Monday, March 31, 2008

Congestive Pricing Failure

Why Long Islanders See Plan As Throwing Them Under The Bus

And Why The Community Alliance Advocates Public Transit, Bicycling, And Walking

This blogger travels into Manhattan -- what Long Islanders call "The City" -- regularly, and mostly, by LIRR and subway.

The mass transit route is, to me, convenient, and Manhattan itself, for the most part, walkable, at best, and a short subway ride to any point, at worst.

So why do Long Islanders look with disdain at the proposed Congestion Pricing Plan, advocated by Mayor Bloomberg and supported by Governor Paterson?

Yes, its the added cost of having to pay what is, in effect, a tax for driving below or above certain streets, this on top of high prices at the pump and rising tolls. And with many middle class Long Islanders now turning to food pantries in these economically depressed times, do we need to add to the financial burden?

But more than this, it is the psychological hit of separation anxiety -- that which distances the Long Islander from his beloved automobile.

Perhaps if Long Island had a workable, efficient, and reliable system of mass transit, or even walkable communities built around transportation hubs, where LIers weren't forced into their cars to buy a quart of milk, take out a book from the "local" library, or get to the railroad station, we'd be at least somewhat amenable, and perhaps more accepting of a plan that compels us to leave the car at home.

Once we're in the car -- and we do love our cars, $3.55 a gallon gas, rising tolls, and poorly maintained roads with ill-advised street signs notwithstanding -- woe to the wicked who try to pry us out.

We'll sit in traffic, battle the fumes, leave behind a carbon footprint the size of what was once the polar ice cap, but please, dare not tell us we can't drive into the city.

And drive Long Islanders will, Congestion Pricing or not.

Sure, some may leave their cars in the garage -- or at the curb, paying no heed to street sweeping days -- bowing to the pressure on the wallet, if not to a cleaner, safer, less crowded midtown Manhattan, but most, even if begrudgingly, would rather pay the price than switch to mass transit (which, here on Long Island, is, alas, virtually nonexistent).

Of course, most Long Islanders haven't exactly rushed to the side of advocates for improved mass transit, alternatives such as light rail and bus rapid transit, even in the limited area designated to serve the Nassau "hub", having met with indifference, if not outright resistance.

And, if we're already in the car to go to the station, well...

The mindset of Long Islanders -- too often narrowed by a myopic and unrealistic vision of suburbia -- calls for the next fifty years to be much like the first: An era (or is it, error?) of cars (lots of cars), corralled around single-family houses with white picket fences (and illegal basement apartments), in low density, mall-centric, Smart Growth-challenged communities. And did we mention cars?

As for Congestion Pricing, well, we, at The Community Alliance, support the idea, sneers, jeers and looks askance aside.

A Greener, Greater New York benefits every one of us.

We've blogged -- some would say, "ad nauseum" -- on the issues of sustainability, walkable communities, Smart Growth, and the elimination of suburban sprawl as a precursor of brownfields and the destruction of Long Islanders' sense of place, the very essence of community. Isn't it time we hit the pavement with our feet, rather than with rubber?

In theory, Congestion Pricing is good for the environment, creates a more livable, maneuverable, manageable city center, and clears the streets of the dreaded automobile, the great consumer of fossil fuels and, in many respects, that insular chamber of isolation that separates every man, woman, and backseat child (buckle up!) from the one thing that should hold us all together -- community.
- - -
From the Newsday Editorial Page:

The federal government has to get smarter about encouraging metropolitan areas to be more competitive in this global economy. That was a key message of a Brookings Institution presentation at a conference yesterday at Hofstra's National Center for Suburban Studies.

In New York City and Albany, lawmakers have a chance to take advantage of just such a smart federal incentive for innovation, offered by the Department of Transportation. All New York has to do to get $354 million from the feds is to adopt a congestion-pricing plan. It would reduce traffic delays and pollution by making motorists pay a fee to enter Manhattan's central business district in its busiest hours. The fees would generate nearly $500 million a year to upgrade mass transit in the city, on Long Island, and elsewhere in the region.

But the clock is ticking. The City of New York had thought it had until March 31, but the feds helpfully pointed out recently that the actual date is April 7. And it really is a drop-dead deadline - far more inflexible than the traditional April 1 date for passing the state budget. This is too good a deal to lose. As Brookings correctly argues, our national ability to compete rests on the vitality of metropolitan areas like New York. And we need congestion pricing to thrive.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has advocated well for the plan, which is an alternative that a state commission produced after studying his original version. Gov. David Paterson has embraced it, and it's working its way through the State Legislature. It's time to iron out the few remaining kinks and get agreement between the two houses, and for the City Council to formally ask Albany to pass the bill.

That's a lot of work. Meanwhile: tick, tick, tick.
- - -
What are YOUR thoughts on Congestion Pricing? Are you willing to leave the car at home, or pay the price for driving into Manhattan?

And will that $354 million from the feds -- as well as all the monies generated by drivers who ante up $8 or $9 per car as the price of admission -- actually find its way to mass transit, or be diverted elsewhere, as with past funding, "earmarked" for mass transit, but diverted to other projects?

Post your comments to this blogpost and, by all means, write us at

1 comment:

  1. I think, in addition to a New York City congestion problem, we have a Tri-State area problem stemming from the suburban reluctance to fully urbanize and provide business areas within walking distance. I have always lived in cities, even when I traveled to other countries. The times I visited the suburbs, I always came back happy that I have never needed to walk more than two blocks to find a store. You cannot buy everything in bulk. A grocery store nearby is necessary. I spoke to someone who lives in London. He said that the fees are significant for companies that have a lot of vehicles, such as a telephone company. Since many people don't drive into the city every day, congestion pricing will probably reduce traffic by no more than 10 or 15%. If there were no parking lots, double-parking would skyrocket. Even if trucks were gone before 8AM, you would probably have a proliferation of full-size vans and minivans shuttling back and forth collecting consumer goods for current that have been depleted but must wait until the next delivery.

    Seeing how companies in New Jersey move just about anywhere they please without regards for the workforce's transportation problems, you would think that many Manhattan companies would do the same and move to the suburbs. Apparently, this is not possible for all types industries, many of which have a deeply engrained need to see their clients within the next 15 minutes to talk about things that cannot/shouldn't be discussed over the phone, sent over the fax, or e-mail, etc.

    Personally, I thought charging tolls on the bridges was the way to go.