Will Yuh-Line Niou Stand Up for Traffic Relief in Her Car-Battered Lower Manhattan District?

The overwhelming majority of households in Niou's district do not own a car, but she wants a resident exemption from congestion pricing.

Photo: giggel/Wikimedia Commons
Photo: giggel/Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps nowhere else in New York suffers from the lack of congestion pricing more than the 65th Assembly district in Lower Manhattan. Every day, hundreds of thousands of motorists take advantage of the three untolled bridges linking Brooklyn and Manhattan, creating a torrent of car and truck traffic on the district’s streets.

Chinatown and the Lower East Side, especially, get overrun by traffic heading to and from the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg bridges. The “New Jersey trucker’s special” — the toll-free route to Long Island and then back to New Jersey — also runs straight through these areas.

Neighborhoods where 74 percent of households don’t even own cars put up with pollution, honking, and slow-as-molasses bus service due to the free bridges. Attempts to carve out street space for safe walking and biking, meanwhile, butt up against the traffic engineer’s instinct to accommodate all those motor vehicles.

Yuh-line Niou. Photo: Wikipedia
Assembly Member Yuh-line Niou. Photo: Wikipedia

When a congestion pricing plan reached Albany in 2008, then-speaker Sheldon Silver represented this district and famously prevented a vote to save his caucus the trouble of taking a public position. Now that Silver is gone, will the residents of the 65th district have a voice in Albany supporting traffic relief?

The decision falls to Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou, who was elected to the seat in 2016.

We asked Niou for her position on the congestion pricing plan released by Governor Cuomo’s Fix NYC panel. Her office sent a statement saying that she is “still in the process of reviewing the Governor’s proposal for congestion pricing.”

But if New York is finally going to get a road pricing system that cuts down on the traffic smothering her district, Niou says her constituents should be exempt:

The MTA is in dire need of repairs, and congestion pricing has been presented as an option to get the funding we need to fix the system. We obviously need a steady revenue stream and congestion pricing is a viable option to provide that. At the same time, we need to balance the needs of residents living in a proposed congestion zone. I’m hearing from constituents all across my district.   

We need to explore a carve-out for lower Manhattan. We have a lot of seniors, and low-income and working-class families and individuals who live in my district, and they should be able to move freely around their neighborhood and not have to worry about paying extra. Extra financial burden should not be placed on our families just because of where they live geographically. I also have concerns about the small businesses who rely on transports traveling to and from the outer-boroughs. I look forward to continuing this conversation with my colleagues in the Senate and Assembly and listening to what my constituents have to say about congestion pricing.

This is remarkably similar to the excuses representatives from Eastern Queens offer up when they oppose congestion pricing. Citing “working-class families” to oppose road pricing makes even less sense in the 65th district, where 90 percent of residents commute by transit, walking, or biking, according to Census data compiled by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

Nowhere in the statement does Niou acknowledge that a supermajority of her constituents don’t even own cars. They are already suffering under the burden of excessive traffic.

The flood of cars and trucks pouring into the district leads to slow bus speeds and disproportionately high rates of traffic fatalities. In 2017, six people were killed in traffic crashes in the 65th district, per city crash data, about twice as many fatalities as the borough-wide rate would predict. That’s one reason Council Member Margaret Chin, whose district largely overlaps with Niou’s, supported Move NY toll reform.

In addition, travel speeds for MTA bus routes in the district average just 4.9 mph, compared to 5.5 mph borough-wide.

Assembly District 65.
Assembly District 65. Map via TransitCenter

An underlying presumption in Niou’s statement is that the “needs of residents living in a proposed congestion zone” start and stop with people who drive.

But that has no bearing to most residents of the 65th district, where cutting down on car traffic would pay off in the form of safer streets, faster buses, and less stress from motor vehicles.

Congestion pricing stops working once you layer in exemptions like the one Niou is proposing. What residents of Lower Manhattan can’t afford is a traffic reduction plan that gets watered down to nothing.

  • reasonableexplanation

    “Nowhere in the statement does Niou acknowledge that a supermajority of her constituents don’t even own cars.”

    So, if the number of people this affects is minuscule, why not leave a carve out for them? Not saying I agree with such a ploy, but just saying ‘the number of people this affects is small’ can be easily countered with that.

  • Adrian Horczak

    To get around you have to pay unless your’e using non-motorized transportation! Cars take extremely long to travel in that area. People of all ages are better off walking.

  • It’s a bad counterargument because once you add resident exemptions, you open the door to other types of exemptions. Given the general affluence of Manhattan car owners, there’s no justification for making them a protected class.

    It’s also stupid politics because the moment you create a carveout for Manhattanites you can kiss your pro-pricing coalition members in the other boroughs goodbye.

  • Wilfried84

    Because, while their numbers are small, they are big, as in they take up a vastly disproportionate amount of street space, and their impact is big, in terms of congestion, pollution, and street safety. Just walk down Mott Street to see what the few cars do to the many, many more people packed to the rafters on the sidewalks.

  • reasonableexplanation

    Mott St is not a place residents of that district store their cars, from what I remember Mott has 2hr metered parking till 10pm.

  • JarekFA

    They should pay more. And also — what bout the vast majority that this would benefit. Instead of coming up with constructive solutions to further benefit her constituents. She’s grand standing.

  • reasonableexplanation

    The vast majority benefiting at the expense of the minority is tyranny of the majority, and generally looked down upon.

    Keep in mind, I’m generally for a moveNY type plan, I just think the arguments being used here are sub par, and won’t convince anyone expect true believers.

  • Sabina

    So disappointed to read that statement from Yuh-line Niou.

  • Joe R.

    I think the biggest argument against that is lack of space. Manhattan is so densely populated if even 10% of the population drives regularly you have gridlock. Ideally, I’d like to see automobiles/for hire vehicles used in Manhattan solely to transport handicapped people who are incapable of using public transit, walking, or cycling. Politically, at least for now, I realize that’s a nonstarter. However, if we take baby steps towards that goal, this might not be the case in 10, 20, or 30 years. Congestion pricing with no carve outs is one such baby step.

    I think the next step is a similar scheme in the denser parts of the outer boroughs, like downtown Flushing or Jamaica. Longer term, I’d like to see congestion pricing for driving anywhere in the five boroughs but even I realize you have to offer people in what are now transit deserts realistic alternatives to driving before that can happen. Manhattan already has plenty of realistic alternatives. Congestion pricing should hopefully fund transit expansion to reduce the outer borough transit deserts. Well, strictly speaking they’re not deserts with zero public transit, but the existing transit is geared mostly for getting people to/from Manhattan. We need to make transit practical for trips entirely within a borough.

  • Vooch

    Turning her district into a ( mostly ) pedestrian zone would result in a economic boom for the thousands of merchants in her district.

    instead of promoting economic development she punishes her district

  • Vooch
  • Vooch

    you mean those Marty Golden exemptions :)?

  • JarekFA

    The vast majority benefiting at the expense of the minority is tyranny of the majority, and generally looked down upon.

    That’s your response in which you conclude that everyone else arguments are subpar? https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8dfd3eff28fa82c269bb59b04ed4d2d1f6e833d51ff9e4a813e02a26bf7dba16.jpg

  • JarekFA

    It’s like she doesn’t know her district at all. She should be on the forefront pushing for this. Eastern Queens. I understand. Some parts of Brooklyn, sure. Staten Island — we hear you. But the part of Manhattan suffering under the most placard abuse and city agencies parked all over the place with awful cross town buses.

    It’s hard for me to create a scenario in which I still lived in the area and I happened to have a car. You’d have to pay me to keep a car if I still lived in this area. Like, I suppose if I was bequeathed a parking spot — even then, I’d still want congestion pricing to apply to residents. Their cars don’t have special magic powers in which they congest the roads less?

  • Also, some jobs necessitate a car….and we need space for buses…

  • ohnonononono

    It’s disappointing because Niou is young by Albany standards being only in her mid-30s. And we thought this was a boomer thing? But Niou’s previous job was chief of staff to State Assemblyman Ron Kim in Flushing, so she was maybe driving out to Flushing a lot as many do in the world of politics, where your day often involves driving or being driven to events around the city when not in Albany. She’s probably just thinking of people like herself.

    She also hasn’t lived in the district very long. She came to New York after college to attend Baruch and was living in Harlem before she moved in with her then-boyfriend in the Financial District: http://www.thelodownny.com/leslog/2016/04/our-interview-with-assembly-candidate-yuh-line-niou.html

    Interestingly enough, she listed her address in her financial disclosure as being in 15 Broad Street, the same building where the crazies are protesting the proposed subway elevators: http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/reports/rwservlet?cmdkey=efs_sch_report+p_filer_id=A21218+p_e_year=2016+p_freport_id=I+p_transaction_code=N

  • Vooch

    She and Marty Golden have a lot in common. wonder if she also killed someone and then paid 3/4 million hush money ?

  • Greg Costikyan

    Since she is my State Assembly representative, I wrote to her today. If you are also resident in Assembly District 65, you can do so via:

    http://nyassembly.gov/mem/Yuh-Line-Niou/contact

  • Ken Dodd

    “I’m hearing from constituents all across my district.” – I don’t even believe her.

  • Andrew

    Um, that’s not what ‘tyranny of the majority’ means.

  • AMH

    “We have a lot of seniors, and low-income and working-class families and individuals who live in my district, and they should be able to move freely around their neighborhood and not have to worry about their buses getting stuck in traffic.”

    There, I fixed it.

  • AnoNYC

    More like a few connected loud mouths.

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