Margaret Chin: Toll Reform Will Protect New Yorkers From Truck Traffic

Photo: Brad Aaron
Photo: Brad Aaron

City Council Member Margaret Chin today introduced legislation to require the city to examine the effects of New York City’s dysfunctional bridge toll system on traffic safety. The bill would also mandate regular DOT safety audits for all city truck routes.

Trucks account for 3.6 percent of vehicles on city streets but are involved in 32 percent and 12 percent of cyclist and pedestrian fatalities, respectively, according to city data cited by Chin. At a press conference outside City Hall this morning, Chin said her bill “should be welcomed by the [de Blasio] administration as a component of Vision Zero.”

Chin cited the un-tolled Manhattan Bridge as a major cause of traffic chaos on Canal Street, which cuts through her district. Drivers have killed at least four pedestrians on Canal Street since 2012, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog.

Chin’s bill would have DOT conduct studies at five-year intervals to “examine the impact of tolling policies on the city’s network of truck routes,” according to a press release. Crashes and traffic violations would be measured, with information collected on whatever street safety measures are implemented on each route. DOT’s last comprehensive truck route study dates to 2007, the press release said.

It's free
Trucker’s special: It’s free to drive over the East River, barrel across local Manhattan streets, and take a tunnel under the Hudson, but sticking to the highway and going over the Verrazano will cost a five-axle truck $80. Map: MoveNY

DOT would also be required to “develop new strategies” to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety along the city’s 1,000-plus miles of truck routes. Council Member Brad Lander pointed out that current truck route design — speed-inducing expanses of asphalt — leads to reckless driving regardless of vehicle type. Chin emphasized that the reports should lead to physical street safety improvements. 

City Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez joined Chin to announce the legislation, along with Lander and Jimmy Van Bramer. Representatives from Transportation Alternatives, Families For Safe Streets, Move NY, the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation, and Manhattan Community Boards 1, 2, and 3 also appeared in support of the bill.

By linking New York’s traffic-inducing toll system to street safety, Chin’s bill dovetails with the Move NY toll reform proposalwhich Chin supports. Developed by “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz, the plan would set a toll cordon at 60th Street and add tolls to East River bridges, while reducing toll rates on MTA crossings that don’t feed into Manhattan. It would raise nearly $1.5 billion a year, with the majority of revenue dedicated to transit capital and operating funds.

Alex Matthiessen, Move NY’s campaign director, said that the current toll system gives truck drivers a financial incentive to use neighborhood streets. The “New Jersey trucker’s special” lets freight haulers travel over the Manhattan Bridge and through the westbound Holland or Lincoln Tunnel without paying a dime. And since tolls are based on the number of axles a truck has, Matthiessen said, the bigger the truck, “the greater the incentive” to take a free route on local streets.

Whenever possible, surface streets should be the “exclusive domain of pedestrians, cyclists, and light vehicle traffic,” Matthiessen said. After the press conference, Matthiessen told me the official Move NY rollout would be happening next week, with the goal of getting it through Albany this year. Chin, Matthiessen said, “understands the synchronicity between these things.”

Chin hopes the City Council will pass her truck route legislation by the end of the year. 

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