly intransigent Bloomberg administration went along with) -- the revised pricing proposal would have reduced traffic in excess of the 6.3% VMT required to qualify for the $354 million in upfront federal funds passed over by Glick and her fellow legislators. But rather than listen to local experts, Glick deferred to critics of London's pricing program for guidance, and conveniently found "differing accounts of effectiveness." No matter that London's program is by and large considered a major success, or that pricing has proven itself effective in other cities. Like so many of Glick's beefs with pricing, this one has the marks of a conclusion in search of supporting evidence.

6. Congestion pricing would have cost too much to administer. Though the mechanics were simplified in the TCMC proposal, reducing the number of cameras by eliminating fees for traveling within the pricing zone, Glick believes operating costs would still have necessitated an increase in the congestion charge. Even if this is true -- and Glick offers little more than supposition (based on the otherwise discredited London model) to back it up -- so what? Did Glick stand up for straphangers when the MTA had to raise fares to cover its rising costs? Where will she be when transit customers are again asked to bear the brunt now that she's helped take away the hundreds of millions in net revenue that pricing would have provided? Stuff costs money. Why should drivers continue to get a free ride while everyone else keeps paying?

7. Congestion pricing lets Jersey off the hook. Do we really have to go through this again? Despite Glick's claim that out of state car commuters would have been "largely exempt" from the congestion fee, the fact is these drivers are already paying to drive into the CBD, and to the benefit of New York state. In addition, contrary to Glick's assertions and assumptions, and her distrust of data that doesn't back them up, the recent toll hike has resulted in a 2.9 percent drop in bridge and tunnel traffic. Oddly, while Glick is frustrated that New Jersey and Connecticut motorists seem undeterred by tolls, she empathizes with the constituent "of moderate income" who drives to his job outside the city because it's faster, yet who was "very concerned" about "the additional $2,000 yearly burden he would have faced under congestion pricing." And what of the millions of transit users who can't afford cars and have no choice but to trip-chain for hours each day, and whose commutes would have been improved with pricing in place? Apparently their stories don't register. But while 95 percent of the city's working population continues to pay to get around on an underfunded transit system, at least Glick can sleep easy knowing she has spared one motorist from having to join them.

8. Deborah Glick doesn't like Michael Bloomberg. All right, this isn't in the letter. But it could be. At that March sit-down with pricing advocates in her Albany office, Glick spent the better part of the time railing against the mayor, whom she clearly dislikes and does not trust. Truth be told, all the significant demands to which the Bloomberg administration consented -- moving the cordon from 86th Street to 60th, removing fees for travel
within the zone, adding a tax credit for low-income drivers, turning
the entire plan over to a Legislature-driven commission
-- were meaningless to Glick, as evidenced by her unsubstantiated claim, repeated to this day, that lawmakers' suggestions fell on deaf ears. Regardless of its obvious benefit to millions of present and future New Yorkers, to her, congestion pricing was, is, and always will be a vanity project of the moneyed mayor -- another example, as she put it to the group of green-shirted citizens who'd given up their day to try to convince her otherwise, of Bloomberg's "out-of-touch billionaire bullshit."

Here is the letter in its entirety, including Glick's "proposed solutions to congestion and mass transit challenges." Check out how many of those challenges would have been addressed by congestion pricing, and note how Glick actually scolds the city for not implementing measures that pricing would have helped pay for, like Bus Rapid Transit. Have at it.

Dear Neighbor,

Thank you for contacting me regarding congestion pricing. I appreciate that you took the time to write to me about this important issue and I apologize if there has been a delay in my response.

Traffic congestion has long been a particular challenge in my Assembly district and, consequently, an issue of great concern to me. Unfortunately, a serious joint city-state effort to alleviate this problem is long-overdue. Similarly, adequate funding for and management of our mass transit system has been a persistent problem. While I appreciate that congestion pricing may have addressed these issues in some small ways, I believe it would have given rise to a host of other issues and I remain convinced that there are a number of other strategies which could be implemented much more easily and better meet these goals.

For these and other reasons, the sentiment in the Assembly, after 8 hours of discussion, was overwhelmingly not supportive of the congestion pricing plan. In fact, even members in support of congestion pricing wanted significant changes and these changes were ones of which the City had long been aware. And as you are most likely aware, in the end, neither the State Senate nor the Assembly took action to approve congestion pricing. During the past few weeks, I have heard from constituents urging me to reject congestion pricing and ones urging me to support it. I realize that some constituents continue to strongly feel that congestion pricing was an appropriate solution and are very disappointed that it was not approved by the Legislature. But I believe that the impassioned debate about congestion pricing will have a positive lasting and important result- that is, the debate has cast a spotlight on the issues of congestion and mass transit needs, something that I am hopeful will help bring state and city officials together to seriously address these issues and craft appropriate solutions. I am committed to being a constructive part of this dialogue and, at the end of this letter, I present a way that you can join me in this effort.

Below, in addition to outlining some of the major concerns about congestion pricing which prevented me from being an advocate for the plan, I have listed a number of solutions that I will not only support, but that I will work fervently to make reality.

*_Concerns about congestion pricing_*

1. One of the most frequent complaints I hear from constituents is about the closing of small, neighborhood stores. Consequently, I share the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce’s concern that the planned $21 fee for trucks would seriously hurt small businesses. In London, the Chamber of Commerce has been vocal in its belief that congestion pricing has been harmful to retail, but particularly to independent stores, whose profitability has reportedly decreased 53% since congestion pricing was implemented in London. For these reasons, I fear that congestion pricing would have exacerbated the struggles that small businesses already face. It is these small businesses that have made our community a neighborhood, not a mall.

2. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has a long history of not delivering on its promises, regardless of safeguards that were put in place to ensure that funds were spent in particular ways. From the 1951 bond issue that was approved specifically for building a 2nd Avenue subway to the recent transit fare increase for which the MTA had promised, but then rescinded, transit improvements and expansions in return, the MTA has an abysmal management record. I do not believe there was any way to ensure that congestion pricing revenues would actually be spent to expand and improve service, instead of plugging MTA budget shorfalls. Notably, the City estimated that 39% of revenues would be used to operate the program.

3. I share transportation advocates’ concerns about the Federal government’s actions to withdraw government support for road-building and public transportation. According to a recent Washington Post article (“Letting the Market Drive Transportation”, March 17, 2008), the Transportation Secretary and other top Federal officials have been acting to “upend the traditional way transportation projects are funded in this country. They believe that tolls paid by motorists, not tax dollars, should be used to construct and maintain roads.” Such a belief is consistent with their commitment of $1 billion to fund congestion pricing projects in 5 cities, which represented all the discretionary spending available that year. In the end, it is expected that, with these and other actions, “the Bush administration will leave a legacy of new tolls roads across the country, a growing number of public roads leased to private companies, and dozens of stalled commuter rail, streetcar and subway projects.” Representative Peter DeFazio echoed this sentiment in stating, “Everything they’re doing is designed to drive things to privatization. They’re just trying to undo 200 years of history and go back to the Boston Post Road.” While any money for transportation would be helpful, I believe that the $354 million in federal funds that would supposedly have gone to improve mass transportation can be found elsewhere. For example, the City committed $403 million to building a new stadium for a Yankees ball club that just signed a $275 million contract with one of its top players.

4. There would have been no environmental review prior to implementation of congestion pricing. The State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) is a crucial process that helps ensure a thorough study of effects before a major project is undertaken. Just a few years ago, National Resources Defense Council highlighted the importance of SEQRA prior to project approval by arguing forcefully that the Legislature defer a vote on a large-scale development proposal in the Catskills until SEQRA was undertaken. Environmental Advocates of New York mirrored these concerns for congestion pricing, stating: “while a willingness to provide a system of environmental quality review is laudable, short-circuiting SEQRA has serious pitfalls . . . Measures that short-circuit the state environmental quality review process should be considered very carefully. Very few exemptions from the state environmental quality review process exist- and that should remain the case.” There have been many large-scale development projects proposed and completed in my district and SEQRA and other environmental reviews have been crucial tools for the community in ensuring that government considers the effects of large-scale projects before considering their approval. Weakening SEQRA by allowing a massive project like congestion pricing to circumvent it, would set a very dangerous precedent that would have effects both in my district and throughout the state.

5. I am skeptical about the projected reductions in traffic. While proponents of congestion pricing have held out London as a model, there are differing accounts of the effectiveness of London’s congestion pricing scheme. The London Group, the London School of Economic’s center for the study of the city’s economic and social issues, reports that the charge has not radically altered traffic patterns. As a Member of the London Assembly stated, the “congestion charge is a charge on congestion that we once got for free.” My skepticism about purported traffic decreases for New York City was only further heightened by the fact that the survey of travel behavior used to inform decisions for New York City’s plan was conducted in 1997. This reliance on decade-old data, coupled with the absence of a SEQRA review, provided me no assurance that purported traffic reductions would materialize.

6. Congestion pricing would have created a huge new bureaucracy that consumed a substantial portion of anticipated revenues and was likely to necessitate increases in the congestion pricing charge. The City reported that well over 1/3 of congestion pricing revenues would have gone toward operating costs, in addition to the approximately $73 million in capital costs (which the federal money would not cover) and that no fee increases were anticipated. Given that more than 50% of London’s revenues are consumed by operating costs and that their fee has already increased from five to eight pounds ($16) for cars and to 35 pounds ($50) for larger vehicles, the city’s calculations seemed overly optimistic.

7. People from New Jersey, Connecticut and other areas requiring use of a tolled bridge or tunnel were largely exempt from paying the congestion pricing fee since that toll would be deducted from the congestion pricing fee. In this way, many of these commuters would pay no additional fee beyond what they currently pay, while others would pay just an additional dollar or two. If we are seriously interested in decreasing the number of drivers into the congestion pricing area, these commuters must be faced with real disincentives for driving. The fact that they are currently paying high toll fees and increased gas prices signals either that they are financially able and willing to pay increased costs for their preference to commute by car or that they have no other choice because they are underserved by the current mass transit system or have another special circumstance. For example, I was contacted by a constituent who drives each day to his teaching job outside of New York City. If he were to take the subway to the train to a bus, his commute would be nearly 2 ½ hours instead of 45 minutes and would cost substantially more. As a teacher of moderate income, he was very concerned about the additional $2,000 yearly burden he would have faced under congestion pricing.

*_Proposed solutions to congestion and mass transit challenges_*

I believe there are a number of easy to implement actions which could address the issues of congestion and mass transit improvement. Below are some of the solutions which I plan to advocate for.

1. The City’s out-of-control parking permit system is evidenced by the fact that, last year, the City estimated that there were between 15,000 and 30,000 parking placards, then this year admitted that the figure is actually closer to 142,000- or 11 times the number of taxis in the City! These permits- a placard placed on the dashboard- allow for free and often illegal parking in most locations. This figure does not even include what is considered to be a substantial number of fake permit placards. While the City has pledged to make a 20 percent reduction in the number of parking placards, it is crucial that the City do so immediately and work to make an even more substantial reduction. As pointed out in an April 9^th New York Times Op-Ed by Gene Russianoff of NYPIRG’s Straphangers Campaign, this 20% reduction would mean 28,000 fewer daily drivers, which represents more than a third of those that congestion pricing was projected to eliminate. I will advocate for the City to remove a much larger number of permits. It is likely that, by simply eliminating 100,000 parking permits, the number of daily commuters who stop driving would approach the roughly 83,000 that congestion pricing was projected to eliminate.

2. For years, the Lower Manhattan community has advocated for the return of two-way tolls on the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge. Two-ways tolls were eliminated years ago in what was supposed to be a 3 year pilot of an outbound-only toll. So I was skeptical when the Mayor first proposed congestion pricing as a 3 year pilot project and my skepticism proved to be justified when the Mayor’s final plan made no mention of congestion pricing as a pilot program.  Like the Verazzano toll, if congestion pricing did not work as  anticipated, there was the possibility that we would have been  stuck with it. And the one-way Verazzano toll clearly does not work. By charging only outbound cars, it encourages visitors to drive into Manhattan by offering a toll-free trip into the City via the Verazzano and out via the Holland Tunnel, compounding the substantial traffic problems in Lower Manhattan, especially along the Broome Street and Canal Street corridors. I and many residents and advocates strongly believe that returning to two-way tolls on the Verazzano would have a substantial impact on downtown traffic. It is time for the City to join me in making the formal request to Washington for this relief.

3. The City continues to advocate for massive development but fails to properly consider or plan for the consequences of these projects, including the traffic ramifications. Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News aptly wrote, “As for pollution and automobile congestion, there was no problem when Bloomberg wanted to build a new Jets stadium near the Lincoln Tunnel. Nothing to worry about when City Hall was proposing those scores of high-rise luxury condos all over Manhattan, or that huge Atlantic Yards project in downtown Brooklyn.” At a time when we all agree that there is too much congestion in Manhattan, why force rapid development that only exacerbates this issue? Smart urban planning requires that growth be managed and that issues like traffic, mass transit and classroom seats be addressed. I will continue to raise these issues around projects planned in my district and advocate for real planning to meet the needs of current and future residents.

4. In addition to increasing oversight of the MTA to ensure that money is spent wisely, there are ways in which additional revenue can be generated to support the mass transit system. For example, residential real estate developers continue to reap huge profits; they should be required to pitch in to meet the needs of the residents they will add to our neighborhoods. To this end, a real estate tax on developers could help fund mass transit expansion. I also believe that the Assembly’s proposal for a tax on million-dollar earners would have been an appropriate means to raise additional revenues for mass transit capital improvements. The less than 1% tax increase could have generated $1.4 billion per year, with much of it dedicated for transit improvements- almost 3 times more revenue than congestion pricing. It also would have been far less risky, since there would be virtually no implementation or administrative costs. It is unfortunate that the Mayor opposed this measure and it is unfortunate that the measure was not included in the budget. I am hopeful that a similar proposal might be negotiated in the future in order to ensure a steady stream of funding for mass transit upgrades.

5. The 13,000 taxis in the City and 40,000 black cars account for more than 40% of vehicle miles traveled in the congestion zone, so efforts to reduce congestion must address them. In addition, almost half of a taxi’s driving time is spent cruising for fares. To address this issue, Sam Schwartz, a respected transportation consultant who served nearly 20 years with the City Department of Transportation, has argued that taking 1,000 taxis off the street will speed up traffic, allowing cabs to drop off and pick up passengers more quickly, while not really making it much harder to hail a cab.

6. In order to load and unload, trucks often double-park or cause other vehicles to double-park, obstructing traffic. Beyond greater enforcement to ensure that cars are not parked in loading zones, new commercial buildings should be required to include off-street loading facilities. Currently, commercial buildings are afforded free use of streets as delivery points. They should instead be required to use their own real estate to create off-street delivery areas.

7. Greater enforcement is needed to prevent parking infractions that slow traffic. Illegally parked black cars which may sit in no-parking zones waiting long periods of time for a client, obstruct the flow of traffic and the ability of trucks to make deliveries. Similarly, taxis and other double-parkers slow down traffic and increase honking and idling, which severely impacts some residents’ quality of life. A greater number of traffic enforcement agents are needed to both direct traffic at key intersections and issue summonses. The Assembly has already moved to address this issue by introducing legislation that would allow traffic enforcement agents to issue tickets for blocking the box, and I am proud to be a sponsor of this measure.

8. Idling traffic can emit up to three times the level of pollutants as moving vehicles. For this reason, it is crucial that there be increased efforts to reduce idling. The large number of commercial establishments and substantial number of major construction projects underway in Lower Manhattan have caused particular problems with idling delivery and construction trucks. There must be greater enforcement of existing idling laws.

9. Buses serve as an important means of transportation for many travelers. Bus rapid transit and other measures for providing dedicated bus lanes, hold great promise for speeding commutes and increasing the efficiency of buses. More needs to be done to implement appropriate measures as soon as possible.

10. While the City has appropriately made efforts to promote cycling, I do not believe that they have been truly committed to making our City bicycle-friendly, as evidenced in comment made by the Mayor last year. At an Albany briefing, I commented that, if we were looking to Europe for congestion-mitigation measures, we should do more to encourage bike commuting. The Mayor responded that Europeans are more accustomed to two-wheel vehicles and Americans to four-wheel vehicles. I believe that there are creative models to encourage bike commuting, including finding ways to ensure that new construction includes space for bike storage and encouraging parking garages to offer secure, low-cost bike parking. Safer bike lanes are also crucial and it was a great disappointment that the efforts of many community members and advocates to have a bike lane included in the reconstruction of Houston Street were rejected by the City.

Many of the above solutions were suggested by advocates or concerned constituents who face the daily frustrations posed by traffic congestion and a troubled mass transit system. Since I know that these issues are of concern to you as well, I invite and encourage you to submit your thoughts to me about the solutions I propose above, as well as share your own ideas for addressing these problems. You may do so via email to _ or by mail to 853 Broadway, Suite 2120, NY, NY 10003.

I am hopeful that, working together, we can move forward to find and implement the best solutions to these challenges. Please know that I will be a forceful advocate for such changes.


Deborah J. Glick


Photo: WannaBeInPictures/Flickr

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