KOMANOFF: Congestion Pricing Will NOT Fill Upper Manhattan With Suburbanites Cruising for Parking

Seattle parking lot
This is not what the Upper East Side will become once congestion pricing passes, our expert says. Photo: The Urbanist

This just in, from Karl Marx: A spectre is haunting the edges of the Manhattan charging zone — the spectre of car commuters from Westchester and Long Island appropriating on-street parking spaces and hopping on trains to the Manhattan core.

What is to be done? cried Engels. Must our electeds cave to the parking hoarders and stop congestion pricing?

Marx: No, never. Not when we can fire up the Balanced Transportation Analyzer spreadsheet and see how few CBD-bound drivers will find it in their interest to park on a street on the Upper West Side or in Bedford-Stuyvesant to avoid the congestion toll.

Closet commie that I am, that’s what I did. I asked the BTA, and the answer came back: around a thousand — 1,100, actually. That’s my estimate of how many drivers of private autos entering the central business district between 6-10 a.m. on a weekday will be motivated by the toll to become park-and-riders.

Is 1,100 a lot? Maybe to an obsessive — the type whose reaction to the dropping of the atomic bomb would have been, Is it good for alternate-side-of-the-street parking? Seriously, the import of the figure is for others to decide. I’ll limit the rest of this post to explaining how I derived it.

I started by establishing the size of the “pool” — the number of private autos currently driven into the Manhattan Central Business District from outside, during prime weekday commuting hours, 6 to 10 a.m. That figure is just 109,000. If it seems small, consider what it purposely omits: trucks (which need to access the CBD, obviously); cabs and Ubers (ditto); vehicles that pass through Manhattan (for which park-and-ride is infeasible); and vehicle trips outside morning peak hours (when competition for neighborhood parking is less cutthroat and, thus, not a pressing public concern).

Next, I estimated the share of those trips that the congestion toll would “tip” into parking outside the CBD. That calculation has a surprising number of parts — the new toll to skirt, parking costs in the CBD avoided by remaining outside, subway fares to pay, the time spent finding on-street parking on the outskirts, time saved by not driving all the way in but now incurred on the train, and the hassle factor of leaving the car on the street somewhere. That made for a kaleidoscope of parameters that cried out for quantification by my BTA spreadsheet (downloadable Excel spreadsheet).

I structured the calculation probabilistically. I first calculated the percentage of those 109,000 trips that now (without congestion pricing) appear to be less expensive to park-and-ride than drive all the way. Then I added the congestion charge, a peak toll of $12.24, matching the TBTA’s round-trip bridge and tunnel tolls set to take effect at the end of March. I also inputted the speedier car commute from congestion pricing (but not speedier subways on account of the time lag in investing congestion revenues into service improvements), along with an expected 10 percent drop in CBD parking costs due to the fall in commuting volume. And of course I imputed a value of time, around $28/hr, to apply to the travel time gained and lost by switching parking destinations.

My inputs and outputs are on display in the BTA’s “Park-and-Ride” tab. They yield a mere 1 percentage point rise in the likelihood that a peak-hour CBD-bound car commuter will abandon the “it’s cheaper to drive all the way” camp and join “the toll has made it cheaper for me to park outside” camp. (The calculated figure is 2 percent, but I cut that in half to eliminate the CBD-bound morning drivers who don’t pay out of their own pocket to park in Manhattan.) One percent of the 109,000 eligible drivers (rounded) is of course 1,100; that’s how many CBD-bound morning drivers will venture to park on an outlying street and complete their journey via train, on account of congestion pricing.

This conclusion isn’t exactly novel. A study by West Harlem Environmental Action over a decade ago (the Northern Manhattan and the Congestion Pricing Plan) produced a similar result. If that didn’t settle the park-and-ride issue, I certainly don’t expect my analysis to do so.

Indeed, we’re probably past the point — if there ever was one — where reasoned analysis can move the congestion pricing debate. As you read this, legislators are frantically figuring their electoral prospects, not how many minutes a day and hours a year congestion pricing may save their constituents on the trains, in buses and in their cars.

Nevertheless, free parking spaces are totemic in New York politics, and some politicians take the spectre of 50,000 invading space-seeking drivers more to heart than the reality of millions plagued by delayed trains, stuck buses and snarled streets. Cutting the spectre down to size might be one of those things that can push congestion pricing across the finish line next week.

  • sbauman

    The number of incoming vehicles crossing the 60th St cordon between 6am and 9am was 58,758 in 2007. This number had been reduced by 18% to 48,128 in 2017.

  • motorock

    Where did you get your numbers for vehicles entering the CBD? And how old is that data? Did you account for all types of vehicles?

  • sbauman
  • motorock

    Not you bro, I am asking the author. Pretty big claims but no scientific proof in his model with no peer review.

  • Komanoff

    Aren’t the breadcrumbs in my post enough? I cited the BTA, included the link, and named the spreadsheet tab deriving the numbers in the post.

    To help you out, here’s the key piece of code:
    =ROUND(J61*(‘Motor Vs’!$R$139+’Motor Vs’!$S$139+’Motor Vs’!$AA$139+’Motor Vs’!$AB$139),-2)
    It appears in Park-and-Ride tab, Cell M61. The cell reads 2,600. But note the bolded instructions in the yellow text box at Row 65: “NOTE: Percent results in Rows 58 and 61 apply some years in future, after transit investments of congestion revenues have borne fruit and have reduced somewhat the time for the post-park-and-ride trip leg to the CBD. To see projected *immediate* (‘overnight’) percentages, without the fruits of transit investment, follow instruxns in Cell E185 of ‘Policy Levers’ tab.”
    If you do that, the 2,600 becomes 1,100. QED.

  • John Steinberg

    cHarles, your meticulousness and patience in orchestrating your numbers to examine every contingency is aahhhsome. plus i love the line about the A bomb and alternate side parking.

    if there’s justice in the world you/we will be rewarded with a CP law. and our deep thanks for your eadership

    if not, it will prove once again how 21st century NY and America is so self-absorbed, so unwilling to stir itself from its comfortable torpor rather than sacrifice a little for the common good, that it prefers to perpetuate the slow boil of misery, stress, congestion and decline..

    let justice reign. and a little leadership would help too

  • No CP

    Forgive him, he’s still grumpy about not being given a designated speaking slot at last night’s town hall.

  • motorock

    Does not answer my question. The BTA is your model- not an official or verified source.
    Again, what is the source of your numbers? It looks different from sbauman’s source.
    Has this BTA been analyzed by anyone else and proven by an independent agency not related to you?
    If there has been, what is the level of accuracy of this model that was ascertained by them?
    is the aim really to reduce congestion? If it does reduce congestion, then who pays the $1 billion to the MTA every year (as per your calculations?)

  • Komanoff

    Yes, the BTA is mine. Damn straight.

    What’s the source? There are thousands. But guess what,
    practically every cell is sourced. I shared the code for one of them earlier. Just download and fire up Excel.

    But to paraphrase the wonderful Kazir Khan, “Motorock, have you even *opened* the Balanced Transportation Analyzer?

  • iSkyscraper

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/741fe3dc9f5561e394e48668369e0577d2ba52740dbc1ae7f4fcfc63f2665344.jpg

    Upper Manhattan is a disaster of curb space mismanagement. Here is a photo I took today in Inwood showing what appears to be long-term storage. I could have also walked 4 blocks to the east and photographed two dozen used-car-dealer vehicles parked all over the streets (with no plates). Or a block to the west and photographed the abandoned minivan that has been sitting on Seaman Ave for months. I also today picked up another urine-filled bottle left by a cabbie at a hydrant. There is no end to the abuses.

    I’m all for congestion pricing, but it must be accompanied by a fee permit scheme and enforcement will better manage Upper Manhattan streets.

  • motorock

    Yes, to answer youy I have opened the BTA. But you, haven’t answered a single question straight forward. It would be great to see some transparency here. So, here are my questions again-

    What is the source of your numbers? It looks different from sbauman’s source. Why is that?

    Has this BTA been analyzed by anyone else and proven by an independent agency not related to you?

    If it has been, what is the level of accuracy of this model as ascertained by them?

    is the aim really to reduce congestion? If it does reduce congestion and there are fewer cars on the road, then who pays the $1 billion to the MTA every year (as per your calculations?)

  • Komanoff

    “What is the source of your numbers?”
    There are probably a million numbers in the spreadsheet. (The “equal sign,” which is the building block of Excel formulas, appears over 100,000 times.) So your question — if I may — is ludicrous. If you want to know where any particular number comes from or how it was calculated, go to the cell and click on it to reveal the formula, or look at the fine-print documentation that is probably nearby.

    “Has this BTA been analyzed by anyone else and proven by an independent agency not related to you?”
    Yes. NYCDOT, NYS Dept of Taxation & Finance, NYS Governor’s executive staff, and H&RA Advisors, HNTB Inc. have all vetted it.

    “If there has been, what is the level of accuracy of this model that was ascertained by them?”
    A year ago, the governor’s ass’t sec’y for transportation told the Fix NYC panel that the BTA’s key outputs matched the outputs of NYMTC’s $100 million “Best Practices Model” extremely closely. The panel had other nice things to say about the BTA, which you can see toward the bottom of the spreadsheet’s Title Page. If all this isn’t enough, take it up with the parties I’ve mentioned here.

    “is the aim really to reduce congestion? If it does reduce congestion, then who pays the $1 billion to the MTA every year (as per your calculations?)”
    It takes only about a 10-15% drop in the number of car, truck and FHV trips into and in the CBD to effect a big increase in vehicle travel speeds. The revenues come from the 85-90% of trips that remain.

    These are my last replies, unless you acknowledge these answers to your questions and say whether they have made a dent in your skepticism/hostility to my work. In other words, don’t just fire up a new load of questions until you reply respectfully and attentively to what I’ve written. Got that? Thank you.

  • Komanoff

    Wow, thank you John, and best wishes to you. I look forward to — hopefully — celebrating with you and our many compatriots on April 1 (when c.p passes) and on Jan 1, 2021 (when the tolling starts). Keep pushing your electeds, while I do the same! — Charles

  • motorock

    Mighty defensive when asked for the truth?

    Have your numbers been updated from your older sources. In 10 years, as sbauman’s link shows, vehicle numbers have dropped.

    As for NYCDOT, NYS Dept of Taxation & Finance, NYS Governor’s executive staff, and H&RA Advisors, HNTB Inc- where are their studies? What was their methodology? Everything just seems based on the BTA with no real, independent study done by actual scientists and analysts. Otherwise, they would have seen what the BTA was missing that all European plans have- a built-in exemption for powered two-wheeled vehicles because they help increase vehicle travel speeds significantly. Somehow, your model and every single study that “vetted” your model forgot 2% of all registered vehicles in New York City? And you have refused to add them as well despite been requested very respectfully to do so. Your reason, correct me if I am wrong, has been that you are not able to because your excel-based model does not allow to add any more vehicle types.

    Sam Schwartz, himself, in 2008, did a study where he came to the conclusion that a modal shift of 10% of cars to two-wheelers would drastically reduce congestion- just like European plans did. Every single European city with any kind of congestion plan exempts motorcycles, scooters and other powered two wheel vehicles, even in their most strict emissions and historical zones- and it just works.

    So, when a model is purposefully missing a part of traffic that can actually reduce congestion, the whole model seems unreliable and suspect and misleading the general public about its “accuracy”.

  • EagleEye

    I just think motorock has been riding without his helmet one time too many.

  • 6SJ7

    Legal but the license plate and registration sticker should be visible.

  • 6SJ7

    ‘…how 21st century NY and America is so self-absorbed, so unwilling to
    stir itself from its comfortable torpor rather than sacrifice a little
    for the common good…’
    It’s just congestion pricing we’re talking about, calm down. Who determines who sacrifices how much and who determines the common good.

  • 6SJ7

    The generally 4 days per week alternate side parking rules in upper Manhattan will discourage most commuters from looking for parking on those streets.

  • Jo Jo

    Congestion pricing will not change a thing. Does raising the price of a LIRR ticket stop people from taking the LIRR. No. People that need to drive into the CBD will continue to do it and pay the money. Anyone that drives a car into the CBD in this day and age has money and will pay. So Now MTA can get more money to blow on their failing transportation system.

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