The issue comes down to incentives. The study, performed by Sam Schwarz Engineering, on behalf of the Hudson Square Business Improvement District (BID), notes that since 1986, when the Verrazano stopped collecting tolls in both directions, and began charging a double-toll on westbound-traffic, both vehicular volume and statistics about accidents have spiked upward.
The incentive behind the mayhem is that traffic (especially large trucks, for which bridge and tunnel tolls are much costlier) seeks the path of least expense. As a result, each day, more than 1,000 trucks making a round trip between New York and New Jersey cross the Verrazano on their way into the City, and then exit via the Holland Tunnel, which collects no toll on westbound traffic, but does charge for vehicles moving eastward.
This counter-clockwise vortex brings into Downtown’s already-congested streets many hundreds of trucks that would otherwise never enter Manhattan, but chose the route because the combination of the free East River crossings, such as the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges, with the Holland Tunnel, gets them to New Jersey free of charge. On the last leg of this journey, vast fleets of trucks use Kenmare, Broome, and Canal Streets as an interstate highway, on their approach to the Holland Tunnel.
Even in 1986, the effects of the change were apparent almost immediately. In the three years before the Verrazano changed it tolls, one pedestrian was killed along Kenmore and Broome Streets. In the years that followed, the rate jumped to an average of one death per year.
And these metrics appears to be trending upward. Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group that aims to wrest control of New York City’s streets from the automobile and supports better bicycling, walking, and public transit, says that on Canal Street alone, there have been 13 pedestrian deaths since 2009, plus more than 120 pedestrian and cyclist injuries since 2013.
All of these would be made less awful, the study by Sam Schwartz Engineering argues, if the Verrazano’s toll was once again collected in both directions, which would remove the inducement to enter New York via that route, and make less onerous the cost of exiting the that way.
But that solution may be a long way off. In the 1986, the United States Congress (responding to complaints from Staten Island residents, who complained about air pollution from Verrazano’s toll plaza) enacted a measure making it illegal for the bridge to charge motorists in both directions.