Congestion Pricing. Let's Clear the Air.

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Why discriminate through zoning; doesn't everybody in Manhattan deserves to benefit from Congestion Relief?

The zone of the plan is also problematic. South of 86th street receives relief from congestion but north of 86th street doesn't? Aren't the residents of Harlem entitled to the same congestion relief that the residents of the Upper East and West Side are expected to receive? Also, we fully expect real estate prices to rise within the zone and think the residents of Harlem and upper Manhattan should benefit directly from this as well. It also makes no sense to us that any part of the loop roads of Central Park will be excluded from congestion zone.

More to the point congestion is a problem everywhere on the island of Manhattan. And since this is an island let's just treat it as such instead of carving zones within an island that will create all sorts of parking problems above the zone as people to seek to avoid charges.

While much has been said about the costs to enter Manhattan under the plan much less has been said on the credits that most drivers will receive.

"EZ Pass users paying bridge and tunnel tolls to enter the zone will be credited the amount of their round-trip toll that day".

What this means is that if you live in Brooklyn and drive to work using the Battery Tunnel the cost to you under this plan will be zero. Spending hundreds of millions dollars to implement a plan to charge people to enter Manhattan and reduce congestion won't work if you then decide not to charge them. In fact this part of the plan just doesn't make sense.

There are already tolls on the Hudson River Crossings and the East River Tunnels. The tolls are actually quite high and in fact comparable to the suggested congestion charges. And if you have ever tried to drive into Manhattan in the morning you are well aware they act as pretty much zero deterrence to drive into Manhattan as with them in place we have about a million drivers a day who think driving into Manhattan a day is a better choice than public transportation. And while I hate to admit it, many of them are right in making that choice.

We're ready for a good Congestion Pricing plan. Is our transit system and infrastructure?

As part of the research for Congestion Pricing I stopped driving and started commuting by bus to Ulster County on weekends. To see what a beautiful gateway to our city the Port Authority is and how much work is necessary to be done before we ask people to leave their cars at home and commute into the city by public transit, I recommend taking the 11:42 PM from New Paltz arriving into Port Authority at 1:30 AM on a Sunday morning. Or perhaps you should try to take the 6:00 PM leaving the city. You can even show up by Subway it's only a 7-minute subway ride to Port Authority from West 4th Street. But since there are no Metro Card like vending machines to purchase bus tickets I suggest you arrive early, as the lines can be long, I've waited in line more than 20 minutes just to purchase a ticket to the leave the city. Comparatively sitting in traffic starts looking like a reasonable alternative. I mean there are no people sleeping in your car that you have to step over to get where you are going. And the interior of new cars while often pungent tend not to smell like urine.

That said, the lowly bus, that many think of as something for people who can't afford cars, has a lot of potential. The buses are comfortable, roomy and it's downright refreshing to not have to drive. But before you can realistically get people out of their cars, the experience has be positive and currently it is sub-standard on many levels.

This is not a simple matter of busses leaving port authority but subways as well. In a recent report issued by New York City Transit is an articulation of what many subway commuters already know. Many subway lines are at full capacity. On the IRT there is literally no room to accommodate new riders. And in fact crowding is so bad on the east side IRT (4,5,6) that rush hours exceed the MTA's loading guidelines. According to this report it's just not the trains that are crowded but the tracks as well. While we need to reduce automobile trips into the city, the people that are going to get out of their cars need a way to get around. And to not put a system in place before this is figured out does not seem like a formula for success.

Congestion Pricing isn't just about cars, less cars, or the movement of cars.

An important transportation insight, and one that makes the goals of congestion pricing possible (whether Sheldon Silver gives it his blessing or not) is that the answer to NYC traffic problems is an infrastructure problem and not a vehicle problem.

This is why in the past we have advocated that a lane on arterial streets be reserved for the use of vehicles responding to emergencies. The thinking is that his lane can then be utilized by human powered vehicles such as cyclists and rollerbladers and light zero emission electric vehicles, such as Segways and electric mopeds, during non-emergency use. With the allocation of just one lane on every avenue, we can provide the needed space to move around this city safely and efficiently using human or electric power. Obviously this will serve to lessen the amount of vehicles on the avenues and corresponding pollution as well and is aligned with the broader goals of Congestion Pricing. We envision that this will significantly reduce emergency vehicle response time and for this reason alone it should be tried.

One of the obvious outcomes of Congestion Pricing is the mitigation of urban auto trips. Initially this will be done mostly by bicycle but we can envision other mobility options. The reality is that whatever the preferred non automotive mode, there needs to be a safe way to move around the city and this is where infrastructure comes in. While it's not possible to build a new subway line in a month we can make our city safe for cycling in a short amount of time if we wanted to. And considering our subways are full this is something that absolutely must be done prior to congestion pricing being implemented in New York.

It is important to emphasize that making it safe to cycle in New York is not for the convenience of the small but vocal group of current cyclists but rather to exponentially increase cycling as a transportation mode in NYC.

An innovative solution to our problem of wanting to get people out of cars but not having capacity in public transit to accommodate them once they are out is to use to technology to increase efficiency of private autos. It's hard not to notice that the amazing revolution in information and communication hasn't been applied to our transportation system. As an example the apple I-phone, which was released with much fanfare on June 29th contains built in Google maps, containing live traffic information, mobile Internet, and is one generation away from true GPS. This offers a glimpse into the potential of an application that can allow people to easily find others going to the same place they are going and thus be able to share rides. Think of this as a form of e-hitch hiking. And by applying what we have learned with social networking and e-bay type user ratings, this can be made perfectly safe.

Coupling information and communication also opens the possibilities of being able to not only share rides but also reserve and pay for on demand light mobility systems. Think of kiosks of Segways, bicycles, and electric carts placed throughout the city available to pick up at one location and drop off at another, once our infrastructure allows for safe use. European cities are already well ahead of us with the adoption of hugely successful bicycle sharing programs. Most noticeably system in Lyon, a small city that is seeing 20,000 daily micro rentals. And Paris just green-lighted a citywide self-rent bike system with 20,000 bicycles and 1500 kiosks. There are companies trying to implement systems like this over here such as http://www.intragomobility.com/, and there are more than 5 startups in the Dynamic Ride Sharing Space. The Bloomberg administration should work with them and have the city act as an incubator, for what we need is a modern mobility system of which decreasing cars is only one component of.

Adding efficiency to our plan is the smart thing to do and with the subways maxed out also necessary prior to implementing a congestion plan in NYC. Such an innovative approach is something that also takes us from follower to leaders in transportation thinking and solutions. Additionally with a recent release of a report by the Union Of Concerned Scientists stating that with Global Warming NY faces 100 year floods-which will knock out the subway system-every 10 years the ability to increase surface efficiency takes on added importance.

There are exemptions to every rule. In the case of Congestion Pricing the nuances matter. A lot.

What also has not been talked about in depth are the exemptions. The New York plan calls for exemptions for Handicapped license plates, emergency vehicles and transit buses, yellow taxis and livery cabs.

It is our belief that this exemption list is a missed opportunity to decide what types of vehicles we want driven in our city. Traditionally this has been decided by Detroit for us and since this is our City, having a stake in deciding what types of vehicles we drive is long overdue. We live in a dense urban environment and many of the vehicles that we bring into this environment are out of context. It inherently makes more sense to drive smaller lighter vehicles in our city and the plan should have a mechanism to facilitate a shift in the private vehicle fleet. It is thus our suggestion that all electric vehicles, as well as the super-compacts such as the Smart Car, Honda Fit, Scion A, and Toyota Yaris, to name a few, and Motorcycles below 350 CC and scooters should be exempt from congestion charges.