Gridlock Sam on Traffic, Tolls, and Big Ideas for NYC Transpo Policy

Gridlock Sam's plan chops $5 off the roundtrip E-ZPass price of major MTA bridges and sets the E-ZPass price for East River crossings at a uniform $5 each way.

New York City is coming up on the four year anniversary of a moment that will live in infamy for transit riders and sustainable transportation advocates: the demise of congestion pricing, which was put down in the state Assembly without a vote on April 7, 2008. The city lost a great opportunity that day to fund its transit system while relieving the city’s most congestion-choked streets from suffocating traffic.

Road pricing has been hibernating since a plan to toll crossings into Manhattan was narrowly defeated in the State Senate in 2009. But last Sunday former New York Times editor-in-chief Bill Keller put it squarely in the public eye again, featuring the latest plan from the city’s best-known transportation engineer, “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz.

The basic bargain in Schwartz’s plan boils down to this: Motorists pay more to enter the most congested part of the region, and pay less to travel between the boroughs outside Manhattan. He’s also added a slate of fees so Manhattanites pay more into the system, and a menu of infrastructure projects ranging from widening the Staten Island Expressway to building three new bike and pedestrian bridges into Manhattan.

The plan aims to produce both broad-based benefits and broad-based sacrifice. While the package would be a huge improvement over New York’s dysfunctional road pricing system and result in a major infusion of revenue for the financially troubled MTA, the grab bag of spending is hit or miss. Unlike the 2008 congestion pricing plan, which was supposed to be paired with surface transit improvements and shift trips away from driving all over the city, Schwartz’s plan would induce traffic in some areas outside Manhattan.

Schwartz is constantly refining the plan as he takes it to different constituencies. Here’s a look at the major pieces in the current version of the plan, which is up on the Sam Schwartz Engineering website [PDF] (note: it’s a little different than the summary we posted on Wednesday):

  • $5 E-ZPass/$7 cash fee to drive into and out of the congested heart of Manhattan
  • $5 roundtrip reduction in tolls on the Verrazano, Triborough, Throgs Neck, and Whitestone bridges
  • $2 roundtrip reduction in tolls on the Cross Bay and Marine Parkway bridges, which connect the Rockaway peninsula to the mainland.
  • End the parking tax rebate for Manhattan residents, who currently pay about half the tax rate on car storage compared to residents of other boroughs.
  • $1 drop fee on yellow cab trips in the Manhattan CBD, with cabbies keeping part of the revenue.
  • Reduced express bus fares for residents far from Manhattan.
  • New elevated busways built over the median, Airtrain-style, on the Bruckner, the Long Island Expressway, and the Belt Parkway.
  • Widening the Staten Island Expressway and the Van Wyck approach to JFK.
  • Widening the Belt Parkway and allowing commercial traffic so fewer trucks are on local streets.
  • Building three new bike and pedestrian bridges into the Manhattan CBD, one from Hoboken/Jersey City, one from Red Hook via Governor’s Island, and one from Greenpoint/Long Island City.
  • Investment in MTA maintenance and capital improvements (specific dollar amount TBD, but it would be more than the amount spent on road projects).

According to Charles Komanoff’s Balanced Transportation Analyzer, Schwartz’s plan would raise a net of $1.26 billion annually, reducing the number of vehicles entering the Manhattan CBD each weekday by 21 percent, while increasing the number of people entering by 3.3 percent. The revenue would be bonded, allowing for up to $15 billion in borrowing that would be spent on transit investment, the roadway projects in Schwartz’s plan, and infrastructure maintenance.

I spoke to Schwartz this morning about how he’s been adjusting his plan over the last four years. Below are edited highlights from the interview.

I’ve been quietly making the rounds to leaders in the business community, the real estate community, and elected officials, spending more time with congestion pricing opponents. They brought up that the boroughs were paying the bulk, and there was little burden on Manhattanites south of 86th Street. The earlier version of the Bloomberg plan actually gave a discount to Manhattanites within the congestion pricing zone. [Editor’s note: a later version of the plan, which reached the state Assembly, shifted the northern boundary of the zone to 60th Street and had no discount.]

To me this made no sense. If you own a car in Manhattan, you’re not poor. South of 86th Street, the vast majority are probably in the 1 or 2 percent. Everybody’s gotta kick in, everybody’s gotta be a little bit angry with this plan.

I end the parking tax rebate that Manhattanites get now. Here we are giving an enormous tax rebate to the wealthiest people in the city.

Also, I hate doing this because I’m a former cab driver, but I do a $1 surcharge on trips south of 86th street. I think some of that should go to the cab drivers.

If any of your readers can come up with other ways Manhattanites can pay, let me know.

On the escalating difference between the price of MTA bridges and the free East River bridges:

We could be up to $25 roundtrip by 2020 and $50 by 2030. We’ve had doublings and triplings in a decade. That’s not unusual.

My reductions on the major MTA bridges are $5 roundtrip. The Gil Hodges and Cross Bay are $2 roundtrip reductions.

On transit improvements for residents in auto-oriented NYC:

About year and half ago they ended a lot of local bus service, and what I kept hearing in the Mill Basins and Little Necks is, “We don’t ride subways as much, but we do ride buses.” Reduce bus fares by $1 in neighborhoods with limited transit access. The MTA would also have to agree to no service reductions for three years without community board approval.

On spending some of the revenue to build roads:

One of the things for the pro-congestion pricing groups in the past was the money all went to transit. I’m saying some of the money should go to highway improvements. We can’t ask all the money to come from motorists and give them nothing in return. That’s not sufficient to get the electeds from the suburbs and outer boroughs. Some of the money has to go to road building.

We have to do something for the routes that will pick up the traffic. The Staten Island Expressway is sensitive to the East River bridges. Widen the Staten Island Expressway. I make the Belt an expressway and allow trucks on. On Linden Boulevard you have a lot of kids getting killed by trucks. This gets trucks off local streets.

Building new bike-ped infrastructure:

After Christie killed ARC, that meant no more transit access into the middle of Manhattan. When I look at where younger people are living, they’re along the waterfront in Brooklyn and Queens, and it’s being mirrored in Hoboken and Jersey City. Maybe we can’t build a subway in 20 years, but we can build these bridges for about $250 million a bridge, including land.

The first is from Red Hook to Governor’s Island to Lower Manhattan. There would be a tri-borough bridge from Greenpoint to Hunter’s Point to Manhattan. I want people to dream, I want people to think. The last bridge to the CBD that we built was in 1909, 103 years ago.

The other bridge is along the Hoboken/Jersey City border. Set aside $250 million per bridge. Bike riders would pay a buck, tourists would pay something. On these bridges you’ll have none of the traffic and noise. It could be a system with no gates, as much on the honor system as possible, like SBS-style proof-of-payment enforcement.

What if we had the same thing across the East River bike/ped paths? When I’ve gone out to some of the Brooklyn and Queens electeds, and they all said to me, “The day I’ll support this is when bikes pay to go into Manhattan.” It does cost money to maintain the bikeways. In the eighties there were four staircases on the Brooklyn Bridge. It cost money to remove them. If we want cars to pay, I’d like peds and bikes to pay. In the old days we charged both bikes and peds. At a dollar, the bridges could maintain themselves.

On how to spend the revenue for transit:

One thing is certain, as I’ve made the rounds, is that the money should not go to fare reductions. With the MTA, it should go to maintenance of high-quality service – modern signal systems, capital improvements.

Schwartz is especially interested to hear from Streetsblog readers about the idea of tolls on biking and walking over bridges.

Not to poison the well, but I would rather see the bike-ped bridges dropped from the plan instead. It’s one thing to sweeten the pot for pols who want to bring home the bacon for their car-driving constituents; it’s another to start adding costs for efficient, pollution-free modes that the city should be encouraging.

  • Joe R.

    Hmm..I’m thinking here how much additional it might cost to add bike lanes onto the proposed elevated busways. An elevated bikeway along the LIE would be like a dream come true for me.

  • Mark Walker

    Wouldn’t it make sense to equalize the tolls across all bridges and tunnels to discourage toll shopping?

  • I commend Mr. Schwartz for a comprehensive and balanced plan.  The bike commuter act (USC 26 sec 132-f) allows for up to $20 per month today.  A $1 charge to use a high quality bridge is worth it, and is partially offset by this transportation fringe benefit.  As a cyclist, I would find a long, elevated, non-motorized bridge both thrilling and worth paying for.  For all the benefits, as well as for the overwhelming benefit of charging more of the true costs of congestion to drivers, this plan is worthy of the cycling community’s support.  Perhaps keep existing bridges free for cyclists for a period of time, but the new ones, charge the dollar, cheapskates can take the long way around.

  • Car Free Nation

    If the whole package came through it’d be fine, but my guess is you’d only get the bike tolls and nothing else (that’ll show them hipsters). I think proposing the bike tolls is starting way too far to the other side, kind of like when Obama took the single payer plan off the table before the health care negotiations started. 

  • J

    @m_walker:disqus This plan essentially does equalize tolls, but based on destination. Almost no one headed to the Manhattan CBD from Brooklyn is going to detour up to the Triborough to get there, just to save $2.70.

    I really like that plan requires everyone to pay but provides benefits for everyone. Including some road projects is smart and is likely necessary for political support. The BRT proposal is pretty smart if it can be afforded, as it will essentially create several new high-speed transit lines, taking the bullets out of some “we don’t have good transit access” guns. These ideas have already been floated as part of the BRT Phase 2 study. Keeping up regular service and reducing fares in the outer boroughs is also smart.

    While I love the idea of the bike bridges, they are probably the biggest political challenge to this proposal. It would be wildly popular in Greenpoint/LIC and Hoboken/JC, as it would save a ton of time and would provide amazing views. All the bridges would probably boost real estate values in nearby areas, making it easier to reach the CBD. However, I can easily see people scoffing at paying $250 million for it. It may be a hard political sell, and folks with waterfront views would hate them. 

    The Hoboken/JC bridge may be a hard political sell as well. The Hoboken/JC bridge would have a much easier time convincing people to pay $1 each way to use it than any other bridge, as there is no reasonable free option. It would be a no brainer compared to getting squished into a PATH train for $2, or spending hours in congestion in the tunnels. Quite frankly, there would be no cheaper way to get into Manhattan from those areas, and it would be the only way to walk or bike into Manhattan. The Hoboken/JC bridge could alter bikeshare plans between NJ & NYC. Also, it could be part of the East Coast Greenway. 

    Fascinating proposal. Can we get some state & local politicians to champion this?

  • Clarence Eckerson

    Bike/ped bridges – it’d be nice to include the one from Brooklyn – Govs Isle – Lower Manhattan.  The other two would be great, but that one would make the most sense.

  • archie

    Why not set smart, dynamic, variable bridge tolls on each bridge to reflect whatever amount makes traffic flow smoothly on that bridge?

  • vnm

    Collecting tolls from pedestrians seems difficult to accomplish. I wouldn’t mind paying a toll as a cyclist if it could make it easier to build the proposed ped/bike bridges, and help change the public perception of cycling from a form of recreation to a “real” form of transportation.  

  • Anonymous

    First, I must say that adopting the plan wholesale even ignoring my criticisms below would still make the region much better and healthier.  It is a wonderful plan, I think, and I love the people-consulting process he’s used to develop and refine it. 

    Now for a couple reservations:  Much as I myself have dreamed of bike-and-ped-only river crossings, when I read of a NEW “tri-borough bridge,” I see visions of neighborhoods permanently wiped out by the on-land structures of the bridge.  This is an old, well known worry, though, so hopefully it would be well considered in any bridge plans.

    As far as segregating buses into elevated busways:  I wonder if it might not be better to just have bus lanes and really, really enforce them.  In spite of the many true complaints you hear in circles like this about drivers’ violation of bus and bike lanes, overwhelmingly, drivers do keep out of them.  And I think it might be better to subject all drivers to a more visible demonstration (ie, a nearby bus-only lane, not a less visible busway above) of how buses are more important than private cars:  30 bus riders are more important than 1 to 7 car occupants, and deserve to be treated by road space allocation accordingly–for all drivers to see.  But as I type this I can already think of reasons that busways might be better than what I’m saying.  Just a reservation I have.  In general, private drivers need to see clearly that transit riders have it better–and of course it needs to be true to matter.

  • Anonymous

    How about a bike/ped-only bridge on the Hudson that connects Edgewater to Morningside Heights or the Upper West Side too? I’ve been joking about wanting one for direct access to Mitsuwa Marketplace and the Edgewater Target for years. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    If you want to encourage cycling you need to make it as cheap as possible, and charging $1 to cross a bridge gets uncomfortably close to the price of taking the subway. Someone who is cycling to save money (I know, it’s not the only possible reason, but it is the main one for many people) could say “heck, I’ll just pay the other $1.25 and just take the subway instead!”

    I could support a toll if it were considerably smaller, say $0.50. I might support $1 for a new bridge that really improves the value of cycling compared to the alternatives, like some of the proposed new bridges might.

  • Just Asking

    Is there a pedestrian/cyclist bridge anywhere in the world where a toll is charged to cross?

  • krstrois

    My excitement about this stuff has reached critical nerd level.

  • Danny G

    I wouldn’t be willing to pay a toll to cross a bridge on foot or by bike, but I’d be glad to pay an additional $10 for an annual bike share membership or an additional $1 for a monthly MetroCard if I knew that surcharge was going to fund pedestrian and bike bridges.

    I’d also be okay with a 0.1% sales tax increase at brick and mortar stores that goes exclusively towards widening sidewalks, having pedestrian-only days, and making other pedestrian improvements to encourage foot traffic to those brick and mortar stores.

  • Killmoto

    Road usage fees for motorists, when you consider construction, maintenance, debt service, snow clearance & street sweeping, pay for about 1/25th of the cost of the road.  

    If cycle bridges cost about a dollar per bike trip, I would expect to pay $0.04, corresponding to the proportion of cost motorists pay for the roads. 

    Conversely, maybe legislation can be passed that requires all vehicles to pay their fair share of roadway costs.  Assessments are prorated on the weight of the vehicle (more weight makes more potholes) and multiplied by annual mileage (easy to measure/monitor, at least for motor transport). 

  • Walking Forward

    Brilliant! I don’t walk on the Brooklyn Bridge to work because the traffic noise overwhelms me. New pedestrian-bicycle bridges offer the best feature of the plan. Most responses come from bikers who travel too fast to be bothered by the noise. Not only would a quiet walk across spectacular scenery be good for commuters, it would become a tourist attraction with an international market. So yes, real estate prices might increase but NYC job benefits would be huge. The whole package needs a name, though Sam’s Plan is OK for now, and we should all jump behind it. I am grateful for this vision.

  • Larry Littlefield

    It’s a reasonable toll plan, though I would put the north cordon at 110th Street not 59th Street.

    But what is not reasonable is what is promised in return for it.  Clearly, the idea is to raise tolls but make it politically palatable by spending all the money now by bonding against it. The reality is we need money just for the ongoing maintenance of our roads, bridges and transit system.  That is wrong, wrong, wrong.  Unlike those here, I’m not opposed to another lane on the SIE if it is bus and truck only, and trucks on the belt, but the rest of it is fantasy.

    People, particularly people who are older, need to get their heads around what it means to have all the debts our country has run up, and a standard of living inflated by consumption at 6 percent of GDP more than production year after year.  We’re broke. That’s why bikes work — they are cheap.  Promising more for less has been a winning strategy, by those who history will judge harshly.  If I could go back in time, I would have kept the old El structures over the streets and bridges of New York and turned them into bikeways.  But we can’t build them now.

    Meanwhile, on the tolls for bikes, the idea is acceptable, but the level is too high.  It is being used to justify those bike bridges, which would cost far more than is being suggested.

    Better to charge a quarter, and take advantage of the traffic shift away from the East River bridges by repurposing some existing lanes.  Making the Brooklyn Bridge two lanes in each direction, with a breakdown lane on the outside and a raised bikeway on the inside in each direction, perhaps 5 ft wide, where the transit used to be.

  • Larry Littlefield

    By the way, as an interim step, I suggest charging 25 cents a day or $1 per week for bikes on the honor system, and keeping the bridges free for motorists. And then demanding that space be reapportioned accordingly.

  • Tallycyclist

    Killmoto These are such great ideas that I’ve been thinking about in my head for a while now, especially after all the articles and blogs I’ve encountered about people complaining that cyclists have “no right to the road.” I hope their dreams come true someday, and everyone will start paying their fair share of road usage.  

    Another idea I’ve been juggling around is to have some sort of device installed in motor vehicles that will track driving behavior, and then charge a premium accordingly.  I have mixed feelings about this being a GPS system that will track where everyone goes.  It would be fantastic if they could design a system that can still determine whether or not people are speeding on a particular stretch of road.  

  • Anonymous

    I’d be a-okay with, as another commenter suggested, paying a kind of annual fee to use bike-and-ped-only bridges–when I ride a bike. Perhaps a dollar toll that’s time-sensitive rather than trip-sensitive could be imposed to encourage tourists and the casual biker to use multiple bridges in a single day.
    But no tolls for people who walk. Absolutely none. We need to encourage that even more than we do biking. And the bridges should take handicapped accessibility very seriously.

  • Joe R.

    “If I could go back in time, I would have kept the old El structures over the streets and bridges of New York and turned them into bikeways. But we can’t build them now.”

    I would have done the exact same thing but as you say, they’re gone now. To say that NYC desperately needs this type of bike infrastructure, particularly in the outer boroughs, is an understatement. What we can and should do in the future is include bikes in any new or even renovated infrastructure. If the elevated busways ever get built, they would most likely be concrete sections. I’ve seen pictures of similar structures. There’s actually more than enough room INSIDE to run perhaps two lanes of bicycle traffic in each direction. Moreover, it’s naturally sheltered from winds, precipitation, and temperature extremes. The added cost to accommodate bicycles would actually be very small. Basically you would need entrances and exits periodically. Because the purpose of this type of bike lane is relatively long distance travel, these only need be located perhaps 2 or 3 to the mile. They could probably be built at the same locations as the bus stops, which will need some means of going to street level anyhow. Indeed, I’m even OK with carrying my bike down a flight or two of stairs if the cost of ramps ends up being prohibitive.

    On bridge tolls, I agree a quarter for bikes is probably more in line with what is fair given the very low impact of bicycles on roadways. Or perhaps have an annual fee of maybe $20 which gives access to both bridges and the elevated bikeways. This would keep people from saying cyclists don’t pay their fair share.

  • Anonymous

    Some excellent ideas here in terms of balancing the political realities with the desired outcomes.

    I don’t think there is any way that congestion pricing produces enough revenue to fund ALL of these projects … but I also recognize that in the early stages it is necessary to promise something to every constituency in order to build support.

    The elevated busways, possibly with bike infrastructure included, sound awesome but are probably much too expensive.  Dedicated bus lanes with enforcement/cameras are possibly a more realistic way to achieve something close.

    If you assume the revenue has an NPV of $15B, then after subtracting the non-transit projects, I would hope there would be enough money to add the proposed bus service (although not necessarily at reduced fare) and pay for enough capital budget to bring the subways back to SOGR.  I don’t think the revenue should be used for expansion projects like SAS or 7 Extension, as these should really bond their own revenue plus capture their induced increase in real estate value.

    The bike/ped bridges have a lot of appeal. 
    The one on the hudson side would presumably be a port authority project and the cost would be split between NY/NJ. 
    The Redhook one would be best if it could absorb some of the bike/ped traffic currently on the Brooklyn Bridge.  Most tourists would stay on the Brooklyn Bridge, but if the bridge were accessible to bike commuters from south-west brooklyn in could absorb a decent amount of that traffic.
    The “tri-borough” one seems like it would be better if went directly from Greenpoint to Manhattan.  There are already 2 bridges connecting Greenpoint with LIC (please widen the Pulaski bike/ped lane!)  And from most places in LIC it is fairly easy to use the Queensboro bridge (please link the bike exit on the Manhattan side to 2nd Ave for downtown traffic!)  I imagine such a bridge could significantly property values in Greenpoint, as it is a neighborhood with a lot of bike use and no direct route into Manhattan.

    As far as tolls on the bike/ped bridges, I don’t think this is unreasonable for bikes.  For pedestrians I don’t think there should ever be tolls to walk.  For bikes, the rate should probably closer to 0.25, and there should be EZ pass.  Once built, these bridges would seldom need to be repaved since they would not carry heavy vehicle traffic.  I would expect snow and ice removal on a tolled bridge, however.

  • On the face of it, it seems absurd to have bikes, HPVs (human powered vehicles) and pedestrians pay a single penny.  ALL new bridges, greenways, ramps, rail trails, esplanades, etc should be subsidized by vehicles that pollute and consume energy other than human power.  People who walk and people who use HPVs already do “pay their fair share” – by NOT polluting the environment, by NOT making the streets impassable for emergency vehicles, by NOT wearing out roads and bridge decks with their weight, and by the sacrifice of exposing themselves to the elements in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint.  These are all laudable sacrifices that these individuals make in ways that cannot even be counted.  Even those who do not commute of foot or by bike – recreation only runners and riders – are making efforts to be healthier people who are less of a burden on the rest of society.  

    Those efforts ARE their fair share, in fact, MORE than their fair share!  The cost of all of us who have been subsidizing the perverse paradigm of consuming fossil fuels to ride, mostly as single passengers, in controlled-environment cages weighing thousands of pounds, is an incalculable as it is unsustainable.  Those who can afford cars, those who make choices promoting the use of cars, and those who insist on using their cars when they don’t even have to, are perpetuating that destructive paradigm.  They should be forced to subsidize ALL alternatives – from mass transit to pedestrian/hpv lanes, bridges and greenways, up to and including multi-million dollar inter-borough and interstate spans across our regional rivers.  

    THAT is the way we change the unsustainable paradigm – by putting ALL of the burden on those who perpetuate it.

  • Ian Turner

    Just Asking: You have to pay a toll to walk or bike across the Bridge of the Gods, across the Columbia River.

  • vnm

    @MatthewEH:disqus I too have wanted a quicker way to get to Mitsuwa Marketplace. (We usually take the NJT bus.) Even still, I’d say the bridge you mentioned is a little too close to the GWB bike path to justify the expense. But a ped-bike bridge to Hoboken or Jersey City would be phenomenal! As for Target, you can definitely bike to the one at 153rd & River. They’ve set up bike parking underneath the Deegan on the Exterior Street side.

  • vnm

    @7c177865bd107a919938355fe93de93a:disqus Interesting. At the Bridge of the Gods, cars pay a $1 toll. Bicyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists pay 50¢.  That doesn’t seem like much of a discount, given what @yahoo-4WTD5IQW5AFY4JOPZ37AAECHVM:disqus and @c44dc01f8107c1b33104b538f33b734d:disqus were mentioning as far as cars’ negative externalities.


  • tolls not taxes

    Reposting here since this seems like a more active thread.  

    This plan should have broad support among diverse constituencies: Transit riders (the majority in NYC), Staten Islanders (who would love to see the Verrazano toll reduced), outer borough and suburban motorists who use the Throgg’s Neck, Whitestone, or RFK and anyone who spends time walking, cycling or driving in Manhattan, Long Island City or downtown Brooklyn and is thereby currently plagued by congestion.

    The only groups who should be against it are people who are averse to change (i.e., people in general), and the Federal Government. In this MTA video (starting at 12:47), MTA board members speak about the impact of tolling on the currently tolled tunnels into Manhattan. (It shouldn’t be a problem because there is excess capacity on the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and Queens Midtown Tunnel.) Then, they go on to note that because the free bridges were maintained using Federal funds, the Feds would need to approve tolling plans – and might be reluctant to do so.

    “We believe that each and every one of those [free East River] bridges had been built or rebuilt using federal funds, and there are restrictions on the use of tolls for bridges that have been built or rebuilt using Title 23 funds. … One of the restrictions is they want you to use the tolls primarily for maintaining the facilities that are tolled. And there were preliminary discussions with the folks down in Washington about, given that it’s a unified transportation system and using the money to support transit would, in fact, make the drivers who use those bridges have less congestion, easier travel, better air quality, and the like. But, as one might expect, the Feds were fairly resistant to that issue.

  • Ian Turner

    @5b8562ae241592c3da5509d06172c5ee:disqus , note also that bulk discounts and annual passes are available to motorists, and not to others.

  • Still very expensive!

  • Larry Littlefield

    Again, the problem is over-promising, and spending all the money that people will be forced to pay indefinately right now.

    The payroll tax passed, and the MTA is facing fare increases, service cuts, and deferred maintenance into the indefinate future.  So how popular is the payroll tax increase?  “See, we told you it was a ripoff.”

    That could have been congestion pricing.

  • Ryan Ng

    This plan is totally not worth it. It charges money UNFAIRLY on both directions on all roads leading outside and into Manhattan’s core, and ensures that all residents of Long Island have to pay a toll to exit the island (the 4 lower East River bridges are the only untolled crossings out of Long Island right now. So, how exactly do you install tollbooths on city streets?!

  • Ryan Ng

    There are tolls going into Long Island, too, because all the bridges going to Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Queens are tolled. The sole free connection to Long Island is from the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and that is from Staten Island, to where all the bridges are tolled. Congestion pricing will only cost everyone more money.

  • MrReality1972

    Total pipe dream.  Why?
    1.  Cost.
    2.  New Hudson River Bridges? Jersey wont even pay for a new tunnel.
    3.  BK and Qns are the most populated areas of the city (by far).  There’s a lot of places in both that aren’t train accessible.  Think they want to pay more to drive / cab into lower Manhattan?  Political suicide.
    4.  Higher tolls on the E River bridges and lower tolls on the Triboro mean that Harlem/125th, South Bronx/Bruckner, and Astoria/GCP will be even more congested (if that’s possible), and further decrease the air quality in those neighborhoods (which is already pretty bad in Astoria).
    5.  Reduced express bus fees in Manhattan?  Why not everywhere?

    In the end, it would be seen as totally lower Manhattan centered (it is), would really anger BK, Qns, and LI (justifiably), and some of the other parts of the plans would cost a lot more than would be made w/ congestion pricing.

    It’s a pipe dream by some transpo wonk who’s still enamored by the subway system they didn’t have in his/her quaint Midwestern town growing up.

  • MrsReality

    @058e382c912f348af73e731ee30fe0be:disqus Sam Schwartz worked as a New York City cab driver and is a graduate of Brooklyn College.  He was the Traffic Commissioner when that position still existed in under Mayor Koch and previously worked in the Lindsay administration.

    Your comment about him being some sort of Midwestern transplant is about as far off the mark as any that has ever been posted on Streetsblog. 

    If anyone understands the political reality of practical solutions to fixing New York City’s aging infrastructure and crushing traffic, it’s the man who is nicknamed for the term he coined, “gridlock.”

  • Mookie Wilson

     I would be somewhat willing to accept the concept of a bike/ped toll over the East River if it were being used to fund a new bike path on the Brooklyn Bridge that separates bikes from pedestrians.

    But even still, it’s a completely insane and moronic proposal — charging tolls to your most efficient, least costly, least polluting, most socially, environmentally and economically modes of transportation.

  • Matthew from Brooklyn

    New human-powered transport bridges are a workable, efficient, fun idea.  The best way to pay for such a bridge isn’t tolls – it’s land development.   The East River Ferries are subsidized by the condo sales in Greenpoint and LIC.  The same would work for new developments adjacent to the “Green Bridges,” as I’ll call them.   
    One from NJ to the CBD would be especially transformative, since PATH is the only way across with a bike today. (GWB doesn’t count.)        Let’s call it the “Hudson Flyer.”   

  • Chad Hughes

    I agree that it’s silly to charge for a type of transit that we should be encouraging, but it’s definitely not “moronic.” It’s politics. It’s silly, but it’s the world we live in. We have to make sacrifices to get congestion pricing through. It’s definitely worth the cost. 

  • Joe R.

    @c2c2623069fa252b29dfe97ee5178a8f:disqus The plan diverts traffic from Long Island to points west away from the Manhattan CBD. The current toll structure encourages driving through the most congested part of the city when going West. That not only makes no sense, but costs NYC billions of dollars annually in time lost due to congestion, pollution-related illnesses, etc.

    Another thing the plan would do is discourage LI (and NJ) car commuters from driving all the way into Manhattan. In fact, since parking is generally sparse around subway stations in the outer boroughs, the plan might discourage them from driving into the city at all. Again, this is another good aspect because much of NYC’s rush hour traffic is suburban car commuters. It’s not like LI and NJ commuters don’t have other options. Both places have an abundant choice of railroad stations with park-and-rides. The fact that some still choose to drive into Manhattan, even though it costs more (and usually takes longer) than the train is a big problem. I fully realize that car travel shouldn’t be made less convenient or more costly IF NO OTHER OPTIONS exist. That’s hardly the case here. There are loads of other options for travel into Manhattan which cost less than car, and are frequently faster. The only time it might make sense to drive into Manhattan is if you have a late shift. However, the toll structure can easily account for that with reduced (or even zero) tolls during off peak times.

  • Geest65

    Never gonna happen.  People in BK, Qns, LI, NJ, CT, and Westchester all love their cars, and they all have considerably more financial clout than the average Streetsblog reader (including myself).

    Really want to change NYC?  Put in protected bike lanes and write tickets for traffic offenses (which NEVER happens).  

  • Joe R.

    “People in BK, Qns, LI, NJ, CT, and Westchester all love their cars, and they all have considerably more financial clout than the average Streetsblog reader (including myself).”

    And people in Brooklyn, Queens, NJ, LI, CT, and Westchester can all continue to drive their cars-in Brooklyn, Queens, NJ, LI, CT, and Westchester, without paying a penny more than they’re paying right now. The idea is to keep cars from these places out of Manhattan where they don’t belong. There’s nothing which says NYC needs to accommodate people who choose to drive no matter how much financial clout they have. And yes, in Mahnattan driving is more a choice than a necessity. In fact, I’ve love to see personal cars (and taxis for that matter) banned from Manhattan altogether, with exceptions for those who might have legitimate physical disabilities. It would make life far more pleasant/safer for the 95%+ there who don’t drive.

  • vnm

    @c2c2623069fa252b29dfe97ee5178a8f:disqus There are two quick and popular ways off Long Island that don’t involve getting stuck in congested city streets: I-95 via Whitestone or Throgg’s Neck, and (as you pointed out) the Staten Island Expressway. Both of those get *cheaper* to use as a result of this plan. @3093913473ef5af952b222dcddcd43b2:disqus “People in BK, Qns, LI, NJ, CT, and Westchester all love their cars.” First of all, NJ tolls don’t change at all as a result of this. And suburb-to-suburb travel between LI, CT and Westchester now gets *cheaper* as a result of this plan. 

    @058e382c912f348af73e731ee30fe0be:disqus “Reduced express bus fees in Manhattan? Why not everywhere?” You misread it. Express buses everywhere would have their fares reduced. Fares are currently $5.50 cash / $5.14 with a bonus MetroCard. Express buses allow residents of the parts of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island that are far from the subway to get to the Manhattan C.B.D. via public transit.

  • Jkspinning

    Except that payrolls aren’t bad, congestion

  • Jkspinning

    Why not a dime or a quarter ezpass and 50¢ cash?

  • Andrew

    @5b8562ae241592c3da5509d06172c5ee:disqus The focus on express buses – discounted fares, elevated bus lanes – is one of the points I strongly dislike about this plan. Express buses are highly inefficient, and they cost the MTA upwards of $10 per passenger trip. Lowering the express bus fare and expanding express bus infrastructure (through elevated bus lanes on expressways) will only force the MTA to pump even more of its scant operating dollars into the black hole known as the express bus. Meanwhile, most New Yorkers will continue to ride the local bus (if applicable) to the subway, but they don’t seem to get anything out of this. Instead of pouring more money into the wasteful express bus system, we should be improving the local buses and accelerating the state-of-good-repair program on the subway, adding capacity where necessary.

    This isn’t a fair plan at all. It’s a pandering plan.

    I have other concerns. Charging tolls to pedestrians is ludicrous. Why aren’t the Port Authority tolls changing? How about the Henry Hudson Bridge? What happens to the resident discounts at the Cross Bay and Verrazano bridges, which in my opinion are highly inequitable and probably unconstitutional? Why don’t the tolls change by time of day? And most importantly, I’d be astonished if this actually raises enough revenue to pay for the construction and maintenance of the various proposed highway expansions and new ped/bike bridges.

    Finally, don’t forget that Sam Schwartz isn’t doing this to be charitable. He’s a transportation consultant whose firm is likely to pick up a lot of new business if this goes through. That in and of itself doesn’t make it a bad plan, but it does mean we need to be on the lookout for conflicts of interest.

  • This is going to create more traffic jams and hurt businesses in lower Manhattan. Just like the bike lanes all over the place (“sustainable development”, Agenda 21) they create nothing but more congestion and bikers still get killed. 

    If the city was serious about raising revenue they’d charge a sales tax on shares sold on Wall St. Anything else is a scam and targets those who can lease afford it. 

  • carma

    Gridlock Sam.  A TRUE New Yorker with actually a good fair plan.

  • Ex-driver

    I like the East River ped/bike bridge and I wouldn’t mind paying a dollar for it.  The Hudson one sounds cool if it were linked to the High Line, but I’m not sure you’d get enough paying customers to make it worthwhile–these days, that area of town is more of an elite residential neighborhood than an employment center and lacks subway access. There’s a reason there’s not a ferry at that location.

    How high would these have to be to avoid boats? Or would they be drawbridges?

  • JamesR

    One piece of this puzzle that no one’s yet mentioned is how the lack of parking at suburban rail stations leads to many of those drivers deciding to drive directly in to the city. Many of the stations out in Westchester, Jersey, and Long Island have 5 year long waiting lists for parking permits. You’ve gotta somehow fix this first, or else implementing a pricing plan will lead to revolt. Sucks but it’s true. 

  • vnm

    @0725e26de8afcbf0a72ccf98de3fb783:disqus The reason the for the years-long waiting lists for parking permits at suburban rail stations is simple. They are underpriced.  Once you finally get one, even if by then you’re no longer a commuter, you’d be a fool to give up what was so hard to get! The result is long waiting lists and empty spots at stations.  If the towns charged what they are actually worth, the waiting lists would evaporate in no time and all the spots would be filled. But there is political pressure against doing that, which leads to the current dysfunction.

  • Nora

    From the perspective of someone with an unlimited Metrocard, I don’t think it’d be right to make pedestrians pay to walk across bridges.  That would mean that I and others like me would have to pay *more* to walk, rather than take transit.

    Also, I am generally in favor of congestion pricing but why does it cut off at 60th Street?  Plenty of drivers from the Upper East and West Side neighborhoods drive around the city too.


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