Unlocking Gridlock in New York

Last week’s press in New York is judging Mayor Bloomberg’s Congestion Pricing proposal (part of PlaNYC) far less harshly that the British press has criticized Mayor Livingstone’s efforts in London. Is this a sign of greater trust of government in the U.S. as compared to the UK, a reflection of the greater social maturity of New Yorkers, or is it due only to the sobering and compounding fears of Global Warming? While I dare hope it is some of the second, I suspect it is mostly the latter.

I usually see little popular press that does not misconstrue one aspect or another of the value or intention of congestion pricing – even when it comes down in favor. Last week was an exception.

From the City Desk of NYT: Unlocking Gridlock understands that congestion pricing is not synonymous with a tax-grab on the working poor.

Opponents of the plan, particularly those in car-dependent Queens, are flat wrong in calling the fee a tax on the working class. With the additional investment in rapid bus routes, ferries and transit links, workers would benefit from more choices.

Full marks.

Another article has the mayor explaining the emissions-asthma connection to a church group. Nice to bring home the message that our cars today are harming our own kids’ health.

Imposing congestion fees, the mayor said, “will encourage people to take mass transit, it will give us the money to build more mass transit, it will clean the air and give our children much better air to breathe — and also for adults, incidentally.”

He didn’t even need to bring up the terrible toll in wasted time and fuel that congestion brings. He did point out, however, that he actually has a moral obligation:

“In my faith … there is a religious obligation … to make the world whole, or to correct error[s] and end injustice. And that responsibility is found among people of good will in every faith.”

Nice touch.

An even bigger surprise is that at least one blog, the Gothamist, attracted a majority of pro-comments. The balance, here, far outstripped anything I have seen in the UK. It may be premature, but New Yorkers in 2007 do not at all look like the grousing Londoners of 2002 (or 2007, for that matter).

Here is an example of New York thoughtful street debate rather than the fist-shaking drivel common to the UK online news commenters:

“I am on the fence on this one, but the "inconvenient truth" about this scheme is that commuters from outside Manhattan will more than likely drive into the boroughs and park there increasing traffic and pollution in the streets of those areas, effectively exporting it from Manhattan. The reason I say this is suburban commuters who have to own a car to survive will not [want to] pay hundreds of bucks a month for a monthly train ticket in addition to their car payments, insurance, etc. They will drive into Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx and then take a subway from there, making transit more crowded for those residents as well, while Manhattan becomes a playground for wealthy folks to zoom around in unencumbered. – [Sammy | April 23, 2007]

Sammy: I realize [I’m] one of the few, but I actually own a car, [make] monthly payments … plus insurance... however, I also pay $250 a month for a monthly train pass, and $76 for the metrocard to get to work every morning. I absolutely abhor driving in traffic every morning to get to work...although its easier to drive, my sanity has been kept in check because I do not have to sit in traffic for hours on end. Also, with gas prices the way they are, plus tolls, the cost of my commute is roughly equal to what I pay for mass transit. – [K. | April 23, 2007]

Not only does K point out that you can’t beat the congestion equation with a car, but Sammy also points out a very important problem: Congestion pricing now only keeps some cars at home, it also shifts some around. Planners need to anticipate and address additional parking requirements at the middle and outer reaches of the transit system in addition to additional transit capacity. People like Sammy need to know this is going to happen.

Intelligent debate beats ranting anytime.

Renews my faith in America, this does.

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