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When Will Western Queens Assembly Members Sign on to Move NY?

Members of the Riders Alliance and Transportation Alternatives' Queens Committee rallied for toll reform at the foot of the Triborough Bridge on Saturday. Photo: David Meyer

Members of the Riders Alliance and Transportation Alternatives’ Queens Committee rallied for toll reform at the foot of the Triborough Bridge on Saturday. Photo: David Meyer

With the clock winding down on the legislative session in Albany, Queens activists are making the case for the Move NY toll reform package. Volunteers with the Riders Alliance and Transportation Alternatives rallied at the foot of the Triborough Bridge Saturday to call for a tolling system that works better for drivers and transit riders than the city’s current hodgepodge of free bridges and priced MTA crossings.

Neighborhoods in western Queens are overrun by traffic heading to and from the free Queensboro Bridge. Move NY would put a price on that crossing, greatly reducing congestion in the area. But so far, State Senator Jose Peralta, whose district includes the northern part of Astoria, is the only Albany representative from the area to publicly endorse Move NY. (In the City Council, Jimmy Van Bramer is a supporter).

Western Queens representatives Cathy Nolan and Margaret Markey are not among the 28 Assembly members currently sponsoring Move NY legislation. (In eastern Queens, Vivien Cook and Andrew Hevesi have signed on.) State Senator Michael Gianaris has said he’s “skeptical” of the plan.

Move NY aims to reduce congestion by putting tolls on the four East River bridges and a cordon across 60th Street in Manhattan. It also cuts the tolls on the Triborough, Whitestone, Throgs Neck, and Verrazano, where congestion is less intense. The net revenue from the toll swap would raise billions of dollars for transit, relieving the constant upward pressure on MTA fares and accelerating investments that can add capacity to a system straining at the seams.

Long Island City and Astoria are two neighborhoods that would benefit enormously from the traffic reduction effect of Move NY. The vast majority of residents don’t own cars, and a truly small share car commute into downtown Manhattan each day. But everyone who lives in the area suffer the consequences of the city’s dysfunctional tolling system.

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New York Can’t Afford to Put Off the Move NY Plan Any Longer

During the Bloomberg era, there was no bigger backer of congestion pricing than Kathryn Wylde, director of the Partnership for New York City, a downtown business group. Wylde, a confidante of Mayor Bloomberg, spearheaded the Partnership’s 2006 Growth or Gridlock report that provided both quantitative firepower and political cover for the mayor’s congestion pricing proposal the following year. The executive summary, a powerful account of traffic congestion’s drain on city and regional job creation and business competitiveness, culminated with this admonition: “Traffic is worse every day. The time to act is now.”

growth_or_gridlock

Ten years ago, the Partnership for New York City said in its “Growth or Gridlock” report that traffic reduction was an imperative. Today, the Partnership say a well-known traffic reduction plan with sponsors in Albany is “premature.”

So it was jarring to read Wylde’s letter in yesterday’s Times protesting that the paper “jumped the gun when it endorsed a State Assembly bill proposing traffic congestion toll pricing in New York City.” Wylde was alluding to the Times’ May 21 editorial, A Creative Way to Fix the Subway, which called the Move NY Fair Plan “a fine proposal [that] needs Mr. Cuomo” to champion it through the state legislature.

Wylde demurred, however:

Based on a review of the Move NY Fair Plan, carried out with support from the N.Y.U. Center for Urban Science and Progress, we believe that this bill [to enact the Move NY plan] is premature. Our panel concluded that more study is required to determine whether the plan would generate the net revenues projected, if economic hardships could result, and what transit investments would be required to achieve equitable results.

The dissonance between “The time to act is now” in 2006 and “this bill is premature” in 2016 is striking. True, a decade separates the two statements, and a lot has changed. Traffic in Manhattan’s Central Business District is perhaps a tad more manageable, and policy wonkery no longer rules City Hall. But even if the annual cost of traffic congestion here has fallen back a bit from the staggering $13 billion figure emblazoned in “Growth or Gridlock,” its toll on economic activity and the quality of life remains high.

Indeed, gridlock has metastasized from the streets and bridges to the subways, underscoring the need for the transit improvements that the congestion fees could finance. In that light, quibbling over whether Move NY will yield three times as much new net revenue as Bloomberg’s congestion plan, or merely double, seems like a distraction.

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Move NY Toll Reform Picks Up Eight Sponsors in Assembly

Momentum is building in the state assembly for the Move NY toll reform plan. Image: Move NY

Momentum is building in the Assembly for the Move NY toll reform plan. Image: Move NY

Eight more Assembly members are supporting the Move NY toll reform plan, which would cut traffic and raise revenue for transit by increasing the price of driving into the Manhattan core while lowering tolls on outlying bridges. The Move NY bill (A09633) now has 23 sponsors in the 150-member Assembly and four (all Democrats) in the Republican-controlled, 62-member State Senate.

East Harlem Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez introduced legislation in March based on the plan. At the time it had 15 sponsors in the Assembly. A little more than 50 are needed to secure a majority of votes representing the 12-county MTA service region.

Today the coalition announced the support of eight additional assembly members from across the New York metropolitan region: Brian Kavanaugh of Manhattan; Annette Robinson of Brooklyn; Vivian Cook of eastern Queens; Tom Abinanti, David Buchwald, and Amy Paulin of Westchester County; and Earlene Hooper and Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Long Island.

Two of those legislators — Cook and Hooper — decided to get behind the plan without meeting with proponents, Move NY campaign director Alex Matthiessen told Streetsblog.

“We think the fact that this bill continues to attract attention and assembly members are coming forward to support the plan and put their name on the bill — it suggests that we have growing momentum,” Matthiessen said.

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Robert Rodriguez Introduces Toll Reform Bill in State Assembly

Komanoff-pic-_-Move-NY-launch-at-Park-+-125th-_-Robert-Rodriguez-at-podium-_-cropped-_-24-March-2016

Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez announced his toll reform legislation under the train at 125th Street and Park Avenue this morning. Photo: Charles Komanoff

For the first time, a state legislator is sponsoring legislation in Albany to enact the Move NY toll reform plan. By creating a more rational toll system in New York City, the plan would significantly reduce traffic and raise revenue to invest in improving transit.

Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez introduced a bill today, A09633, that would toll the four East River bridges and a cordon across 60th Street in Manhattan while reducing tolls on crossings farther from the city core. Rodriguez represents East Harlem and has agitated for timely completion of phase two of the Second Avenue Subway, which would serve his district.

The new tolls around the Manhattan core would be set at the same rate as the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and Queens Midtown Tunnel — currently $5.54 with E-ZPass — and would be issued without tollbooths. Taxis and for-hire vehicles would be assessed additional fees per mile when traveling in the area of Manhattan below 110th Street on the West Side and 96th Street on the East Side, but would be exempt from the new tolls.

Creating a consistent price to drive into the Manhattan central business district will cut traffic on and around the East River bridges, where motorists currently get a free ride, with congestion-reducing ripple effects throughout the city’s street network. Additional revenue from the new toll structure would be plowed into fixing up, modernizing, and expanding the New York region’s transit network, and into maintaining the East River bridges.

At a press conference this morning, Rodriguez framed Move NY as a fairer plan than using general state revenue to fill the gap in the MTA capital program. “As legislators, we need to fund the MTA capital plan,” he said. “And we will, but we don’t have to do it solely on the back of taxpayers who don’t have to use the system.”

Under the legislation, additional revenue would be divvied up among a few agencies and authorities, with most of it being bonded against and allocated to the MTA:

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Tell Cornell — and Electeds — How You Want to Fix NYC Congestion

Want to tell elected officials what you think should be done about New York City traffic? Here’s a way to pool your policy suggestions with other New Yorkers and reach elected officials beyond your district.

smartparticipation

Image via SmartParticipation

The Cornell eRulemaking Initiative, or CeRI, hosts a moderated forum called “SmartParticipation,” developed to make it easier for people to weigh in on obscure federal rules. Now researchers want to see if the platform can help shape broader public policy initiatives, and the first issue they decided to tackle is “how to solve NY’s congestion problem.”

The hook is a little off-putting — the experts have had their say, now let’s hear from real New Yorkers! — but the discussion so far is largely on-point. The moderators respond to individual commenters with facts and data, and the site features a good bit of background info, including a Move NY video explainer.

Cornell’s Joshua Brooks told WNBC the comments will be collected in a report and sent “to every lawmaker in New York.” With the window of opportunity still open for Move NY as Governor Cuomo searches for ways to make good on his MTA funding pledge, it wouldn’t hurt for Streetsblog readers to get in a word or two.

You can comment on the site through December 1.

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NYC Toll Reform Makes Too Much Sense to Fade Away

Don’t count out Move New York just yet.

Cuomo’s budget promises become much easier to keep if he also adopts the Move New York plan.

When Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio hashed out their deal to fill the gap in the MTA capital program, it seemed like a window of opportunity was closing on the plan to cut congestion and fund transit by reforming the city’s dysfunctional toll system. The governor would borrow $8.3 billion and pay it back with general fund revenues to cover the state’s end, and that would be that (at least for the next five years).

As it happens, the window might still be open.

Cuomo has repeatedly rejected Move NY as a political non-starter, but the number of elected officials signing on to the plan — which would put a price on driving in the most gridlocked parts of town while lowering tolls on outlying crossings — keeps growing. The latest endorser is City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, who reps western Queens and came out for the plan yesterday.

Van Bramer’s district includes the approaches to the Queensboro Bridge. With no price on that crossing, local streets jam up with drivers hunting for a bargain. For western Queens and similar districts, like northwest Brooklyn or Lower Manhattan, a big part of the appeal of Move New York is its promise of relief from the road-clogging, horn-honking mess. For electeds like James Vacca, whose district includes the Throggs Neck and Whitestone bridges, it’s the discounts on less-traveled crossings that sweeten the deal.

So what would be the appeal for Cuomo, who’s given no indication that he cares about fixing New York City’s pestilential traffic? In a thrilling twist, it might come down to the imperatives of budget math.

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It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

Broadway, New York, NY. Photo: Clarence Eckerson

Quick thought experiment…

Imagine for a moment that New York City has a toll system where there are no free rides. No reason for drivers to toll shop, clogging up the routes to free bridges. There is, effectively, a uniform fare for every car trip into the incredibly crowded center of town, revenue from which is plowed into the transit system.

Now imagine scrambling the tolls so some crossings are free and others are not, bringing about all this horrible stuff:

  • Massive traffic jams every morning and evening in some of the city’s most densely-populated neighborhoods
  • Heavy trucks barreling through neighborhood streets, killing several people every year, to avoid paying the one-way toll on the Verrazano
  • Severe and immediate slowdowns on dozens of bus lines, with hundreds of thousands of passengers losing time stewing in traffic
  • Transit fares backed by tens of billions of dollars in debt, guaranteeing future fare hikes and constraining the capacity to operate more service
  • Pressure to design streets to handle peak-hour car volumes, to the detriment of safe walking and biking

No governor in his right mind would choose to switch to this completely messed up arrangement.

End of thought experiment, back to reality: It looks like Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature are not going to plug the gap in the MTA capital plan, and by extension, they’re going to condemn New York to at least a few more years of epic traffic dysfunction.

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Q Poll: Move NY’s Toll Swap Jacks Up Public Support for Road Pricing

A new poll released by Quinnipiac today reveals how much New Yorkers warm to the idea of tolling the East River bridges when the policy is paired with lower tolls on outlying crossings. A lot: Support for putting a price on the free bridges rises from 27 percent to 44 percent if accompanied by toll reductions and using the revenue “for mass transit.”

Citywide, the poll of 969 NYC voters (margin of error: 3.2 percent) found opposition to the Move NY-esque toll swap idea below an absolute majority, but at 49 percent, it had a slight plurality.

In the Bronx and Manhattan, pluralities do support toll reform, and in Staten Island it enjoys a solid 61 percent majority. Most voters in Brooklyn and Queens were opposed, but only in Brooklyn did the margin of opposition reach double digit percentage points. The results are broadly similar to recent polling conducted by Move NY.

Pricing the East River bridges out-polled raising the city sales tax as a means to pay for transportation infrastructure, 24 to 13 percent. Raising the gas tax statewide was, not surprisingly, more popular with city voters, though not by much, with 29 percent choosing that option. That question didn’t mention reducing outlying tolls, so it probably underestimates where toll reform stands relative to the other options.

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How Much Will Fares Rise Without Closing the MTA Capital Plan Gap? Try 25%

When the MTA’s chief financial officer warned last month that the likely price for failing to fund the authority’s capital plan was a 15 percent fare hike, the response was swift. Just 24 hours later, according to Newsday, MTA chief Tom Prendergast “backed away” from that scenario, calling it “unconscionable.”

Evidently the one thing worse than jacking the price of a Metrocard is letting the public know it’s in the works. But if a 15 percent boost would be unconscionable, what should we call a 25 percent increase?

That’s no idle question. I’ve made a careful calculation of the rise in subway and bus fares required to pay for NYC Transit’s share of the unfunded part of the authority’s 2015-2019 capital plan — assuming no other funding source comes along. My result: subway and bus passengers will see their fares go up 25 percent. Monthly unlimited Metrocards will shoot up by $29, nearly a dollar a day. Averaged across every fare medium — 30-day and 7-day unlimiteds, bonus pay-per-rides, and one-ride tickets — the price to ride a bus or train, which now averages $1.92 (taking into account unlimiteds, free transfers, senior discounts, etc.), will rise by 45 to 50 cents.

And that would be on top of the 7-8 percent biennial fare hikes the MTA has programmed indefinitely to cover rising operations costs.

The minimum wage in New York is set to reach $9.00 an hour at the start of 2016 (it’s now $8.75), so the $29 rise in the 30-day unlimited would eat up a half-day’s wages after taxes. In addition to that new burden on millions of low-income New Yorkers, a 25 percent increase in the transit fare would be projected to have these consequences:

  • A 3-4 percent drop in subway use;
  • A 4 percent deterioration in travel speeds in Manhattan’s Central Business District as some of those dropped subway trips switch to cars;
  • Nearly a billion dollars a year in costs from increased pollution, more traffic deaths and injuries, and more time lost sitting in traffic.

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Margaret Chin: Toll Reform Will Protect New Yorkers From Truck Traffic

Photo: Brad Aaron

Photo: Brad Aaron

City Council Member Margaret Chin today introduced legislation to require the city to examine the effects of New York City’s dysfunctional bridge toll system on traffic safety. The bill would also mandate regular DOT safety audits for all city truck routes.

Trucks account for 3.6 percent of vehicles on city streets but are involved in 32 percent and 12 percent of cyclist and pedestrian fatalities, respectively, according to city data cited by Chin. At a press conference outside City Hall this morning, Chin said her bill “should be welcomed by the [de Blasio] administration as a component of Vision Zero.”

Chin cited the un-tolled Manhattan Bridge as a major cause of traffic chaos on Canal Street, which cuts through her district. Drivers have killed at least four pedestrians on Canal Street since 2012, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog.

Chin’s bill would have DOT conduct studies at five-year intervals to “examine the impact of tolling policies on the city’s network of truck routes,” according to a press release. Crashes and traffic violations would be measured, with information collected on whatever street safety measures are implemented on each route. DOT’s last comprehensive truck route study dates to 2007, the press release said.

It's free

Trucker’s special: It’s free to drive over the East River, barrel across local Manhattan streets, and take a tunnel under the Hudson, but sticking to the highway and going over the Verrazano will cost a five-axle truck $80. Map: MoveNY

DOT would also be required to “develop new strategies” to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety along the city’s 1,000-plus miles of truck routes. Council Member Brad Lander pointed out that current truck route design — speed-inducing expanses of asphalt — leads to reckless driving regardless of vehicle type. Chin emphasized that the reports should lead to physical street safety improvements. 

City Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez joined Chin to announce the legislation, along with Lander and Jimmy Van Bramer. Representatives from Transportation Alternatives, Families For Safe Streets, Move NY, the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation, and Manhattan Community Boards 1, 2, and 3 also appeared in support of the bill.

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