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.