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Andrew Cuomo

NYC’s Still Waiting for a Traffic Reduction Plan From Andrew Cuomo

Photo: Governor’s Office/Flickr

A few minutes before the midnight deadline yesterday, Governor Cuomo's office posted a round of amendments to his executive budget. The speculation beforehand was that the amendments might include legislation based on the congestion pricing recommendations released by the governor's Fix NYC panel. But this isn't the big policy reveal that New Yorkers hoping for a serious traffic reduction plan have been waiting for.

Instead, Cuomo's budget amendments lift a few ideas from Fix NYC without touching on the centerpiece of the plan, a cordon toll around Manhattan below 60th Street. (Here's the summary and the full legalese.) If the governor is going to commit to a real congestion pricing plan, it's either going to come later in the budget process, which is supposed to wrap up before April 1, or as a standalone legislative effort after the budget is passed.

The Fix NYC-related budget amendments include some good steps forward, just not anything that adds up to the traffic-reducing power of the panel's road pricing recommendations. Notably, all of the amendments require further action to enact real policy changes. Here's a look at what's included:

Enabling legislation for automated blocking-the-box enforcement in Manhattan below 60th Street

This would let New York City establish a camera enforcement program for blocking-the-box violations in the Manhattan central business district, with fines capped at $50. It would be up to City Hall to set up the cameras and start issuing fines. Like all automated enforcement programs in NYC, this would sunset in a few years and need re-approval in Albany.

Blocking-the-box is ubiquitous in Manhattan, and steady enforcement could help speed up bus service by keeping intersections clear. New York law does not define an "intersection" as including crosswalks, however, so the camera fines would not capture crosswalk-blockers. Nor would this enforcement program address the core problem -- too many cars.

Technological recommendations to set up a congestion surcharge for taxi, Uber, and other for-hire vehicle trips

This assigns the Fix NYC panel the task of mapping out the technological details of implementing a congestion fee surcharge on all for-hire trips in a zone of Manhattan (presumably below 60th Street or 96th Street, though the definition is left unspecified until a later date).

While this is the only item in the budget amendments that touches on road pricing, it's worth noting what's not included. The level of the fee is not spelled out (the Fix NYC panel had recommended a range between $2 and $5 per trip). It effectively punts on the details of implementation. And it says nothing about assessing the technology for the central Fix NYC recommendation, the cordon toll on all motor vehicle traffic entering Manhattan below 60th Street.

This is a good place to mention that Transportation Alternatives has a petition drive urging Cuomo and state legislators to move forward with congestion pricing, and it only takes a minute to add your name.

A study of NYC's parking placard regime

The Fix NYC panel would also be charged with reviewing New York City's traffic-inducing, corruption-plagued parking placard system and issuing recommendations for reform. If that actually results in a significant shrinkage of the pool of parking placards and real enforcement of placard abuse, New York might see a tangible reduction in illegal parking by city employees and assorted fraudsters pretending to be public servants so they can steal curb space. Still a big "if."

A traffic study of commuter buses, charter buses, tour buses, and intercity buses

The New York State DOT and DMV would conduct this study of how various bus services affect Manhattan traffic. While there are certainly problems arising from tour bus traffic, off-route charter buses, and the curb management of bus companies in Manhattan, most of these services are helping people get around without consuming a lot of street space, and it's hard to see how this study will have a meaningful impact on the massive traffic jams clogging the city's most congested streets.

All told, we're still left reading tea leaves. No one in the Cuomo camp is ruling out congestion pricing, and earlier this week the governor's chief council, Alphonso David, asserted the state's right to implement it without the city's permission. But every time there’s a chance for Cuomo himself to commit to a concrete policy, he doesn’t.

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