Hakeem Jeffries Stands With Westchester on Congestion Pricing

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With a massive, mid-day traffic jam on the Brooklyn Bridge helping to set the scene, Richard Brodsky kicked off his City Hall press conference yesterday with an invitation to the scores of civic groups pushing for congestion pricing. Or maybe it was a threat.

Opposition to congestion pricing in Albany, Brodsky said, is "deepening and solidifying." Time is running out. Thirty Assembly members were signed on in support of his latest alternative traffic plan. It was time, Brodsky said, for "the environmental groups" to get on board because his was the only traffic mitigation plan that "can gain broad support in Albany."

That plan, which can be downloaded here, has three parts to it: Increase the cost of taxis; more enforcement of traffic violations and higher fines; and a crackdown on government employee parking placards. It's a plan that Brodsky himself acknowledges "is not perfect" and "does not raise enough to fund the MTA Capital Plan." It also forces New York City to forfeit $354.5 million in federal transportation funds and does nothing to discourage private motor vehicles from continuing to clog city streets. And though he constantly criticized the Traffic Mitigation Commission's 94-page recommendation for lacking details and leaving too many unanswered questions, Brodsky's own 7-pager apparently will suffice.

Transportation policy wonks looking for a silver-lining to Brodsky's enforcement-based traffic mitigation plan won't find it in the form of red light and bus lane cameras. New York City has been trying to get automated enforcement cameras out of Albany for something like 15 years now. Sorry. They may be saving lives and reducing traffic enforcement costs in other cities but the Assemblyman from Westchester has civil liberties concerns. He'll allow New York City to have 100 more parking agents and 30 more police officers for traffic enforcement. No matter that cops handing out traffic tickets during rush hour would cause congestion, not ease it.

30_04hakeemjeffries_i.jpgThere were no cameras and maybe two reporters at the press conference. Most of the bodies in the photo above belong to Environmental Defense staffers and members of the Campaign for New York's Future. The same small group of legislators -- Lancman, Dinowitz, Maisel, Fidler and Weprin stood up and said the same things they've been saying for months now. There was, however, a new face in the crowd. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Richard Brodsky, who happens to represent the New York metropolitan region's wealthiest car commuters, was Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (right), representing Prospect Hts., Bed-Stuy, Clinton Hill and vicinity.

Speaking on behalf of a district where 70 percent of households do not own a car, where only 2.2 percent of daily commuters drive alone to work in the pricing zone, where the households that do own a vehicle earn nearly twice as much as the ones that don't, Jeffries said that he opposes congestion pricing because, among other reasons, "it's unfair to working families."

After the presser, Jeffries elaborated. The "disingenuousness of the process" bothered him. Even after all of the issues raised at the public hearings, the Traffic Commission came back with a plan that, Jeffries believes, fundamentally only offered improvements for Manhattan residents -- a geographic reduction of the pricing zone, the elimination of the $4 fee for drivers who live inside the zone, and an automatic charge for drivers crossing the East River Bridges.

Jeffries didn't seem to know that the Commission had replaced the $4 "intrazonal charge" with major increases in the cost of parking inside the zone, all of which would go towards paying for streetscape improvements citywide. 

Nor did Jeffries appear to be informed of the benefits congestion pricing could deliver to Flatbush Avenue, the congested, dysfunctional thruway that runs the entire length of his district. Something like forty percent of the morning traffic on Flatbush Avenue is nothing but thru-traffic. These drivers from Long Island and South Brooklyn -- Fidler and Maisel's constituents are among them, as it happens -- know Jeffries' district as nothing more than a doormat for the free East River bridges. Congestion pricing would push some number of these drivers over to the Battery Tunnel, onto transit or into a carpool.

Congestion pricing provides Jeffries' district with more than just traffic reduction. Flatbush Avenue's B41 is number one on the list of bus routes that will be beefed up with the $354.5 million federal grant. And Brooklyn's first-ever Bus Rapid Transit route, one of five routes citywide, is slated to run through Jeffries' district, along Bedford and Nostrand Avenues. That project will be paid for by congestion pricing money too. The Department of Transportation is also looking at parts of Jeffries' district for a possible residential parking permit program to help protect neighborhoods from park-and-ride commuters.

Yet, there was Hakeem Jeffries standing on the steps of City Hall with representatives of some of the wealthiest, most car-dependent Assembly districts in the entire metropolitan region, opposing a plan that would bring new transit service and residential parking permits while reducing he daily seige of single passenger vehicles rolling through his constituents' neighborhoods on their way to the free East River bridges.

So, whose job is it to talk to guys like Jeffries and make sure they are well informed about congestion pricing?