Opinion: Congestion indigestion

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

“The main arteries are clogged. The blockages are serious. We must reduce the congestion. We are choking from volume.”

If you thought this was dialogue from the TV show “ER,” you could be excused.

Rather these are statements from reports about the traffic conditions especially in Manhattan’s core.

The latest remediation to our transportation and corresponding air quality woes has been proposed by Governor Cuomo and endorsed by Mayor de Blasio. It is being hotly debated in the State Legislature this month.

In a nutshell, the policy prescription is to try to discourage motorists from driving into midtown Manhattan by imposing a new toll on those who enter the designated “zone.” It’s called “Congestion Pricing.” Its purpose is to use that new revenue source to support our mass transit system and its buses, subways and infrastructure.

Although the governor should be given credit for trying something, he is on the wrong track. Supporting mass transit is everybody’s concern and the responsibility for funding it should also be borne by everybody proportionately. That is what our progressive tax system is for: to identify common problems and paying for them equitably.

It will take additional billions of dollars each year for a decade to bring our antiquated mass transit system into the 21st century.

The fairest way to do that is by adding a dedicated surcharge to city taxes both personal and corporate.

It is of course the affluent in a progressive tax system who will pay more, but they are the ones who use cars, limos and SUVs to get around the city. In many cases those high priced and eco-unfriendly automobiles are already in the zone and some never leave the zone. So under the governor’s plan they would not be charged for driving around midtown Manhattan.

We should also reinstate the commuter tax on suburban residents who work in New York City and consume our city services. They also heavily rely on, and benefit from a modern and dependable mass transit.

The other thing is that the advent of new pedestrian street plazas and the diminished driving spaces to make room for new bicycle lanes has only narrowed and constricted vehicular traffic patterns.

There is no evidence or data which substantiates that the Citi Bike program has lessened the volume of cars. Persons who use bikes as an alternative means of getting around Manhattan are not doing so in place of automobiles but rather in place of using buses and subways. Consequently, there is virtually no decrease in traffic congestion. So we need to rethink the use of our public roads.

If we get serious about investing new dollars into our mass transit system to make it efficient, safe and comfortable, we just might encourage more persons to use our buses and subways as opposed to private vehicles.

And if we establish sensible rules for truck traffic and deliveries and crack down on double parking and idling of those big vehicles as well as reasonably limiting new taxi and private for hire cars on our streets, that just might be the arterial bypass and remedy that the doctor ordered.

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6 thoughts on “Opinion: Congestion indigestion

  1. Note: it appears that in many cases passenger traffic is shifting around among Uber/Lyft shared rides, CitiBike rides, and subway/bus transit service, where bus service is dropping off fast but there are MORE trips overall in the areas served by the shared taxi companies and by CitiBike service. Additional shared taxis do contribute to congestion; bicycles and their lanes, largely, do not. (DOT has measured the latter & found no noticeable slowdown in traffic on avenues before/after modifications that added bus lanes, pedestrian islands and bicycle lanes; it’s a muddled issue because they usually add so much at once, but to the extent that one would claim that a bike lane caused congestion, the evidence unanimously points to the opposite)

    DOT has shared this data with Community Board Six on many occasions, and they’re more reluctant to move forward with any of this than we are.

    We need to solve the issues with bus surface transit fast. Congestion pricing is, at least, a solution that doesn’t involve draconian restrictions; alternate options include limited access transitways (e.g. 14th Street being proposed as a busway + delivery trips and emergency response traffic only) or limited-access hours for regular passenger traffic (e.g. a policy like “odd numbered license plates on Monday, even numbered plates on Tuesday, and no out-of-state plates 8am-6pm M-F” – something a lot of large cities do when the central districts have limited street access). The pushback, I might remind everyone, is on a daily additional toll of $5.50 for drivers who come into Manhattan using a non-tolled traffic facility (which means anyone currently using the Queens Midtown Tunnel, the Lincoln/Holland Tunnels or the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel is going to see little or no cost impact) – people will pay $14 for a salad but not $5.50 to add funding to the transit system that 97% of us rely on for daily commuting. That said, I think $5.50 is a more flexible solution than simply banning the traffic to make room for the buses and ambulances.

    I would be happy to discuss this further.

    • Anyone who does not believe that bike lanes contribute to congestion should take a look at what has happened on 20th Street east of 1st Ave.

  2. Hi! Just 2 my 2 cents- it’s great to hear the kids playing from local schools on M level of 450 East 20th during school hours. As we know, out door space is very limited for the school kids and it’s great to utilize our parks to the max! Have a great day, Karen

    >

  3. “If we get serious about investing new dollars into our mass transit system…” Of course. More money is always the answer from politicians and ex-politicians. But where is that money coming from? The people. You and I. Thank you. Can I have more abuse, please?

  4. 97% of people use public transportation? The average is closer to 70%. The number has been dwindling for years due to poor service. Rather than tax people who use cars to get around Manhattan, more than likely for their jobs, bring back the commuter tax. I know our governor wouldn’t want that as it’s not politically advantageous to do so but it would generate millions. Cut back the number of Lyft/Uber drivers. Stand on a corner of Manhattan and watch the cars. It seems to be 3/5 cars are livery drivers.

    While something must be done, congestion pricing is not the answer and neither are the bike lanes which have only added to congestion in their current configurations. Trucks making deliveries have no place to park so oftentimes have to block the bike lanes. {People getting out of cars open their doors directly into the bike lane causing hazards to both cyclists and drivers/passengers. Cars should be parked at the curb; not in the middle of the street. Mr. Sanders is correct in stating that CitiBike has not done anything to ease congestion. If anything, it has added to it by inept bicyclists who don’t think that traffic laws apply to them.

    • Totally agree with Anakela. Get rid of Uber and Lyft (or at least cut back on them) and get rid of the bike lanes. Uber and bike lanes were inflicted upon us by Bloomberg, the little billionaire megalomaniac who purchased an illegal third term, notwithstanding that the voters had overwhelmingly voted in favor of term limits. Twice, I believe. I see more bicycles on the sidewalks than in the bike lanes. Even those who use the bike lanes don’t stop at traffic lights and many of them go the wrong way. They should at least have to be licensed and INSURED.

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