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Posts from the "Brian Ketcham" Category

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Kheel Plan: Double the Congestion Charge & Make Transit Free


"If you were to design the ultimate system, you would have mass transit be free and charge an enormous amount for cars."

So said Mayor Michael Bloomberg last April, right about the time he unveiled his plan to charge motorists a fee to drive into Manhattan's central business district. Eight months later, as the mayor's original proposal mutates for better or worse, the MTA is hours away from raising transit fares. Neither idea has exactly caught fire with the public, and the fare hikes could actually end up a foil for congestion pricing -- a plan originally intended as a sustained financial boost for the transit system.

And then there's Theodore "Ted" Kheel. The environmentalist, philanthropist, and renowned labor attorney has lobbied for free transit in New York for over 40 years. Last February he commissioned a $100,000 study that, as it turns out, could put the city's money where the mayor's mouth is. A summary of findings released late last week shows that if the city were to impose a $16 congestion fee ($32 for trucks) below 60th Street in Manhattan, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, along with higher curbside parking fees and a taxi surcharge, the MTA could remove its turnstiles and fareboxes forever.

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Brian Ketcham Proposes a “Simpler, Cheaper Traffic Fix”

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Distribution of vehicles entering Manhattan CBD by direction and pricing status (Zupan & Perrotta, 2003).


In an op/ed piece in Monday's Daily News, Brooklyn-based transportation consultant Brian Ketcham proposed some changes to Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan. Ketcham, who has been pushing for some form of congestion pricing since his time working for the Lindsay Administration more than 30 years ago, argues that New York City should:

  • Put tolls on the free East River Bridges.
  • Move the pricing zone's northern boundary down to 60th Street.
  • Eliminate all free and long-term street parking and charge hefty garage rates at on-street meters inside the Central Business District.

It is not surprising to see the idea of East River bridge tolls popping up right now. Prior to Mayor Bloomberg's Long-Term Sustainability announcement in April, virtually everyone who was doing serious thinking about New York City traffic reduction was focused on the 170,000+ vehicles traveling over the free East River bridges each day.

In July 2003, Ketcham and economist Charles Komanoff published, The Hours, a study that found that tolling the free East River Bridges would "do away with more than 9% of the idle time that motorists, truckers and bus riders now lose in traffic tie-ups throughout New York City" with significant congestion reductions in the outer boroughs, in particular.

Earlier that year, Komanoff also published "Who Will Really Pay," a study that found commuters who drive to work over the East River bridges earn, on average, $14,300/year more than those who don't drive to work over a free bridge (download it here).

A September 2003 Transportation Alternatives study of East River bridge tolls by Bruce Schaller made similar findings. Schaller also noted the difficult "political realities" of tolling the bridges.

In November of 2003, Jeff Zupan and Alexis Perrotta at the Regional Plan Association published a study that tested four different congestion pricing scenarios, all of which included some form of East River bridge tolls (download it here). One of their models found, "At the East River bridges traffic would drop by about 25 percent, likely leading to the virtual elimination of congestion at those crossings," as well as "relief on local streets" and "less traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway."

With all of that in mind, here is Ketcham's Daily News editorial, re-printed in full:

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Pricing Advocates Call for Impact Study and New Parking Policies

Congestion pricing advocate Carolyn Konheim and consulting partner Brian Ketcham are advising the Bloomberg administration to drop its resistance to a congestion pricing Environmental Impact Study.

The two say a study is needed to head off "likely 11th hour litigation" aimed at stopping the three-year pilot program from taking effect, a possibility Streetsblog alluded to following the first meeting of the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission late last month.

"[D]ecision-makers need to know that the selection of the system to be tested has considered all reasonable alternatives to achieve the Mayor's admirable goals," reads a press release announcing Konheim and Ketcham's open letter to Mayor Bloomberg.

The most promising alternative to be examined in an environmental assessment is "charging at the real chokepoints in roadway capacity -- our river crossings and highways," according to Ketcham, a traffic engineer who has regarded bridge tolls as the premier congestion pricing strategy since he introduced them in his landmark Clean Air plan for New York City in 1973. Tolling the four free East River bridges equal to all MTA crossings and across 60th Street, river to river, he calculates "would be at least as effective as PlaNYC in reducing congestion and would generate far more funding for transit."

The independent Brooklyn-based planners estimate that a pricing cordon that crosses bridge and tunnel spans and 60th Street would require E-ZPass monitors on about 50 inbound lanes, whereas the charging network necessitated by PlaNYC's complex avoidance of tolls could require detectors and cameras on1,000 to 2,000 lanes. Based on London's operating costs for a simpler single cordon, they foresee that the charging grid in PlaNYC would consume most of the congestion pricing revenue, leaving little funding for transit -- a major goal of the mayor's plan and the long-term aim of transit advocates.

Mr. Ketcham and Ms. Konheim suggest numerous strategies as alternatives to or companions of congestion pricing, particularly, the kind of comprehensive parking control and parking pricing program instituted in London before road pricing, and measures to reduce taxi cruising, a "major source of New York's congestion."

The full text of the letter appears after the jump.

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Congestion Charging in New York City: The Political Bloodbath

Though many New Yorkers are learning about congestion charging for the first time this week, the transportation policy community has been working to sell this idea to a resistant public for more than three decades. What happens when Nobel Prize winning theory meets bare-fisted New York City politics? A heavily condensed version of this story ran in this week's New York Magazine:  

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Mayor William Jay Gaynor, August 9, 1910, moments after being shot in the throat by a disgruntled former City employee. On the left, moving forward to help the mayor is Robert Todd Lincoln, the only surviving son of the first U.S. president to be assassinated. (Photo: William Warnecke)

Perhaps New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was channeling the ghost of one of his predecessors, Mayor William Jay Gaynor when he dismissed the possibility of London-style congestion charging as "a non-starter" the other day. 

Gaynor was Mayor of New York City nearly a century ago. Like Bloomberg, he was a political outsider, never even having set foot in City Hall until the day of his inauguration. Like the current Mayor, Gaynor was also a kind of technocratic managerial type. Rather than appointing hacks and cronies from the Democratic Party machine of Tammany Hall, he was noted for filling his administration with competent civil servants.

Perhaps not as good at negotiating city contracts as Bloomberg, on August 9, 1910, Gaynor was shot in the throat by a disgruntled former city employee. The Mayor survived the assassination attempt and a few months later removed the five cent tolls from the four bridges crossing the East River. The bridges have been free ever since, doomed to a century-long cycle of disrepair followed by expensive emergency fix-ups.

While "there's never been a serious connection drawn between the assassination attempt and Gaynor's tolling policy," says former Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz, "I'm suspicious."

Schwartz has reason to be suspicious. He is one of a small cadre of transportation policy experts who have been working, in some cases, for more than thirty years to sell the idea of congestion charging to a resistant public and political power structure. The idea of using pricing to control the amount of traffic that flows into Manhattan has a long bitter history and you can hear it in the voices of those who have worked on the issue the longest.

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