Washington Okays Congestion Pricing Program that Local Leaders Fear will Penalize Lower Manhattan Residents
Mitch Frohman: “So this is going to be great for rich people, who can afford to pay for convenience, to have less traffic. It will be better for them, and worse for everybody else. It’s a classist program.”
The prospect of Lower Manhattan residents being penalized for the privilege of driving to or from their homes moved a step closer to reality on Tuesday, when the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) sent word to City and State officials that they would allow the congestion pricing plan, devised by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, to move forward under the less rigorous of two possible environmental oversight standards.
The FHWA, an arm of the federal Department of Transportation, decided to allow New York to move ahead under the looser benchmark of an environmental assessment, rather than a full environmental impact statement. “An Environmental Assessment generally requires less time to complete than an Environmental Impact Statement, should no significant impacts be identified,” the agency said in a statement.
Washington’s permission is required because federal law restricts the imposition of tolls on roads that are built or maintained, even in part, with federal funds, or are considered part of the interstate highway system (which falls within federal jurisdiction). An online map illustrating roads that come under the purview of FHWA shows that dozens of local streets fall into this category. In addition to the predictable names (such as West and Canal Streets, and the FDR Drive), there are some counterintuitive entries, such as Broadway and West Broadway, as well as Church, Chambers, Warren, Water, and Pearl Streets.
In response to the federal ruling, Governor Andrew Cuomo acknowledged that, “we received word from the Biden Administration that the U.S. Department of Transportation will allow New York State to proceed with the federally required Environmental Assessment and public outreach for the nation’s first congestion pricing program in New York City.”
“Congestion pricing is an internationally proven method to reduce traffic congestion, enhance the availability and reliability of public transportation, and improve our air quality, and it will play a critical role as New York and the nation begin to recover from the pandemic and build back stronger and better than before,” he noted. “This advancement is also another step forward in generating the $15 billion the state needs to fund the MTA’s five-year $51.5 billion capital plan, which will transform the accessibility, reliability and convenience of the system for users of all ages and abilities.”
Originally slated to launch early this year, the project was delayed by the pandemic coronavirus and by hostility from the administration of then-President Donald Trump. Even under the less-onerous standard okayed by FHWA, the plan still faces multiple hurdles. The environmental assessment is slated to take at least three months (possibly much longer), and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)—which will implement congestion pricing—has yet to appoint the legally required Traffic Mobility Review Board. That panel, which will set toll prices while also determining who must pay these levies and who will be exempt from them, is legally required to hold multiple public meetings. Under the revised timetable, MTA officials now expect that the program will go into effect sometime in 2023.
Also possibly standing in the way of congestion pricing is the prospect of multiple lawsuits. Commuters from the outer boroughs and suburbs argue that the program amounts to a tax on commuters. And legal action is also possible by Lower Manhattan residents, many of whom contend that they will be treated unfairly if they are not offered an exemption.
At a March 2020 meeting of the Transportation Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1), Justine Cuccia observed, “it’s not about commuting to work. That’s not the only criterion. That’s not what bothers me. Going to my doctor appointments, coming to and leaving the city, shopping. The cost of my food, the cost of my deliveries. The cost of food coming into Gristede’s or Whole Foods, all of those come from outside. All of those costs are going to be borne by people who live in the district.”
Committee member Marc Ameruso said, “if you live within the district and you own a car, why should you have to pay congestion pricing? You live here!”
“So this is going to be great for rich people, who can afford to pay for convenience to have less traffic,” said Mitch Frohman. “It will be better for them, and worse than everybody else. It’s a classist program.”
Other Lower Manhattan residents are supportive of the plan.
“No part of the city stands to gain more from congestion pricing than Lower Manhattan, now overrun by excess traffic drawn by our free East River bridges, but served by multiple subways that the toll revenues will revitalize,” said Tribeca resident Charles Komanoff, a transportation economist and advocate. “Car and truck volumes on the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges will drop 20 percent, and that’s before subway improvements lure more drivers out of cars. Our streets and roads will be safer, cleaner and quieter, not to mention less-gridlocked. Fairness is bigger than my wallet or your pocketbook.”
A CB1 resolution enacted in 2018 noted that “other major cities, such as London, Singapore and Stockholm, have successfully implemented a congestion pricing plan along with significant discounts to those living in the congestion zone. London’s plan, for example, offers a 90 percent discount, and substantial discounts are routinely offered even in New York such as [to] Staten Island residents using the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge.”
Indeed, the most recent round of toll increases for bridges and tunnels operated by the MTA actually contains a further rollback to tolls for Staten Island residents using the Verrazzano Bridge. When the toll for that span jumped to $19 in 2019, Governor Andrew Cuomo froze the resident rate at $5.50. This translates to a discount that effectively increased from 68 percent to 72 percent. Mr. Cuomo justified this preferential treatment for Staten Island residents (who cannot drive onto or off of their island borough without paying a toll) by saying, “the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge is a critical link between Staten Island and the rest of New York, and residents don’t deserve to be nickel and dimed every time they cross it.” He added that the discount for residents, “is the right and fair thing to do and will ensure Staten Islanders keep more money in their pockets.”
Justine Cuccia, speaking at a March 2020 meeting of the CB1 Transportation Committee: “We should ask for as much of an exemption as we possibly can. Our job is to advocate for this community and our constituents within CB1.
The conversation I want to have is what is best for the people who live in CB1.”
At this point, no such exemption is planned for residents of Lower Manhattan, who will, like Staten Island dwellers, be effectively trapped within the toll zone (a cordon that will begin at 59th Street), unable to drive in or out without paying a fee that may be as high as $11.52, according to a preliminary version of the congestion pricing plan. An additional variant of the proposal would charge residents for driving their cars on any street within the toll zone, even if they do not cross its boundaries.
The current absence of any carve-out for people who live within the toll zone is a departure from prevailing practice in multiple other locations around the City and the State, in addition to Staten Island. For example, Queens residents of the Rockaways and Broad Channel pay $1.41 to traverse the Gil Hodges Memorial or Cross Bay Bridges, a discount of 67 percent from the full toll of $4.25. More generous still is the exemption for Bronx residents crossing the Henry Hudson Bridge, traveling to or from Manhattan. Under a deal negotiated by State Assembly member Jeffrey Dinowitz in 2019, they are entitled to a 100 percent rebate on the $7.00 toll that everybody else pays. (The contrast is especially noteworthy in that Bronx residents are given this preferential treatment even though they are not hemmed in by toll bridges. The Broadway Bridge, located a quarter of a mile to the east of the Henry Hudson, is free to all vehicles.)
The lack of any local exemption could weigh heavily on Lower Manhattan communities where car ownership is higher than the norm for Manhattan as a whole. A 2015 study by the online real estate research site, AddressReport.com, found that Tribeca and Battery Park City are the two neighborhoods with the highest rates of car ownership anywhere in the borough, with 36 percent and 28 percent of households reporting that they keep at least one car. Conversely, the same report found that the Financial District has the second-lowest prevalence of car ownership in Manhattan, with only 14 percent of households reporting that they have a car.
At the CB1 meeting last March, Ms. Cuccia said, “my position is going to be that we should ask for as much of an exemption as we possibly can. The balancing should be on the shoulders of the Mobility Review Board. Our job is to advocate for this community and our constituents within CB1. The conversation I want to have is what is best for the people who live in CB1.”
Editor’s note: The writer is related to Ms. Cuccia.
To the editor:
In support of DOT returning the space under the Brooklyn Bridge for the skateboarders to use, the newly opened Peck Slip Park has now turned into a skateboard park.
The design of the new park is a skateboarders dream with sleek pavers. The children in the area, especially the school children, are now in danger of being hurt. Unfortunately the new park was poorly designed.
Governor Opens Hurricane Maria Memorial
On Friday, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the opening of the Hurricane Maria Memorial in Battery Park City, located at the corner of Chambers Street and River Terrace. Mr. Cuomo made this announcement at an unrelated event in the Bronx, which was closed to the press, as has become the embattled Governor’s custom in recent weeks, while he faces multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, along with allegations that his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic led to thousands of deaths in New York that might otherwise have been prevented. To read more…
Pearl of Wisdom
Brewer Pushes for FiDi Thoroughfare to Be Made Pedestrian-Friendly in Perpetuity
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is pushing the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio to expand and make permanent a trial implementation of the Open Street program in Lower Manhattan. Since last summer, the City’s Department of Transportation (DOT) has each day restricted vehicular access to Pearl Street, between Broad Street and Hanover Square, from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm and again from 5:00 pm to 11:00 pm To read more…
Alliance For Downtown New York Hosts 2021 Shred-A-Thon
And Clothing Drop-Off
After a year like the one we all just endured and the promise of a brighter day emerging, the idea of “spring cleaning” takes on new energy and meaning.
Now is the time to round up all the old clothes and unwanted documents that have been piling up and bring them over to Fulton Street (between Cliff and Gold Streets) for the Downtown Alliance’s annual dual shred-a-thon and clothing drop-off Saturday, April 17 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
A shredding truck parked on Fulton Street will securely dispose of and recycle all your sensitive documents, tax receipts, junk mail and old bills.
The Alliance is also partnering with NYC clothing recycler Wearable Collections, which is providing a bin to collect all dry, used clean clothing including shoes, sneakers, belts and hats, as well as household items such as linens, towels and handbags.
Rain or shine, the Alliance will be there to dispose of your much-loved old outfits and no-longer-needed memories, minus a few items (e.g., carpeting, rugs, bath mats, comforters, pillows, large luggage). This spring will be even sweeter when you’ve got some extra space.
One Act of Kindness
Matt Keating is a singer/songwriter who lives in Lower Manhattan with his wife Emily. In a recent post on Facebook, he described his friendship with a man who took shelter outside his building, and how he helped this man receive his federal stimulus check.
This is my neighbor Jamal. We became friends about a month ago when I met him taking shelter outside of my building under the construction scaffolding that’s been put up for a while now. He is currently without a home and asks politely for any help from me whenever I walk by so I started giving him something every once in a while whenever I had it. He was very grateful and we struck up a conversation about politics and the current situation of inequality in this country.
About two weeks ago, as Emily and I were leaving to do our weekly visit to the Union Square Farmers Market, he came up to us and showed us that his shoes were falling apart. His soles were flapping and it was wet out. To read more…
The U.S. Navy SEALs who killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in his compound in Pakistan also gathered valuable intelligence on al-Qaeda. Nelly Lahoud, a senior fellow in New America’s International Security program, who has read all of the seized documents—hundreds of thousands of pages—discusses her forthcoming book, Eighteen Minutes: Bin Laden’s Abbottabad Papers, about what these materials reveal. Free
Local Leaders Get Irredentist to Reclaim Park Space Dispossessed for a Decade
Community Board 1 (CB1) wants the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio to give back park space beneath the Brooklyn Bridge that was “temporarily” closed more than a decade ago. The area, informally known as “Brooklyn Banks,” is an iconic destination for skateboarders, because the streetscape provides an undulating terrain of ramps, rails, ledges, and jumps. Long before any of these stunts were legal in New York, boarders from around the United States would come to the City to compete there, and connect with one another. To read more…
CLASSIFIEDS & PERSONALS
Swaps & Trades, Respectable Employment, Lost and Found
Turn-of-the-season dazzle: brightest stars, vivid constellations, and rusty-gold Mars
The calendar in the night sky marks Spring Equinox evenings with the rising of golden Arcturus, the second brightest star in our sky. Sunset is at 7:11 this evening and about a minute later each day going forward.
As twilight deepens, about an hour after sunset, gold-to-red twinkling Arcturus climbs above the northeastern horizon. The great star, -0.05 magnitude, appears later over obstructed views. To be sure to locate Arcturus at any time of night, follow the diagram at the top of this page. On spring evenings, the Big Dipper can be found high in the sky from the northeast to southeast. Trace the arc of its handle down to “arc to Arcturus”.
On Friday, for the second time in three weeks, a task force of New York City sheriffs shut down an illegal bar and nightclub in Tribeca. At 11:30 pm, half a dozen sheriffs entered One Harrison Street (at the corner of Hudson Street), ordered more than 120 patrons to disperse, and arrested five of the party’s organizers, charging them with violations of emergency health orders related to the pandemic, selling liquor without a license, selling liquor to minors, and dispensing cannabis products to minors, along with various vice and health-code violations. To read more…
9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Report
More Survivors than Responders Now are Submitting Claims
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) has released its annual report for 2020, which documents some significant developments.
Over the course of its ten years of operation thus far, the VCF has awarded $7.76 billion to more than 34,400 individuals who have suffered death or personal injury as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath. The vast majority of these injuries take the form of illness caused by exposure to toxic materials that were released by the destruction of the World Trade Center.