Skip to Content
Streetsblog New York City home
Streetsblog New York City home
Log In
Congestion Pricing

Opinion: Keep Congestion Pricing True and Equitable By Not Crediting Tunnel Drivers

Every day for six hours, the west side of Manhattan is engulfed in a tsunami of New Jersey drivers. It must end.

Josh Katz|

This is what New Jersey drivers do, argues Christine Berthet (inset) in this clarion call op-ed.

Everyone in the livable streets movement wants congestion pricing to start on schedule in May. But the many brilliant minds in the movement often have different approaches to reducing the political tensions that a new toll creates. After Streetsblog published an article about congestion pricing credits for drivers who enter the central business district via already-tolled tunnel, leading expert Charles Komanoff took us to task. But then, Hells Kitchen activist (and Open Plans board member) Christine Berthet wrote to tell us that Komanoff is missing something. So let's hear what she has to say.

The Editors

In all the New York responses to the New Jersey legislature over the demagoguery of “double tolling” many facts are glossed over. Equity is not the least of them. 

Every day for six hours, the west side of Manhattan, including Hells Kitchen, Chelsea, Greenwich Village and Tribeca, is engulfed in a tsunami of New Jersey drivers who idle, block intersections, honk, prevent pedestrians from crossing the street and block EMS. New Jersey drivers using the bike lane as a detour are often posted on Twitter

This is what Manhattan's West Side deals with every day, thanks to residents of New Jersey and their cars.

Hells Kitchen traffic density is 92 percent higher than the rest of Manhattan and the area experiences the third worst air quality in New York City. This danger to public health is caused by passenger vehicles. New Jersey drivers use our streets as highways and are enraged that the tunnels are full of other New Jersey drivers who also want to return home. They do not respect New York rules of the road and would never dream of  leaving a pedestrian crossing clear to let a disabled person cross. 

The situation is so dangerous that both Hudson Square and Hudson Yards/ Hells Kitchen Business Improvement District employ private Pedestrian Crossing Managers to protect pedestrians from New Jersey drivers.  

It is essential that the congestion pricing program correct these conditions ASAP rather than benefit only the East side of the Manhattan Central Business District. We expect the residents who live in the Environment Justice areas of our district to be on high alert should they be treated differently from their neighbors on the East side. 

Now to the argument of double tolling. Everyone who has ever travelled on a highway — for example the Garden State Parkway — knows that a driver pays successive tolls for using successive segments of the road. No one calls this a double toll. In this case, the toll is not for crossing the rivers, the toll is for traveling on city streets inside the CBD.  A New Jersey driver could pay the Lincoln Tunnel toll coming east across the Hudson, then take the West Side Highway to the Battery Tunnel and get to JFK without paying any congestion toll. Only when drivers want to use the streets within the CBD will they pay the congestion fee for using those specific streets. This is clearly not double tolling and no one should be inclined to give a discount to New Jersey drivers, considering the appalling congestion on the West Side. 

And on the west side, there is no opportunity for toll shopping. New Jersey drivers have only three crossing options (Holland tunnel, Lincoln Tunnel and George Washington bridge ) which are all tolled at the same level.

The discussion is not technical but rather political. New Jersey wants the toll revenues to go to New Jersey projects and it sounds reasonable that a portion should, provided they do not end up funding highway expansions. For example, New York State is on the hook to pay 25 percent of the Gateway project to bring more New Jersey trains into Penn Station. Some congestionon toll money could be reserved to offset those costs allowing New York state to up its contributions to MTA. The Port Authority is building a $ 10-billion Bus Terminal to bring more New Jersey commuters into the city. This project will increase the volume of buses in the Lincoln Tunnel and worsen congestion on the streets unless congestion pricing applies in full to New Jersey drivers. A portion of the tolls could be reserved for mitigating the impacts to the adjacent communities.

This madness has to stop. It is time for New York to unequivocally insist on tolling CBD streets for all incoming drivers and for the governors to sit down and find a smart solution. 

Correction: Due to an editing error, this story originally suggested that New Jersey drivers could get to Kennedy Airport without paying a toll after the initial fee at the Lincoln or Holland Tunnel. In fact, to avoid a congestion toll, such a driver would have to take the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, which, of course, is tolled.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog New York City

Wednesday’s Headlines: Citi Bike By the Numbers Edition

Haters of Citi Bike are really going to detest the new website. Plus other news.

July 17, 2024

Once Again, There is More Evidence that Safer Streets Help Local Business

...and there's more insight into why people simply don't believe it.

July 17, 2024

Bedford Ave. Protected Bike Lane Would Benefit Residents, Businesses: Data

A new report debunks the common myth that street safety projects aren't built for the benefit of people who live in a given neighborhood.

July 16, 2024

Tuesday’s Headlines: Rajkumar’s Citywide Bid Edition

The potential candidate for city comptroller cares more about "quality of life" than transportation, she says. Plus more news.

July 16, 2024

Report: The 3 Deadliest Districts for Pedestrians are Represented by Republicans

According to Smart Growth America, Suffolk County and the southwestern part of Nassau County are the worst places to be a pedestrian in the state.

July 16, 2024
See all posts