This Week: Upper Manhattan Candidates Debate Transportation

Candidates for the 31st Senate District: Miosotis Muñoz, Mark Levine, Anna Lewis, and Adriano Espaillat. All except Lewis have confirmed they will attend tonight's debate to talk transportation.

Labor Day and the Jewish high holidays make this an abbreviated week, but with the critical primary elections just seven days away, the state’s political world is going full-tilt. Tonight, at least three of the four candidates running to replace Eric Schneiderman in the State Senate will meet at a debate co-sponsored by Transportation Alternatives, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, and the Upper West Side Streets Renaissance to talk about how they plan to provide for the transportation needs of the Upper West Side, West Harlem, Washington Heights, Inwood, and Riverdale.

Whoever wins the seat will be replacing one of the more pro-transit members of the State Senate. Before entering the Senate, Schneiderman represented the Straphangers Campaign as a private attorney, and in office he publicly embraced PlaNYC. However, even Schneiderman remained out of sight during the most recent fights over MTA financing.

The three candidates expected to show up tonight are Adriano Espaillat, Miosotis Muñoz, and Mark Levine. Espaillat currently serves in the Assembly representing an overlapping district; Muñoz was an aide to Congressman Charlie Rangel and Manhattan borough presidents C. Virginia Fields and Ruth Messinger; Levine was chair of Community Board 12’s transportation committee and founded a credit union for low-income Upper Manhattanites. A fourth candidate, Anna Lewis, has not yet confirmed whether she will attend, according to a DNAinfo report.

Streetsblog last looked at the race in June, noting that while each of the candidates to represent this largely car-free constituency expressed strong support for transit, none would support tolling the free Harlem River bridges that run through the district. Plenty of other revenue sources got the thumbs up: Espaillat was a vocal congestion pricing supporter, Muñoz wanted to reinstate the commuter tax, and Levine was even willing to toll the East River bridges on top of a commuter tax. But when it comes to new tolls inside the district, these candidates seemed to draw the line.

To find out where they stand on transit funding, what they’d do to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety, or to pose your own question, show up tonight at 7:00 p.m. at the Armory Foundation, located at 216 Ft. Washington Ave., between 168th and 169th Streets. The debate will be moderated by West Side Spirit reporter Dan Rivoli and Columbia urban planning prof David King.

  • Tollfree

    Personally I also think tolling the Harlem River bridges is a bad idea. It would create a traffic nightmare as those bridges are basically extensions of existing streets. There are also residents of northern Manhattan who use those bridges to do shopping, or who work in the Bronx, etc. that would suffer if these bridges were tolled.

    This isn’t midtown, and I think it’s fair to say that a lot of the traffic crossing the bridges are people living in northern Manhattan or the Bronx and are simply heading from one to the other.

    …oh, and go Mark Levine!

  • Tollfree, if the toll is collected with a transponder or by photographs there is no traffic nightmare. Haven’t you seen the gantries on the NJ Turnpike’s northern entrance?

    Yes, most people crossing bridges live on one side or the other. Why shouldn’t they pay to drive across? People living in Manhattan or the Bronx who take the bus (Bx13, say) pay to cross.

    Streetsblog Network member Cap’n Transit has an insight about this; he says that parallel transit routes suffer when there are free transit alternatives. Basically the no. 1 train and Bx7 bus in Upper Manhattan lose riders because the cost of the alternative, driving, is free.

  • Dan Rivoli is one of my favorite NYC reporters. It should be an interesting conversation.

    Bus service is really bad in nearly that whole district and weekend train work can make that area feel severed from the rest of Manhattan. Black cars & taxis make up the difference for many people, but that can be very expensive. Bike share, dollar vans and a BRT line in both directions would really improve transit for little cost.

  • iSkyscraper

    Bridge tolls is a red herring and we should not get too distracted by it. It really is something that larger policy matters will decide and like any new toll will distort the existing traffic patterns enough that there will be much ranting and screaming, overwhelming whatever one elected pol believes. Personally, I’m for tolling all approaches to the central business district during peak hours, but my opinion is that any such toll barrier should be around the actual central business district, well south of Inwood. The Harlem River is a truly arbitrary barrier in this part of town, and if using high tech toll gates there is no reason those gates could not go up on various avenues crossing, say, 96th St (similar to London).

    The more relevant issues that these candidates can likely affect while in office include wresting more money out of MTA for elevators at our subway stations (squeaky wheel gets the oil), supporting laws for bus-lane-violator cameras on buses (lost a vote last time), general support for MTA funding to battle fare increases, and so on.

  • I have to apologize to the people of the State of NY; I’ve been biting my tongue, fearful that if I write what I truly think of Attorney Schniederman it will lead to Anna Lewis’s defeat.
    There are 2 BIG secrets in NYS. The one that is the least kept BIG secret is that Prime Minister Sheldon Silver is a Personal Injury Lawyer and he refuses to bring tort reform before the Assembly floor.
    The second AND THE ABSOLUTELY BEST KEPT SECRET IS THAT THERE ARE 20 MEMBERS OF THE NYS BAR, 19 PRACTICING LAW IN THE NEW YORK STATE SENATE! If you had 20 farm owners (Ag still the biggest industry in NYS), 20 doctors or 20 Commercial Fisherman in the Senate you would say there is something fishy going on in NYS government. Instead we have those that live off the law practicing the law. We don’t have a government for the people; buy the people, of the people. We have a government for the attorneys; buy the attorneys of the attorneys.
    Do you honestly think that if Silver were replaced by a non-attorney that allowed tort reform on the assembly floor that tort reform with 19 attorneys practicing law, some from some pretty hefty size law firms, that tort reform is going to break committee in the Senate.
    It’s Schneiderman that has shot himself in the foot here, for he has shown his hand. No one seeking the office of Attorney General should be showing favoritism toward one candidate or another. It shows just what kind of Attorney General we will be electing. Do you think if he suspects wrong doing he will go after Espaillat, his 18 former fellow members of the NYS Bar or will he put that folder on the bottom? Why isn’t there an indictment against State Senator George Winner (attorney George Winner)? Do you think another attorney in the Senate or Assembly will be prosecuted by State Senator-attorney Eric Schneiderman if he is elected Attorney General? I think not, like State Senator George Winner, they will be allowed to quietly retire, pardoned not by the Governor, not denied their $80,000 pension,never forced to give any money back to NYS, instead pardoned by Eric Schneiderman, AG!

    The NYS bar already controls the assembly with Prime Minister Sheldon Silver at the helm, 20 seats in the Senate, now, if elected, one of those elite 20 is going to be AG!
    Schneiderman is the last person we want to elect as AG and because of conflict of interest issues as a partner in the Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Law Firm; he should never have been elected to the state senate in the first place.
    Eric Schneiderman needs to stop endorsing members of the “Good Ol’ Boys Club”, go back to practicing law at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart and we need Anna Lewis because she is the complete opposite of the coin of her of the 19 practicing attorneys, to be elected to the NYS Senate

    Schneiderman and Lewis are not colleagues; they are very much rivals and travel in very different circles, that’s why it may not be the end of the World, but she has to be one of the newly elected (no conflict of interest) members of the 2011 NYS Senate.

    It burns me that Schneiderman is giving and receiving all of the endorsements, when he should be slithering back under a rock at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart

  • Tollfree

    Arthur: How about you apologize for spamming the same exact comment on like 10 different blogs today.

    Jonathan: They shouldn’t pay to drive across because they are low-to-middle income workers who are driving to these places to shop, take their kids to school, or go to work.

    Many places in the Bronx (or northern Manhattan – depends where you’re starting) are simply not reasonably accessible via public transport.

    I’m not saying that I wouldn’t prefer a rapid-transit alternative. An East-West subway line starting in the 170s/180s connecting Manhattan to the lines going North-South in the Bronx should have been included when the GWB was built, or if nothing else when the Cross-Bronx Expressway was built and the lower level added to the bridge. A rail line was in the original plan for the GWB, but it became the current lower level. So yes, if there was a real option to quickly skirt over to the Bronx via subway then perhaps using public transportation would be realistic for these folk.

    I really do appreciate your point of view Jonathan. And I agree that the current system is far from perfect.

    iSkyscraper also makes some good points regarding the 96th street border/rush hour/high density areas. That would be a system I support, but I will never support tolling northern Manhattan bridges connecting to the Bronx via the Harlem River (other than the Henry Hudson). Both in Inwood, and in Washington Heights.

  • A question to ask the candidates:

    “What will you do to reduce speeding on our busy N/S Avenues?”

    “Are you in favor of expanding the bicycle network to include (largely neglected) West and Central Harlem/Hamilton Heights/Washington Heights/Inwood?”

    That’s my two cents.

    For those who celebrate – Happy New Year! Praying for a safer year with fewer avoidable deaths on our streets.

  • Trollfree

    Inwood is plagued by toll-shoppers who use the Broadway Bridge to avoid the Henry Hudson. The University Heights Bridge is already a traffic nightmare, and would most certainly see a decrease in private vehicle congestion with the implementation of tolls. Nothing arbitrary about it.

    It makes no sense to oppose tolls for Upper Manhattan bridges on the grounds that transit service is lacking. To begin with, we’re talking about an area where almost 80 percent of households don’t own cars. If anything, a dearth of transit options is a strong argument in favor of tolling, as the revenue would ostensibly help improve service.

    As for the fabled “low-to-middle-income” drivers, does anyone really need reminding that car-owning households have higher incomes than those without a car?

    Go Mark go.

  • Tollfree

    This is about common sense. And common sense says it’s ridiculous to toll these bridges. This is why doing so has no political support.

    Plenty of low-to-middle income people own cars. Even if they are statistically outnumbered by those with higher incomes. Also there’s no reason why people with higher incomes should be unfairly punished for being able to afford to drive.

    It’s also naive to think that by adding tolls people who drive by necessity will suddenly flock towards public transportation, with the long term understanding that service will magically improve. (This is the MTA we’re talking about. The MTA.)

    As an example, if it means the difference between taking 15 minutes to get to work, and an hour and a half people will still drive. If you are doing a lot of shopping at Target in Marble Hill, but live in Inwood you aren’t going to carry all of your bags on the train for one stop if you can load them in your car and be home in 5 minutes.

    I see you are Levine supporter, as am I. Levine suppots progressive taxation, but my thought on why he doesn’t support tolling these bridges is because it is just hitting people where it hurts (in addition to the common sense argument of the bridges being extensions of city streets). It’s one thing to throw taxes at smokers, it’s another to throw them at people just trying to live their lives efficiently.

  • Tollfree, ad populum arguments aren’t necessarily right.

    On the topic of people who “drive by necessity.” Necessity is the end, not the means. People need to work, to go to school, to visit the library, the dentist, the supermarket. Progressive solutions to these needs don’t involve asking neighbors to pony up $8,000 annually for an automobile.

    I honestly think improving bus and train service in an already dense neighborhood would allow people to take care of their needs without being obliged to invest in a motor vehicle.

  • iSkyscraper

    See, I told you bridge tolls was a red herring that would distract from other issues! By the way, rational arguments (address the largest generator of trips and toll the CBD) will win over personal arguments (cars are evil, toll all cars) every time.

    Here are some additional transpo thoughts, albeit local ones. They are a little out there, but let me explain:

    1) Diminish road work. Yes, everyone sees potholes as an indication of being ignored by the city, but if you really think about it many wealthy urban areas have rough pavement. Let the road deteriorate and only patch potholes as needed for emergency vehicles and the like. Nothing deters or slows boom-boom idiot traffic like a bumpy road. Whether a pockmarked street in Europe, the patchy pavement of Lawrence Park in Toronto, or the shoddy asphalt of Riverdale there are plenty of examples for how to let your road go to ruin. After all, who benefits most from smooth, fast roads? Toll shoppers do. Speeders do. Cruisers do. Not the 80% of residents who don’t drive. (Ok, they notice when they ride buses, but buses have good suspension systems). So please, encourage politicians and NYSDOT/NYCDOT to do less road work!

    2) Replace traffic lights with stop signs. The problem with Inwood is that when a single traffic light is green, you get four, five or more blocks in front of you to speed on because there are so few signals. But a stop sign slows traffic, even when the stops are sushi (i.e. California Roll). Our volumes on most streets do not require signals. Take down the traffic signals on Seaman, for example, and add stop signs like crazy on every corner. Throw in speed bumps too, just like Fieldston does. That will keep the toll dodgers and speeders from even thinking of going through Inwood.

    3) Contraflow bus lanes for the Bx12. I love bus lanes, but the way they build them in NYC they are pointless. Curbside, they are always blocked, which makes them useless wasted areas that actually increase traffic. The way to keep drivers out of the bus lanes is to reverse the directions of the buses. This freaks out even stupid, rule-bending drivers – jesus, there is a bus headed right for me! – and keeps cheaters out of the lanes. However, to make it work you need to put the buses in the center and build narrow islands. It can also be wildly dangerous, but something needs to be done, no? Examples:

    4) No turns at the Manhattan foot of the Univ Heights bridge. Because one left-turning car can sit here for the whole light waiting to turn, it turns the two lane bridge into one lane, backing up traffic onto the highway and way up Fordham Rd. I don’t care about the lives of drivers but the Bx12 and taxis are hostage to this situation. Ban turns at 10th Ave! Southbound cars can jughandle 207th/Post/10th instead.

    Hope whoever is elected can think as creatively.

  • iSkyscraper

    5) More doubleparking. Seriously, don’t ticket (not that they do currently) and let people doublepark all over the place. I love it. I rarely drive, so what do I care? It slows traffic and deters people using the neighborhood as a shortcut. Double park all you want, whatever drives speeders mad makes me smile.

  • Ian Turner


    I don’t have any comment regarding your other suggestions, but deferring road work is actually more expensive in the long run, even if you exclude the (rather high) costs to motorists. We’d to better to tax driving and keep the roads in pristine condition.


  • Lennin Reyes

    iSkyscraper, I like most of your suggestions, but #4 can backfire. Without cars turning onto 9th and 10th Avenues, how are drivers going to reach the Harlem River Drive and the two supermarkets on 9th Av (Pathmark and Compare)?

    As for #3, there’s a simple solution to that one, ban parking ALL DAY, not just rush hours only between 9th Av and Broadway. Most of the traffic along 207th (and 181st St) come from double-parking drivers looking for parking and trucks doing local deliveries. I’d have those drivers use Sherman, Post, and Vermilyea for parking instead.

    I do agree with tolling Harlem River bridges, such as the Washington Heights (or 181st St), the University Heights, and the Macombs Dam. But unfortunately, the politicians (especially those of Dominican descent) would consider tolls as blocking drivers’ access to the mecca of New York’s Dominican community.

  • If you are doing a lot of shopping at Target in Marble Hill, but live in Inwood you aren’t going to carry all of your bags on the train for one stop if you can load them in your car and be home in 5 minutes.

    No, you’re going to put them in your granny cart and push it over the bridge, and be home in ten minutes. Have you ever thought of getting out from behind the windshield and actually looking at what people are doing?

  • iSkyscraper

    I have done dozens of Target trips via car and granny cart, and there are times when one not be able to fit the volume and size of crap I buy (two toddlers = big Target bill) into granny carts. But, for that scale trip I have no problem paying a toll. I just philosophically believe that tolls are for CBD congestion rather than cars-are-evil behavior modification. If you want to modify behavior, do something universal, gradual and fair like increasing gas taxes, remove lanes for bikes and buses, and remove free parking. Tolls just distort. But we’re back to the red herring again….

    Re my other suggestions, some more thoughts:

    – for access to Harlem River Dr, I would say cars go straight at 10th, then right at Post, then right onto 10th and southbound. Just a jerry-rigged Jersey jughandle, and it can easily take the traffic (Post and 10th is just a stop sign). Ideally there should be some reconstruction so that a left turn lane could be added at 10th, but failing that something has to be done to move standing traffic off the bridge. A single car turning left at 10th can back up traffic on all of I-87 when roads are clear on both sides of the river – it’s that insane. And the Bx12 suffers terribly for it.

    – I don’t think there is any increased cost to planned road surface deterioration. You still patch as you need to, but you don’t do the wholesale resurfacings. The road becomes a quiltwork over time, and as I said there are precedents (I can find images if you like). I would not do this to Broadway or other arterials, but it would do wonders to slow speeding on smaller streets.

    – there is no solution for bus lanes in New York unless they are physically separated or contraflow, and you have to realize that parking laws are irrelevant to this matter. They cannot be enforced, and there are legitimate reasons for cars to pull over to the curb – taxi entry, unloading, right turns. City vehicles also stop in bus lanes all the time. It only takes one of those situations for a few minutes to ruin a bus lane. I’ve watched this situation on 57th St every day and it just cannot be done. Bus lanes must be pulled off regular traffic flow.

    – so many traffic issues in Inwood are not about traffic congestion but the idiotic driving of the existing traffic. Roads are often fairly open here most of the time, but that doesn’t stop aggressive losers hitting 50 mph on a side street, or motorcycle noise, or honking if you don’t move in 0.1 seconds at a green, or chucking trash out their windows, or turning from the wrong lane. Remember the car that flipped over onto its roof somehow at 207th and Broadway? Upper Manhattan/Bronx drivers are basically animals, and I wish we could do more to control the cars we already have. The mayor likes electronic control — maybe all NYC cars need a tracking GPS with automatic fines for bad driving…

  • Ian Turner

    iSkyScraper, read the first Google search result for “deferred road maintenance” and then we’ll talk.

  • Ian Turner

    Oh, also, the Harlem River bridges may be local streets from a network perspective, but they are far more expensive to maintain than “real” local streets. That money should be recovered from the people using them, i.e., by tolling.

  • It’s strange that some of the candidates support congestion pricing, which would put their district outside the tolled zone, but not Harlem River bridge tolls, which would put their district inside the zone.

    You have to draw a line somewhere; people make local trips from Inwood to Marble Hill, but people also make local trips from 82nd Street to 90th Street. Something has to give. Toll only long-distance highways and soon long-distance travelers will toll-shop on local streets.

    Within and around the Upper Manhattan district, I would pursue a different agenda from “Tolling is teh evil.” I’d emphasize that the subway provides very good north-south travel, and demand SBS on the busiest bus corridors, which include 125th Street and the approach from the Bronx to the GWB Port Authority station. The Bloomberg administration neglects Upper Manhattan, as it does all nonwhite neighborhoods, but it’s not intentionally racist. Grassroots activism from within the region, spearheaded by the local city representatives, could force JSK to devote some resources to make ungentrified neighborhoods’ streets more livable.

  • I’ll just chime in that as an Inwood resident, I heartily support bridge-tolling. Inwood is a traffic nightmare and so much of our traffic comes from toll shoppers avoiding the Henry Hudson Parkway.


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