Saturday, September 3rd, 2005
now browsing by day
The apparent success in London of congestion-based pricing in reducing traffic to the central business district has once again stimulated the ivory tower dwellers to champion it as the savior of Midtown Manhattan. I want to express my dismay over this concept, but I’ll restrict myself to the traffic issues, and will not address the outcry from small business owners in London about the reduction in trade, or their intentions to relocate their establishments.
First and foremost, New York isn’t London. What works there is unlikely to work here. Despite all indications to the contrary, New York City is a part of the United States. The culture of the automobile in the USA is much more deeply ingrained here than in Britain. People will not give up their cars for just a slight increase in costs once they are already in Manhattan. Many of the vehicles which would be targeted by congestion-based pricing would also find a way to pass on these costs to a third party. There needs to be a broader spectrum of disincentives in order to reduce the volume of traffic in Manhattan.
That is what is involved here. The only solution to traffic in this city is the preventing the entry of at least 20,000 of the current number of single-passenger automobiles through the various river crossings. New York is an island, remember. London may be bifurcated by a river, but it is effectively a mainland city. New York is an archipelago, a collection of islands of which Manhattan is the most densely occupied.
Commercial and livery traffic are vital to the economic health of the island, of the city as a whole, and of the entire metropolitan region. Any program whose disincentives apply to those components of vehicle traffic will have wide-ranging, negative economic impact. In fact, one of the central tenets of any traffic reduction plan must be to make commercial deliveries and shared passenger service faster, easier, and cheaper. Congestion-based pricing does not even discuss this aspect, except to make a weak apology for the negative commercial impact it inflict.
Manhattan has seven toll bridge and tunnel crossings and at least six free bridge crossings. In order to reduce the volume of single-passenger, private automobiles entering the island, reduction measures must be implemented at or before these crossings.
New York also has a significant network of public and private mass transit services. This network is prevented from reaching its full potential by various policies which actually encourage driving into Manhattan. On-street parking in Manhattan, lax or misdirected enforcement of parking regulations, inadequate or unavailable parking at suburban train stations, low bridge and tunnel tolls, prioritization of transportation funding towards automobile-oriented systems, and, last, but not least, the gross waste and mismanagement at the MTA, the umbrella agency for the transit network. Creating a better balance between personal and mass transit would be the most effective step in reducing Manhattan congestion.
I have two simple proposals in place of the congestion pricing scheme.
1. Prohibit private passenger automobiles from the free crossings between 5AM and 3PM, Monday through Saturday. This would significantly reduce the crossing times for commercial and livery traffic, one of the most onerous parts of the trip into and out of Manhattan. As for enforcement, the combination of police patrol vehicles and EZPass detectors would prove adequate. Enforcement might not be 100% effective, but any individual driver would know the odds and would be risking getting away with an illicit crossing versus a fairly high fine (and points?).
2. Increase private automobile tolls on the current toll crossings to $20 during the above periods. This would discourage single-passenger vehicles while having a minimal impact on carpools.
It would be prudent, at minimum, to also take steps to address the mass transit disincentives. The reality is that there is no political will to create the consensus required to do so. Perhaps the implementation of my two proposals would drive enough additional traffic towards mass transit to create that kind of constituency, but I doubt it.