Sunday, April 22, 2007

Time To Charge Automobiles A Fee To Drive In Manhattan


The sun was bright, the air was warm and pedestrians, cyclists, joggers and pets galore were walking New York City’s streets on Earth Day 2007. In Manhattan’s finely tuned Hudson River waterfront piers and parks, the dawn of Spring was in high evidence as the mosaic that is New York began its thawing process. And, on the Upper West Side at The American Museum of Natural History, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was setting the stage for an even newer season for the city as he went public with a proposal for a visionary but controversial effort to reduce the number of automobiles that come into the crowded streets of Manhattan each day.

If implemented, the market based theory would impose a system whereby motorists pay an $8 fee to enter streets south of 86th Street in Manhattan. Commonly called congestion pricing, the proposal has been floated around New York for quiet a while by a cross section of concerned New Yorkers, environmentalists, alternative transit advocates and even a few well moneyed organizations and individuals including The Partnership for New York City.

Manhattan’s 35 square miles provide the estimated 850 thousand cars that fill its streets daily with an inarguably disproportionate amount square footage in comparison to green space, bike lanes and other human being friendly land for its millions of residents and daily workers. By prioritizing the reduction of automobile traffic, there is the potential to also reduce pollution, improve quality of life, increase safety, conserve energy, reduce noise and introduce a new steady revenue stream that can be used to improve and expand mass transit, especially in areas where commuters into Manhattan may have felt compelled to drive into the city.

The advocacy organization Transportation Alternatives says only 5 percent of daily commuters from Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx and Staten Island drive a car into the Central Business District, the streets where the fee would be imposed.

According to most reports, New York’s plan would be similar to the same system set up by London Mayor Ken Livingstone in that city back in 2003. In London, motorists are charged a fee to enter the Central district from 7 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. Taxicabs, cars used by the disabled, mortorscoters, alternative fuel vehicles, buses and emergency vehicles don’t pay the fee.

As Alan Shurmer of Transport for London said of his city in my 2006 “West Side Spirit” article about a proposed NYC Congestion Pricing system, “less congestion means less traffic, less pollution and fewer accidents, making London a nicer place to work, live and visit.”

Apparently, most New Yorkers do believe if automobile traffic were reduced, their overall quality of life would be better.

In fact, according to a 2004 survey conducted by the nonprofit group Citizens for NYC in cooperation with Baruch College, the problem of street noise and dangerous intersections remains the greatest quality of life issue facing New Yorkers.

With a reduction of traffic and a new revenue stream, the hope is that among other changes, sidewalks might be expanded, more buses and express bus lanes added, bike lanes that are kept clear of parked cars and trucks would become the norm all across town. Perhaps too, New York City will serve as an example for other cities seeking to reduce the ills produced by automobiles.

All of this and more, but, one should keep in mind that this proposal is not just an environmentalist’s dream but a potential solution to a very serious threat. Traffic in New York City is more dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists than for the drivers of automobiles. At countless intersections, human beings dodge automobiles as drivers, often anxious to get to their destination, often forget the power and strength, size, weight and power of the machine they are driving. Children and the elderly, often shorter than others, are especially at risk of the chaos that often defines a busy Manhattan intersection during times of increased traffic.

In 2006, 170 pedestrians were killed and thousands more injured in New York City streets according to Transportation Alternatives. That’s a seven percent increase over 2005.

In the same 2006 “West Side Spirit” article about Congestion Pricing, Transportation Alternative’s Kit Hodge said she didn’t think most New Yorkers were connecting the dots with the “real” human problems that traffic congestion poses to city residents. She believes in the end, if New Yorkers understood the impact traffic has on our health and lives and even the city’s economy, more people would be on board for a congestion pricing system.

In the end, the city must do something to address its traffic problem. A fee on automobile drivers is a minor inconvenience compared to the serious health, economic and quality of life tolls that traffic congestion imposes on city residents. Ultimately, it is time for city residents to educate themselves on this issue, and understand what this tremendous undertaking could mean for its future. And, the city should make and keep a promise, that any revenues provided by such a scheme will be channeled into more efficient mass transit for residents, especially those in the outer boroughs who may feel cheated by such a plan.

Hopefully, if city leaders do arrive at a working consensus that reduces automobile traffic in crowded Manhattan streets, more people will enjoy the renewal and beauty of Spring, not just on the waterfront, but out among the architectural wonders of Manhattan, in its streets, crossing at intersections that are less chaotic, or riding a bicycle on a safe wide bike lane, and in the end, living in a healthier body within an even healthier city .


Gabriel said...

good piece cody. being a motorist, cyclist and pedestrian gives my a pretty well rounded view on the issue and im in agreement. its vital that mass transit become available to locations within the boroughs where it isn't yet and also that service be upgraded where it is currently lacking. i think a bold step like this is what is needed to affect real change. ill cross my fingers.

John said...

If congestion pricing hits, I know I’ll want to park above 86th Street to avoid the $8 fee. Alternatively, the $8 fee can be offset by choosing a less expensive parking garage - I was doing some Googling and found the following site: to compare all parking rates in New York City.

Little Blue PD said...

We all have to wonder what Bloomberg is really thinking of with this congestion pricing tax scheme. Maybe he mostly just wants a new tax. Just wrap it up in 'concern for the environment', and people can just demonize those who oppose it.

If he cares so much about traffic jams, congestion and air pollution, why does he let Park Avenue be blocked off? Why doesn't he do anything about that?

Pershing Square Restaurant blocks Park Avenue going South at 42nd St. for 12 hours a day/6 months of the year! This Causes Massive Congestion & Air Pollution!

But apparently it does not bother NYC's Nanny-in-Chief Mike "Congestion Pricing Tax" Bloomberg? Check out the map!

Check it out!


Little Blue PD


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