New York City and State Are Getting Ready To Implement Congestion Pricing – Which Doesn’t Solve The Underlying Issues And Imposes A Regressive Tax That Punishes All But The Very Wealthy
What I’m about to say will not be popular because most readers do not own a car and live in Manhattan. But if you disagree, don’t bother to write back because you can’t convince me and I probably can’t convince you.
There is a war on cars and their drivers in New York City. And the city’s solution in this war is congestion pricing, which is not the answer.
A preface- I bicycle a minimum of 50 miles a week on city streets. I walk at least another five miles and take public transportation whenever possible. But I also own a car. Why car owners are despised and have scorn heaped upon them I’ve yet to understand. Maybe because so many drivers are dangerous and don’t actually know the proper way to drive. Seeing someone speeding up to a red light is just one of my pet peeves.
It doesn’t take a car driver to notice that in New York City, especially in Manhattan, traffic is moving slower than ever.
Over the last eight years traffic’s gotten progressively worse. At first glance you might say; well there are just too many cars and why should people be driving into Manhattan? Let those who drive in Manhattan pay for the privilege.
There are several things wrong with that logic. Let’s start with the most basic problem.
The city, not the vehicles have purposely made traffic worse.
If you think that this was an unintended consequence think again.
What is causing the actual horrific bumper to bumper traffic? Guess what, it is definitely not passenger automobiles. I long suspected this and now I had to go out and prove it.
I make my own work hours and over the course of a year on several weekdays at various busy times of the day, I stood at a corner and counted vehicles with a couple of pitch count clickers. Sounds exciting doesn’t it?
I counted what types of vehicles were passing. In most cases my stay was about a half an hour where I counted every proceeding or turning vehicle going past the light or turning onto the avenue.
More than 80% of the vehicles were buses, trucks, vans, delivery vehicles, construction vehicles, official city vehicles, taxis or vehicles that had a TLC plate on it. Very few vehicles comprising the traffic was from regular private passenger automobiles.
While this is hardly scientific. I tried this experiment at Second Avenue in the 60s & 70s, Park Avenue in the 60s; Amsterdam Avenue in the 80s; Columbus Avenue in the 70s; Madison Avenue in the 40s and First Avenue in the 70s. The results were all similar.
The problem is not John Q .Public trying to navigate the roads in his car. We are being bamboozled by the state and city being told there are too many cars in Manhattan. No, what caused all the congestion were not cars or even the volume of traffic. Blocked lanes by double parkers and off limits or reduced traffic areas that used to be traffic lanes were the main culprits.
While the details of what a congestion pricing scheme has not yet been unveiled, make no mistake about it – it is a scheme.
A scheme to regressively tax those who need a car to get from place to place. For instance, people who are disabled, sick or handicapped and find it easier to drive themselves than using another method to travel. It is a punitive tax on those who live below 96th Street and need their car to get to work whether out to Long Island, another borough, New Jersey or Connecticut. Congestion pricing means either leaving Manhattan to go to work and coming back in you will be charged. This is in addition to any bridge, tunnel or other road toll charges. Then there are family members who must come in to the city to take care of someone and public transportation is not a viable option.
Who will really pay for congestion pricing?
Anyone not in the upper class. Millionaires like saving money but, what difference does an $8.00 charge to drive past 96th Street mean to somebody driving a Cadillac Escalade or Mercedes Benz?
The regular car owner who will continue to drive and pay this regressive tax is going to be one of three types of people: outrageously wealthy, those who need to go to work or drivers from other states who have decided to take their cars into Manhattan.
Not withstanding some sort of exemptions for people who either; live in Manhattan, or one of the five boroughs or below 96th Street – congestion pricing essentially makes every car owner in Manhattan a prisoner on the island. Pay or you can’t drive.
“There’s no good solution.”
I have a good friend who knows someone who worked for the city, high up at a relevant department. They are still working for the city and this person provided some insight.
All of these changes or so-called improvements that have occurred over the last five to ten years were designed to make traffic impossible to navigate and bring about the “solution” of congestion pricing.
I asked for details and did a short Q&A on the condition of anonymity.
SNCA- Why would the city want to create worse traffic?
Relevant City Employee- That has never been overtly stated by anyone in the department I worked for. But it has long been known that bad city traffic could lead to a revenue stream. Revenue is the main concern.
SNCA- The city obviously needs the money?
RCE – Always. As the money fluctuates in Federal and State aid, the city needs additional ways to generate revenue. Usually in the form of higher fees and taxation.
SNCA – But why let traffic get worse?
RCE – Bad traffic a byproduct of city policy. Each step to improve traffic was another way of discouraging people to use their cars. In the meantime the infrastructure has been neglected or put off indefinitely; not because it wasn’t important, the money just wasn’t there. Public transportation suffers and people see with their own eyes the traffic getting worse.
Then there is pedestrian safety. When it comes to the mayor’s Vision Zero plan, you will never eliminate pedestrian traffic fatalities.
SNCA- So what is the solution for all this traffic?
RCE- I don’t know. There are too many vehicles and not enough road. What can be done? The city’s answer is to encourage alternate means of transportation. Let’s create more dedicated bus lanes. But, now we have to restrict or move parking spots. Look at what has happened in Woodhaven Queens. The merchants are losing business because there is no parking and traffic is snarled worse than ever.
Then there was an initiative to encourage cycling and exercise. We’ll install bicycle kiosks and create bicycle lanes on the streets. By doing so we also eliminated a lot of parking spaces.
Traffic slows down significantly with each of these improvements.
SNCA- But do the improvements work?
RCE- Yes and no. More people are bicycling, but studies have shown that the buses generally do not use the bus lanes and trucks double parking while making deliveries have increased dramatically.
A lot of people don’t know this, but the largest corporate offenders with double parking violations end up settling with the city each year and only pay a small fraction of the actual fines. That’s why you don’t see any attempt by UPS or Fresh Direct to move their trucks when threatened with a ticket.
The reduction of lanes in Manhattan is what causes traffic to almost comes to a standstill.
The mayor and the governor can now say ‘traffic has gotten so bad we have no choice but to implement a congestion pricing plan.’ But wasn’t that the intention all along? It’s just done with a wink and a nod. The city created this situation with their traffic policies, The State legislature has to okay it, but I think some form of congestion pricing is unfortunately inevitable.
So how did the traffic “improvements” hurt? Here is the “formula”:
First – Take away traffic lanes. Eliminate entire lanes of traffic as has been done on upper Broadway and on main thoroughfares such as 14th, 23rd, 34th, 79th and 86th Streets. Create malls in the center of streets to narrow traffic from two lanes to one. Put in left and right only turn lanes. All done in the name of pedestrian safety. Double parking will continue and get ticketed and vehicles will have to go into oncoming traffic.
Second – Institute dedicated bus lanes that the buses generally ignore. See for yourself as the bus you ride almost never uses the bus lane. Many of these bus lanes are in effect not just during weekday rush hours, but inexplicably 24 – 7. Dedicated bus lanes have a eliminated not just one traffic lane, but two on most avenues. Why? Because trucks and vans making deliveries will not double park in the bus lane because the fines are higher in the bus lane. So they double park outside the bus lane. Geniuses.
Third – Create dedicated bicycle lanes which fulfills objective one. Again you have taken away another lane of traffic. A problem? Yes – Pedestrians aimlessly wander into the bike lanes oftentimes staring at a mobile device or obliviously talking. Pedestrians wander into the additional crosswalk the city has installed without looking but also into the bicycle lanes in the middle of the block. Car doors open up and drivers get out without looking. Motorized delivery bicycles zip by cyclists at speeds of 30 miles per hour. It is actually safer for cyclists and pedestrians in shared lanes rather than dedicated lanes.
Fourth – Now, eliminate as much parking as possible. This means taking away spots for bus lanes, thousands of Citibike stalls, left turn lanes, expanded sidewalks where you kick out the curbs further on corners. Then throw in some new restrictive parking regulations. Now you have vehicles looking for parking, driving around for longer periods of time trying to get a spot, creating more traffic.
Fifth – Issue over 100.000 permits for Uber, Lyft and Via drivers to constantly be on city streets even when they don’t have fares. This is in addition to the thousands of private car services. Forget about the fact that the city has ruined the livelihoods of yellow cab drivers and made their medallion values plummet.
Sixth – Lower the speed limit, even in places where pedestrians are not present and eliminate staggered lights to discourage vehicles from proceeding at a steady rate of travel. This way vehicles can sit at lights increasing emissions. Keeping traffic from flowing smoothly by instituting more stoppages actually creates more pollution from idling vehicles. Does that make sense?
Seventh – Close additional traffic lanes when doing building construction. Look around the city. With all the construction happening there not only is an abundance of scaffolding but construction sites that take up more than one lane of traffic and encroach into two lanes, especially on the avenues. God forbid you get behind a truck waiting to make its building supply delivery on a side street when the drop off site is already occupied.
What this “formula” does is create a quagmire of non-moving traffic. You can outwalk a city bus at the rate they travel.
The city has eliminated literally half the parking in Manhattan with its improvements. Now they will implement congestion pricing.
It’s all too much for this New Yorker. The decline of mom and pop shops, the insane taxes, the overdevelopment of sunlight robbing towers, the constant police surveillance state. This is not the New York I grew up in.
Congestion pricing will be the straw that breaks this camels back.