De Blasio Can Build a Progressive Transportation Legacy, But Not If He Kills Congestion Pricing

For all his straining effort to paint himself as a progressive leader, the mayor's signature transportation initiatives have done little for New York City's working class.

The mayor has spent too much effort courting national attention, and done too little to improve transit for the voters who elected him. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office
The mayor has spent too much effort courting national attention, and done too little to improve transit for the voters who elected him. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office

Bill de Blasio got some important things done for streets and transit during his first term in office, but it wasn’t enough to keep the city’s festering traffic and surface transit problems from getting worse. He’ll have to do better in his second term to deliver for his constituents and live up to the political identity he’s trying to carve out as a progressive leader.

In the run-up to the 2013 election, there was genuine and justified anxiety that the next mayor would reverse the Bloomberg administration’s legacy of pedestrian safety improvements, protected bike infrastructure, and conversion of traffic space into public plazas.

De Blasio dispelled most of these worries pretty quickly by staking out traffic safety as an early policy priority. Under Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, his DOT has made steady progress on major projects like the Queens Boulevard redesign and numerous small-scale fixes like recalibrating traffic signals for safer walking. Thanks to this work, traffic fatalities have continued to fall in NYC, bucking national trends.

NYC DOT also continued to roll out a few big bus priority projects each year, including some, like the bus lanes on Woodhaven Boulevard, where the local politics proved tricky.

On occasion, the mayor himself stepped in to clear political barriers for DOT. The moments when de Blasio conclusively moved forward with safety improvements for Queens Boulevard, East Tremont Avenue, and (after waiting far too long) 111th Street in Corona were the high points for streets policy during his first four years in office.

The thing is, you can count these instances on one hand. De Blasio’s transportation priorities, as revealed through his budget, didn’t allow DOT to significantly scale up its projects for walking, biking, and transit. This is the most telling aspect of de Blasio’s first-term record on transportation.

For all his straining effort to convince national Democrats that he can lead a wave of progressive change around the country, the mayor’s signature transportation initiatives did little for New York City’s working class. At a time when bus service was slowing down for hundreds of thousands of people, he gave New York ferries for a few and got sidetracked by a streetcar project boosted by waterfront developers. In the run-up to the election, he made a show of cracking down on e-bikes in the city’s affluent precincts, the primary effect of which will be to make life more difficult for immigrant delivery workers.

A campaign stop with Bernie Sanders late in October was especially revealing. Here was the mayor of the nation’s largest city posing with a Vermont senator at an event ostensibly devoted to improving the subways. The big message was that raising funds through a millionaire’s tax will fix the city’s ailing transit system. Sanders did his part and endorsed the millionaire’s tax while dismissing the rival option of congestion pricing.

By this point, two of de Blasio’s own delegates to the MTA board — Veronica Vanterpool and David Jones — had very publicly made the case for congestion pricing as progressive transportation policy. The costs would primarily fall on affluent car commuters while working class transit riders would stand to benefit enormously from better service and lower fares.

Standing next to Sanders, the mayor was essentially asking New Yorkers to overlook local expertise and listen to a rural senator instead. But why should New Yorkers care what a man who represents about 600,000 people thinks we should do to improve a transit system that carries nearly 8 million passengers each day? A millionaire’s tax does nothing to curb the mounting traffic that is slowing down New York City buses. It’s less about policy and more about branding — a means to burnish de Blasio’s credentials with the wing of the national Democratic Party where he desperately craves relevance.

Back in the city de Blasio actually governs, if you look at a map of election results (this one from 2013 will have to do while we wait for yesterday’s full returns), it’s clear that the mayor takes his base for granted on transit issues. The car-centric districts of eastern Queens, southern Brooklyn, and Staten Island are not where his strength lies.

His runaway margin last night was not a convincing show of enthusiasm — turnout was too paltry, his approval rating too low, and the path to victory too easy. But it was a frustrating display of how much de Blasio left on the table in his first term. Trouncing a Republican in New York City while Donald Trump is in the White House was a foregone conclusion. The mayor could have delivered more bus lanes, a better bike network, and more car-free public spaces on his way to a certain win.

Heading in to the next four years, the issue of congestion pricing is shaping up as the fulcrum that de Blasio’s transportation legacy will hinge on. If Andrew Cuomo does steer a good road pricing plan through Albany — still a big “if” — the mayor will be doing his city a historic disservice should he reject it.

New Yorkers are abandoning the bus in alarming numbers in a vicious cycle of rising traffic and slower service. To allow these problems to fester while pretending a millionaire’s tax is the solution would let down the very voters who propelled de Blasio to two terms, sacrificing them in a cynical play for a higher national profile.

Congestion pricing is not a panacea that will fix the subways and the buses on its own. But it is a singularly powerful tool to clear excess motor vehicles off New York’s congested streets. Combined with a strong commitment to set aside space for buses, bicycling, and walking, de Blasio can use it to accelerate a virtuous circle of efficiency, safety, and fairness in our transportation system.

  • JarekFA

    Like would it have killed him to win 62-38 but push for truly world class transit policies . . . . I mean, the thing I think they’ve fucked up and internalized, is that, they don’t realize how much of a boost one gets for being a leader. Have a fucking vision and push for it. to those “outer” borough whites who won’t ever vote for him anyway, Vision Zero just means an excuse for them to get pulled over and pay “bullshit” tickets. “It’s a revenue generator, just another tax”.

    Whereas, if he strived for something big, like — embracing the notion/idea without necessarily committing to — a fully pedestrianized Broadway. Or a city in which it’s ok to have less car parking because we’re genuinely going to make it easier for people to get around with cars (bus prioritization that is frequent and cheap, protected bike lanes, calmed streets in dense neighborhoods). A city where in at least the densely built up areas, an affirmative goal of reducing vehicle miles traveled. For having pilot neighborhoods of, not just “car sharing,” like we’re seeing in Boreum Hill, in exchange for like a dozen free street parking spots. But like the super blocks in Barca.

    imagine if he endorsed a pilot of residential permit parking (that is cheap, as in $200/year) in a dense and transit rich neighborhood. You’d get the town hall exchange of: “I’ve parked in front of my house for over 200 years. This is a tax on success Mr. De Blasio!”. And for him to calmly respond: 1. Sir, you’ve been getting a sweet heart deal, in a garage, it’s $300/month, we’re only asking $200/year for the right to use the public’s streets, 2. this will clear up parking for those who don’t need a car and 3. for those who commit insurance fraud and register their car out of state and don’t want to register it locally. So I understand your frustration, but you’re still getting a sweet heart deal, the money is going to fund local transit and as a result, there will be more parking available for residents such as yourself who truly need to keep a car. That’s fucking leadership! That’s also what early Chris Christie used to understand about being a jerk. If you’re right on the policy, you can call people out and push back a little bit. But if you’re a fucking coward then people will just pile on.

  • r

    “The car-centric districts of eastern Queens, southern Brooklyn, and Staten Island are not where his strength lies.”

    Not to mention the fact that even if the mayor felt it was worthwhile to pander to these parts of the city, Move NY would *help* residents of these areas. In exchange for placing tolls on previously free bridges, it lowers tolls in relative transit deserts.

    The fact that de Blasio conveniently ignores this fact tells you everything you need to know. None of this is really about concern for working-class New Yorkers or fears of a “regressive tax.” He’s concerned solely with preserving free driving for people like him. His fellow phony progressives, the placard-class… those are the people who matter to him. End of story.

  • Joe R.

    Ironically I think it’s the transit deserts like eastern Queens and Staten Island where we could end up with Amsterdam levels of bike mode share if we really tried. Everywhere you have good subway access bikes will be competing with that. In places without subways, which at best have shitty bus service, it’s a choice now of that or driving. No surprise lots of people choose to drive if taking the bus turns a 15 minute drive into a 90 minute ordeal with a few bus changes. But those driving have a real alternative in bicycles if only we made using them safe and convenient. While he’s at it, he should push strongly to reverse the e-bike ban. E-bikes are a great fit in transit deserts simply because a number of trips are further than many people are willing to bike. Do those things and you’ll have more bikes in areas like mine than in midtown Manhattan. In fact, most of the Netherlands is closer to eastern Queens in density and makeup than it is to Manhattan, yet those places still have very high bike mode share. Bikes actually work better in these kinds of places. There’s more room for bike infrastructure, and a lot less of the annoying stop-and-go riding you’ll do in more congested places.

    Maybe the new bike lanes on Northern Boulevard will start waking people up to something I’ve known for close to 40 years, namely that bikes work great as car substitutes in areas like mine. You just need infrastructure so that you get more than just the brave and strong riding.

  • Fool

    It is a very large assumption that additional revenue would lead to better service and lower fares.

  • To the contrary, both benefits are inherent to any congestion pricing plan worth its salt. There are plenty of other variables and policy reforms that should be pursued in concert with congestion pricing to maximize impact, but some degree of service improvement and fare relief is locked in.

    The principal distinction between congestion pricing and a millionaire’s tax is that one will improve bus service by relieving traffic jams and the other will not. The revenue from congestion pricing (which would be far greater than the BdB millionaire’s tax if we’re talking about Move NY), would also lessen the MTA’s dependence on fare-backed debt, relieving upward pressure on the fare.

    Obviously, the MTA needs to get its house in order to make its capital budget go as far as it should. The city needs to hold up its end of the bargain by carving out transit lanes/bike lanes/etc, and explicit fare subsidies for low-income riders aren’t a total lock. But there’s really no doubt that the baseline for transit service and fares is better with congestion pricing than without.

  • rogue

    I don’t think he identifies with people who walk, bike, take transit. He wants to appear progressive without actually taking a stand on anything difficult and therefore raising the ire of any one particular political group…In case he eventually has a shot at higher levels of office, which of course is totally delusional.

  • Jake

    Congestion pricing is just a tax. People will still drive and they will just end up paying. People don’t avoid the midtown tunnel or automatically take the 3rd Ave bridge just because of a toll. Get the hell out of here with taxing us under the guise of congestion.

  • People absolutely do avoid the Midtown Tunnel because of the toll, getting off the L.I.E. at Van Dam Street to go to the Queensboro Bridge instead.

    The bridge ought to cost more than the tunnel, so as to create an incentive for those drivers to stay on the L.I.E. and use the tunnel.

    What’s more, both crossings should cost enough to induce those people who have options other than driving to use one of those options. The only people who would drive into Manhattan would be those who absolutely must do so, such as people whose jobs require them to haul tools or other heavy gear.

    Someone with an office job who drives into Manhattan is doing a very bad thing. We need leaders who have the courage to look these people straight in the eye and tell them: “you are the problem”.

  • sbauman

    Heading in to the next four years, the issue of congestion pricing is shaping up as the fulcrum that de Blasio’s transportation legacy will hinge on. If Andrew Cuomo does steer a good road pricing plan through Albany — still a big “if” — the mayor will be doing his city a historic disservice should he reject it.

    What’s the primary objective, fixing the transportation mess or implementing some form of congestion pricing?

  • JarekFA

    congestion itself is a tax. If there was no traffic, you could get from A to B in 5 minutes. But with normal levels of congestion, it takes you 45 minutes. That 40 minutes of congestion translates to real dollar costs that are imposed not just on the drivers but on everyone else.

  • r

    Is a subway fare a tax?

  • JarekFA

    People don’t avoid the midtown tunnel or automatically take the 3rd Ave bridge just because of a toll.

    This is also one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read. it’s over $8 to take the Brooklyn Batter without EZ Pass (or $5+ with EZ Pass). You can stay on the BQE and take BK Bridge for free. This is obvious. The Move NY Congestion Pricing Plan actually lowers some outer borough bridge tolls like the Throgs Neck for example.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    I think you could make the permits free and by requiring proof of NYC registration and insurance you would have 50% fewer cars.

  • bolwerk

    I don’t get calling bikes and subways (or any transit) competitive. They’re almost perfectly complementary, each providing benefits the other doesn’t really offer. The best way to kill either is to clog an environment with cars.

    And is it just me, or did cycling most take off in the most transit-dense parts of the city?

  • bolwerk

    No two people who vote for it are going to have the exact same mix of objectives, so just pick one. Many activists are afraid to admit this, and it makes veins bulge in motorheads’ skulls, but CP is a perfectly worthy goal even if not a penny of it goes to anything useful at all.

  • djx

    “What’s the primary objective, fixing the transportation mess or implementing some form of congestion pricing?”


  • Larry Littlefield

    “It is a very large assumption that additional revenue would lead to better service and lower fares.”

    If it would lead to better service or better fares, they wouldn’t do it. They’ve gotten the serfs used to worst service and higher fares, and the still won DeBlasio’s easy re-election and a turn down of the constitutional convention.

    They’ll do it as a way to limit higher fares and more cuts in service in the next fiscal crisis, which is approaching.

  • Joe R.

    Think of the old adage “build it and they will come”. The reason cycling took off in transit dense areas is because that’s where we built most of the new bike infrastructure. Sure, bikes and subways can be complimentary, but only if cyclists feel safe riding to the subway AND they have a place to put their bike. We built just about nothing in the outer boroughs for bikes until fairly recently. Moreover, there is enormous potential for bike use here getting to subways but we have no safe bike parking near subway stations. We need stuff like in the Netherlands, namely big, enclosed bike parking areas where a person knows their bike won’t get stolen. Bike share could work for that also but I’m not sure how the numbers would pan out. I think most of the bikes would get used for just two trips per day without constant rebalancing during rush hours. It probably wouldn’t be worthwhile from a business standpoint to use bike share for bus to subway trips.

    Not sure bikes can compliment buses, at least in most of NYC. Buses are so slow it makes no sense to switch from bike to bus when it’s much faster to just stay on your bike.

  • qrt145

    Everything that people don’t like is a tax. 🙂

  • Freewilly

    No you miss the point of what he’s saying. You are diverting traffic patterns but it doesn’t stop the flow overall.

    Instead of allowing for a fast way that people are willing to pay for like the tunnels… All bridges and tunnels will be clogged equally. Unless you plan on building another BQE on top of the existing BQE. Congestion pricing doesn’t work.

    CP is a terrible idea and a burden especially to the outer boroughs. It’s like saying bad weather will deter people from driving. Not true at all. It does to an insignificant degree but overall commute is worse for everyone.

  • qrt145

    I’d say they took off in the dense parts of the city, which also happen to be transit-dense.

  • JarekFA

    I’m honestly confused how someone can competently string sentences together but still be so incredibly stupid that it defies reason? I’m sorry, but you’re just wrong and your reasoning makes absolutely no sense.

    No you miss the point of what he’s saying. You are diverting traffic patterns but it doesn’t stop the flow overall.

    Uh, having some bridges free and others tolls, diverts traffic patterns. As in, it puts more people on to the BQE to take the free BK Bridge, Manhattan Bridge or Williamsburg Bridge instead of the tolled Brooklyn Battery, often requiring detours through local streets including neighborhoods. This shit is basic. Not wasting my time to explain the obvious. You harmonize the tolls so then some people take the quickest/direct route and they no longer toll shop.

    Like, induced demand. Please read up on it. Congestion pricing works everyplace it’s been tried. To leave the road bed, that literally has the highest demand in the entire United States, free to entry, is a recipe for massive and crippling congestion.

    CP lowers outer borough bridge tolls. So obviously it’s not a burden to have those tolls lowered. Get your facts straight. Why lie?

  • Freewilly

    You are pretty dense. You really think people choose to suffer through traffic now will decide that a small toll is the breaking point?

    Idiot. It’s a tax they won’t mitigate volume.

  • Joe R.

    You’re totally failing to understand how congestion pricing works. By charging to enter more congested areas some people who have viable alternatives to driving (that would mostly be office workers not carrying heavy loads) will choose to use those methods to save the congestion fees. So yes, the overall flow will decrease.

    There is such a thing as induced demand. Make driving or parking free, or build more roads, and eventually more people will drive, filling up those roads. Do the opposite, and fewer people will drive. The hard fact, which many present drivers seem unwilling to accept, is that unless you’re carrying heavy loads or tools there are viable alternatives to driving into Manhattan, particularly during peak hours. You have subways, buses, commuter rail, or bicycles. Most of those people in SOVs can use these alternatives. For the few who can’t, they’ll pay a fee but enjoy a much faster trip in return.

    I don’t see how congestion pricing is a burden to the outer boroughs. The vast majority of people in the outer boroughs who work in Manhattan already take transit. Those who drive usually work outside the Manhattan CBD, so congestion pricing won’t affect them. The ones congestion pricing will mostly hit are the stubborn few who drive in despite alternatives. Many of these are placard holders who also get to park in otherwise illegal spots. These people should be discouraged from driving in. There’s no good reason for most of them to do so other than a stubborn unwillingness to use alternatives.

  • Freewilly

    Diverting traffic is not the same as reducing it. Volume already exceeds the infrastructure. Taxing those that still have to drive for a multitude of reasons… It’s just taxing them.

  • Freewilly

    Will raising the MetroCard prices by a few percentage dollars or cents improve the subway service for everyone ??

  • Joe R.

    Who says it has to be a small toll? The idea behind congestion pricing is you keep raising the fee until congestion goes away. Some studies suggest $100 isn’t an unreasonable fee to charge to enter Manhattan during peak hours. That’s roughly how much the delays an additional car entering Manhattan costs in aggregate.

  • Freewilly

    I completely agree with you that $100 tolls will solve the congestion on all our crossing’s.

  • Freewilly

    You clearly have no idea what tax means. Tax doesn’t equal cost

  • Freewilly

    I would like to respond this when I have more time but long story short. Tolls across all crossing with normalize volume across paths. Volume far exceeds capacity. This will distribute congestion not mitigate it. In addition hov lanes will be needed for buses because you can’t have public transportation undone by traffic. So lanes will be taken away from most roads leading up to and through the crossings. Loss of lanes is far greater impact than a token decrease of volume.

  • Joe R.

    The thing is we can all speculate about what might happen but we won’t know unless we try it. We can always tweak tolls after implementing it to get whatever results we desire. Also, distributing congestion isn’t a horrible thing even if that’s the only thing which happens. If you get some cars to switch from the Queensboro Bridge to other crossings, the Queens Plaza area will be much more pleasant. Ideally, you should charge more for the Queensboro than the Midtown Tunnel because the idea is you want to keep cars on highways, not have them divert to local streets to save on tolls.

  • sbauman

    CP is a perfectly worthy goal even if not a penny of it goes to anything useful at all.

    Congestion pricing, as proposed in Move NY, has very limited goals regarding congestion reduction and raising money for NYC public transit. If the congestion reduction and revenue goals could be met or exceeded without congestion pricing, would it still be a worthy goal?

  • It is true that diverting traffic is not the same thing as reducing traffic. Congestion pricing, if done correctly, would achieve both ends. To refuse to acknowledge the inevitability of both of these effects is to be willfully obstinate.

    What’s more, anyone who thinks that calling congestion pricing a “tax” means that it’s a bad thing reveals that he/she is operating under the influence of a very ugly ideological orthodoxy. Civilised people understand that taxes are good things, in that they raise revenue for vital services.

    And using pricing both to influence people’s choices and to raise revenue is exactly what competent planners ought to be doing.

  • bolwerk

    If you have some way to do that in mind, I’m all ears!

  • reasonableexplanation

    That last part would make sense if the midtown tunnel connected to a highway, it doesn’t it spits you out in midtown.

    Even now, with arguably low volumes since it’s not one of the free crossings, the tunnel gets backed up on the Queens side because cars can’t clear the traffic lights in time on the manhattan side.

    To be fair, before cashless tolling it used to be much much worse, the toll plaza itself would constantly cause a massive jam, even when the tunnel was empty. Arguably, cashless tolling is the best thing to happen to traffic in years.

    Connecting the midtown tunnel to the FDR via dedicated ramps would be eliminate a huge bottleneck.

    In a similar way, connecting the southbound Van Wyck to the Westbound belt via a dedicated ramp would alleviate a huge cause of traffic as well.

    There’s lots of ‘little’ projects like this around the city that if completed, would make a huge difference.

  • sbauman

    The cordon toll is supposed to work by reducing the number of vehicles that come into the CBD from outside the cordon. The problem is that the number of vehicles entering the CBD peaked in the mid 1990’s. Since then, the number of vehicles entering the CBD has been decreased about 10%, while congestion has increased.

    One possible explanation is that the vehicles currently within the CBD are exhibiting more behavior that encourages congestion than they did before. One suspect are delivery vehicles of all sizes. The Bloomberg Administration entered into an agreement to substantially reduce ticket fines, in exchange for those receiving such tickets not to contest them. Fines are sufficiently low and the probability of receiving one even lower. The result has been that not obeying regulations designed to avoid congestion are viewed as a business expense rather than a sacrifice for the common good.

    The theory was that Bloomberg’s agreement would bring in more money, if enforcement increased. That never happened. Having given licence for deliveries to increase congestion, he then proposed his congestion pricing plan to reduce what he created.

    DeBlasio’s proposes to rein in delivery trucks and to assign enough personnel to enforce the regulations on a few key streets. It’s a pilot program to see whether obedience to existing regulations would substantially reduce congestion. If it does, then it could be expanded to more streets and more violators.

    The key to DeBlasio’s proposal is enforcement. He has enough agents to flood the are for the pilot program. There are not enough agents to increase the probability of receiving a ticket in a wider area.

    I suggest that apps be written and certified by DOT to enable smart phones to record the relevant information of vehicles violating various parking/standing regulations. The public would be able to download the app for free. The app would upload the evidence to the City and the person who recorded the information would receive a substantial commission. This way there would be more certainty of receiving a fine for violating a regulation designed to reduce congestion. Moreover, there would be too many people with an economic incentive to record such violations to make bribery economically attractive.

    There are several questions regarding Move NY’s revenue distribution. By law, half the transit money currently raised by the TBTA tolls goes to the suburbs. Would this be continued? If so, it’s the same old story of NYC subsidizing the suburbs. DeBlasio’s millionaire’s tax would raise more money and would not be subject to the unfair existing
    TBTA distribution.

    These are but 2 suggestions that promise greater congestion reduction and money for NYC public transit than congestion pricing. What’s the point of congestion pricing, if its stated goals could be accomplished more easily by other means?

  • Fool

    I see your point of tangible increase in surface transit speed, but you cannot exclusively count that as a benefit without also explicitly determining how much of an additional burden would be placed on existing infrastructure and whether or not the organization has the ability to scale to meet the additional marginal demand.

  • bolwerk

    Well, an obvious problem with enforcement is it’s expensive. Automatically debiting or crediting an account when a vehicle with a transponder passes through a cordon zone is relatively cheap, at least after startup costs.

    As for the arrangement about how funds are arranged, I suppose we all have to determine how much unfairness we’ll tolerate to improve the situation we’re in. I doubt the suburbs come away with no added booty.

  • bolwerk

    What burden would be placed on existing infrastructure? CP should reduce the burden on infrastructure by removing vehicles using roads. As buses should generally move faster and spend less time delayed in traffic, CP should amount to adding some capacity to buses.

    Are you arguing that we should worry demand for transit skyrocket could as a result of CP? There are many reasons to doubt that, the biggest being the number of trips that can be expected to shift to transit is actually quite small.

  • bolwerk

    Yes, actually. There’s no price signal now, so most people presumably heuristically value the trip in terms of their own time. A price signal gives people a better heuristic: is this trip worth toll amount x to me?

  • bolwerk

    I didn’t mean to say they complement each other on discrete trips, though that’s certainly possible. But it’s more the conditions that make one able to depend on one make the other possible, while each can fill different roles in the users’ lives. You might ride a bike a lot, but never want to park a bike by your local subway station. Bike for fun or for short errands, but subway it to work.

    Even for a seasoned cyclist, bikes are not a perfect substitute for the lowly local bus. Some cyclists might want to take that local bus to a feeder subway station, some cyclists enjoy warm sunshine only, etc..

  • bolwerk

    It seems unlikely to me there isn’t a connection between that and the fact that transit often filled in the gaps when cycling wasn’t that suitable. I’m thinking the Williamsburg of the late 1990s/early 2000s, where cycling was already ascendant and bike infrastructure was in its infancy if it existed at all yet.

    Though I would say cycling there is much shittier nowadays because its popularity and crappy development policies have attracted more cars.

  • Maggie

    Yeah, my overall commute, and numerous others (rough guess, millions), will unequivocally be better with fewer people driving to lower Manhattan.

  • Maggie

    Can you please provide your list of people who “have to drive” to reach lower Manhattan?

    I’m dead serious.

    Here’s my list of people who “have to drive”:
    – deliveries of goods
    – those who can’t be accommodated by current ADA-compliance in the subway

  • Andrew

    Some car trips into the Manhattan CBD will shift to other modes or other locations, reducing congestion (benefiting drivers and non-drivers alike). Some will remain car trips, and will pump funding into the transit system (benefiting transit riders and non-transit riders alike). Some will remain car trips but will shift from currently toll-free bridges to currently tolled crossings, where the currently tolled crossings provide a quicker route (both reducing congestion and pumping funding into the transit system).

    When I owned a car, I regularly clogged the streets of Long Island City to reach the Queensboro Bridge from the LIE rather than stay on the LIE to the tolled Midtown Tunnel or use the GCP to the Triboro, and I regularly clogged the BQE (or the nearby city street) to reach the Brooklyn Bridge from the south rather than take the much more direct Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, all to avoid paying a toll.

    And I don’t know of anyone who knowingly uses the Triboro Bridge between the Bronx and Queens, given the proximity of the toll-free Harlem River bridges. I guess you’re more price-insensitive than I am, so what are you complaining about?

  • Andrew

    You assume that everyone who drives into the Manhattan CBD has absolutely no alternative whatsoever to driving and will continue to drive, no matter what.

    That is plain and utter nonsense. Plenty of car trips into the Manhattan CBD could be easily taken by transit

    Toll equity would relieve congestion on the BQE, in particular the section between the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and the Brooklyn Bridge, which is so often jammed by motorists looking to avoid the BBT toll. Some of those drivers would use the more direct BBT; otherwise would continue to avoid the toll by using transit instead of driving.

    Congestion pricing is a “burden” only to those outer borough residents who (a) regularly drive into the Manhattan CBD, (b) are time-insensitive, (c) do not regularly drive across the tolled bridges that do not enter Manhattan, which, under one current proposal, would have their tolls reduced, and (d) use transit so rarely that the benefits of increased funding and improved bus speeds are irrelevant.

    In other words, the vast majority of outer borough residents would, in fact, benefit.

  • Andrew

    Answer r’s question: “Is the subway fare a tax?”

  • Andrew

    However you may feel about a $100 toll, it won’t take anywhere near that to reduce congestion considerably.

  • Andrew

    That last part would make sense if the midtown tunnel connected to a highway, it doesn’t it spits you out in midtown.

    The Midtown Tunnel connects directly to a highway at one end but not the other. The Queensboro Bridge connects directly to a highway at neither end. (And the Triboro Bridge, the other tolled crossing that would pick up much of today’s Queensboro Bridge traffic if the Queensboro Bridge were tolled, connects directly to highways at all three ends.)

    Connecting the midtown tunnel to the FDR via dedicated ramps would be eliminate a huge bottleneck.

    In a similar way, connecting the southbound Van Wyck to the Westbound belt via a dedicated ramp would alleviate a huge cause of traffic as well.

    There’s lots of ‘little’ projects like this around the city that if completed, would make a huge difference.

    In the absence of pricing, congestion is what discourages more people from driving in New York. For all of the complaints, drivers as a whole apparently consider today’s levels of congestion acceptable (otherwise they wouldn’t drive).

    If we increase driving capacity without introducing pricing, we’re simply inviting more people to shift from other modes to driving, until congestion gets right back to where it is today. We might end up shifting the pinch-points a bit, but we won’t actually solve any broad congestion problems, and the additional overall traffic volumes may exacerbate congestion problems elsewhere.

    Be careful what you wish for.

  • Andrew

    You mean something like this?

    That was for Bloomberg’s 2008 proposal. You’re right to ask the question, but I can’t imagine that a similar modeling effort wouldn’t take place under a new proposal today.


Photo: Crain's New York

Bucking de Blasio, Speaker Candidates Support Congestion Pricing

Mayor de Blasio is pulling out all the stops to frame congestion pricing as a "regressive tax," even though low-income New Yorkers stand to gain enormously. Not a single contender for council speaker is on the same page as the mayor. In a debate hosted by Crain's this morning, they all signaled support for congestion pricing, with a few caveats.