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Rodriguez Champions Toll Reform in Broad Vision for NYC Transportation

Reforming New York's broken road pricing and parking policies top an extensive list of transportation priorities from City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, which he unveiled this morning in a speech at New York University's Rudin Center for Transportation.

City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez outlines his transportation vision this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller
City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez outlines his transportation vision this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller
City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez outlines his transportation vision this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

The most pressing item on Rodriguez's agenda is the Move New York toll reform proposal, which would put a price on the four East River bridges and a cordon at 60th Street while reducing tolls on outlying crossings. "There is no longer a question of should we pass this plan, but when," he said. "I will commit myself, over the coming weeks and months, to ensure that my council colleagues get behind this transformative plan."

If City Hall coalesces behind the road pricing plan as a way to fill the gap in the MTA's capital budget, it still must gain the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has a famously rocky relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio. So far, the mayor has indicated that he is open to the idea of toll reform, but has not made it one of his priorities in Albany.

With a champion in Rodriguez, it's conceivable to see a path forward for Move New York through the City Council. Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito reportedly has a more genial relationship with the governor than de Blasio does.

Rodriguez is seeking to leave his own mark on Move New York, proposing that a portion of toll revenue be set aside in what he's calling a "Community Transit Fund." Through a to-be-determined mechanism -- Rodriguez has previously suggested community boards or participatory budgeting -- neighborhoods would be able to steer funds to local transportation priorities.

Rodriguez laid out ambitious goals for traffic reduction in a plan that goes beyond road pricing. He'd like to cut the number of households in the city that own cars from 1.4 million in 2010 to 1 million in 2030. That would drop New York's car ownership rate from 45 percent to 30 percent when the city's projected population increase is taken into account.

By 2030, Rodriguez wants NYC to reach 12 percent bicycle mode share and 2,000 total miles of bike lanes, including 400 miles of protected bikeways. (De Blasio had initially aimed for 6 percent by 2020, then his administration scaled-back its targets.) Rodriguez also called for a car-free Earth Day next year.

Reducing the number of cars in the city will be tough as long as New York requires the construction of parking in new development. The de Blasio administration has proposed eliminating parking mandates for affordable housing near transit, a measure Rodriguez said should also apply to market-rate units. Rodriguez said he's looking to hold a hearing soon on off-street parking reform.

On-street parking is also on Rodriguez's radar, but he didn't mention reviving the pricing reforms that have fallen by the wayside at DOT. As part of a package of legislation, next week he will introduce a bill requiring pay-by-phone technology and real-time availability information for parking meters. Another bill would allow drivers to receive a refund for time they purchased at a meter but did not use.

Other legislation in Rodriguez's package will include a bill requiring DOT to study citywide transit service every five years and make recommendations for improving access to transit deserts. (Rodriguez lauded Bus Rapid Transit and the mayor's ferry expansion plan as two ways to extend transit access.) Another bill would require DOT, in consultation with the MTA, to undertake a citywide study of light rail service.

Rodriguez endorsed the Cross-Harbor Freight Tunnel and an integrated, through-running passenger rail network combining Metro-North, Long Island Rail Road, and New Jersey Transit. He sometimes touched on small details, suggesting the MTA amend repeat subway station names -- there are five stops named 86th Street -- to reduce confusion. (The audience chuckled at the idea.)

One thing Rodriguez's transportation agenda lacks is any mention of the sky-high construction costs that plague New York's big-ticket transit expansion projects. After his speech, I asked him about it -- but he didn't have any suggestions for how to begin tackling the problem. "The cost of any project, it is an issue," he said. "Most of those projects, they are not delivered on time. The [cost] of the projects usually ends up being higher than what they were presenting at the beginning."

Also absent: fiery rhetoric about Uber. The only mention of for-hire vehicles came in a section of the speech where Rodriguez pushed for more accessible for-hire cars, to match the city's plan to make half its yellow and green taxis accessible by 2020. After Rodriguez finished his remarks, moderator Mitchell Moss asked about the future of for-hire regulations.

"I take the fifth. No comment," Rodriguez said to laughs from audience, before deferring to the congestion study already underway. "After that... then we will come out and, working together, we should be able to create a win-win situation. I believe that the consumer wants to use technology. But I also believe we need to live in a world where everyone can do well, and everyone follows the same rules and regulations."

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