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Posts from the "Tony Avella" Category

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Tony Avella and David Weprin Launch Preemptive Attack on NYC Toll Reform

Remember these guys? This morning, State Senator Tony Avella and Assembly Member David Weprin stood at traffic-choked Queensboro Plaza to say they don’t care if the Move NY toll reform plan reduces tolls on bridges near their eastern Queens districts — they refuse to support any proposal that adds tolls to East River crossings. In a bid to preempt any forthcoming effort to fix the region’s dysfunctional road pricing system, they’re introducing legislation in Albany to prohibit charging drivers on city-owned bridges. The gesture is pure theatrics, since NYC already can’t put a price on those bridges without approval from the state.

State Senator Tony Avella and Assembly Member David Weprin oppose a plan that would bring lower tolls to the Throgs Neck and Whitestone Bridges in eastern Queens. Photo: Stephen Miller

State Senator Tony Avella and Assembly Member David Weprin are back promising to keep NYC streets choked with traffic. Photo: Stephen Miller

It’s also a return to form for two of the most outspoken opponents of the 2008 congestion pricing proposal. At that time, Avella and Weprin were in the minority of City Council members who voted against congestion pricing. Now they’re in Albany, and they still don’t want to do anything to fix a tolling system that’s free in the most congested parts of the city and more expensive in outlying areas with worse transit options.

“I’m puzzled as to why they would oppose a plan that would lower by nearly half the tolls on five out of six Queens bridges,” said Alex Matthiessen of Move NY. The Whitestone and Throgs Neck bridges, which would see lower tolls under the Move NY plan, are within Avella’s district.

The Move NY plan, put together by “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz, works like this: All drivers that enter the Manhattan’s congested core by crossing either the East River or 60th Street would pay a toll, while drivers on bridges linking the other boroughs, where there are fewer transit options, would see their tolls go down. The net result: More funds dedicated to transportation in the region, with the majority of it going to improved transit service.

The argument from Avella and Weprin, who were joined by the Queens Chamber of Commerce and Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free (yes, it still exists), is basically that the Move NY plan is too good to be true. “It sounds nice,” Avella said. “But the proposal will never work in reality.” He claimed that funds generated by the plan could be shifted to non-transportation uses, and that the state could simply revert tolls on the outer-borough crossings to their previous levels without consequence.

Matthiessen called this “a cynical and paranoid viewpoint,” adding that “it would be political suicide for the governor, which controls the MTA, to allow the MTA to simply restore the old high tolls.”

Opponents of the Move NY plan also said that it would have a disproportionate impact on many small businesses that make multiple trips each day between the outer boroughs and Manhattan. ”We want this plan to have as minimal an impact on businesses as possible,” Matthiessen said. “We don’t want to penalize those people,” he said, adding that the plan would use E-ZPass information and license plate scanners to only charge commercial drivers once per day, instead of each time they make a crossing.

Sounding an old and discredited theme, Weprin called bridge tolls a regressive tax. In reality, car commuters to Manhattan — including those in Weprin’s and Avella’s own districts — are wealthier than most city residents.

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Avella Lines Up for Rockaway Beach Rail Reactivation, Against QueensWay

As work is set to begin on a state-funded feasibility study to convert the Rockaway Beach Branch into a 3.5-mile park and multi-use path, State Senator Tony Avella — former City Council member, onetime mayoral hopeful, and current candidate for Queens borough president — is the latest elected official to line up behind southern Queens transit activists who are trying to stop the greenway plan and instead bring back rail service.

State Senator and Queens Borough President candidate Tony Avella has sided with rail reactivation advocates over greenway proponents in central Queens. Photo: Stephen Miller

The Rockaway Beach Branch has remained unused for over four decades, with weeds growing over tracks that once took trains between the Long Island Rail Road main line in Rego Park and the Rockaways. Studies for the JFK AirTrain rejected the corridor as a route for the airport connector, and without rail service on the horizon, Friends of the QueensWay formed to push the park effort, winning the support of the Trust for Public Land and a $467,000 grant from the Cuomo administration last December to fund a feasibility study. The effort has gained the backing of a number of elected officials, with mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner unveiling his support in a policy book update this morning.

As the QueensWay has gained traction, others have ramped up the push to reactivate rail service instead.

Advocates from the Rockaways and central Queens neighborhoods formed the Queens Public Transit Committee early this year, taking an “all-of-the-above” approach by calling for Select Bus Service on Woodhaven Boulevard, improved local bus service in the Rockaways, and a permanent ferry from the Rockaways. They’ve also taken the unfortunate position of calling for tolls to be eliminated on the Cross Bay Bridge.

But Rockaway Beach Branch rail service is the group’s priority. “The most efficient way is this train system,” said committee leader Philip McManus of Rockaway Park. “This goes all the way from South Queens all the way into Manhattan, and the Select Bus Service will not do that.” McManus said a study should determine whether LIRR service, which would not require tunneling, or subway service, which would require a new tunnel beneath Rego Park connecting to Queens Boulevard, is the preferred option. “Whatever works,” he said at this morning’s press conference on Liberty Avenue. “We need a legitimate study, but it has to be first that the public needs to support this. That’s why we’re here.”

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Thompson, Avella Pledge to Dump Sadik-Khan If Elected

dem_bums.jpgTony Avella and Bill Thompson. Photo: Daily News.
I didn't get to watch last night's Democratic mayoral debate between Bill Thompson and Tony Avella, so I missed the high drama that ensued when the candidates were asked if they'll retain Janette Sadik-Khan as transportation commissioner. Good thing Brian Lehrer played excerpts on his show this morning (check the 13:40 mark). Now I know the answer from both: "No."

Thompson got started with a restrained, "I think you bring your own team to the table." Then Avella took the first rip at the city's new bike lanes and public plazas.

"There has to be community involvement," he said. "You can't just dictate from the top: 'Hey, tomorrow, here's a bike lane, here we're gonna close off the street,' without having communication with the elected officials, the community boards, and the neighborhoods, and that's why she should be fired."

This prompted an escalation from Thompson: "I favor bicycle lanes, however, you are hearing the complaint all over the city of New York, because the communities have not been consulted. They've been ignored. Bicycle lanes have been dropped upon them and there has been no discussion. That's wrong and that shouldn't continue."

Avella and Thompson don't seem to have a very good grasp of the facts on this issue. DOT's plaza program is entirely opt-in. They won't build a plaza in your community unless someone from the neighborhood asks for it. New Yorkers are basically competing with each other to get these public spaces added to their streets. Oh, and attacking the new plazas on Broadway is kind of like pledging to pave Bryant Park at this point.

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Is NYC’s “Sustainable Streets” Plan a Communist Plot?

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This week's Observer is running a profile of DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. It focuses on the speed with which many of DOT's Sustainable Streets projects are moving ahead and seems to suggest either:

a) Improving conditions for New York City's pedestrians, cyclists and bus riders is a Communist plot. Or,
b) The change that Sadik-Khan is bringing to New York City's streets is akin to the Russian Revolution.

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Will Congestion Pricing Make or Break Mayoral Campaigns?

While we wait to see what happens, or doesn't happen, today in Albany, New York Magazine takes a look at four mayoral aspirants and how their positions on congestion pricing may affect their chances of succeeding Michael Bloomberg.

  • City Council Member Tony Avella: "[Avella is] an obscure pol, and attacking CP allowed him to grab attention while promoting his anti-tax agenda. But he may have gone around the bend, ranting about routine horse-trading for council members’ votes."
  • Comptroller Bill Thompson: "The city comptroller has been mildly supportive of congestion pricing, though he’s always been careful to attach caveats ... Why take a bold stance on something that might never happen?"
  • City Council Speaker Christine Quinn: "[S]he used last week’s vote to demonstrate leadership on a contentious issue ... Plus, wrapping her arms so tightly around CP also earned Quinn a big chit with Bloomberg..."
  • Congressman Anthony Weiner: "[I]n the campaign, he’ll cast congestion pricing as Manhattan-centric and elitist, like Quinn. Weiner was thrilled to see her so far out front."

And don't forget Marty Markowitz, whose most notable contribution to the congestion pricing discussion has probably been his vehement opposition to new bridge tolls. 

On a related note, the Daily Politics reports that Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey issued a not-so-subtle warning on the radio this morning that state pols will be judged on where they come down, and could be supported or opposed accordingly in future races.

Whether or not the plan passes in Albany, how will congestion pricing influence your vote for the next mayor?

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“Thums” Down and Zero Unispheres for Queens Pricing Supporters

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Oppose congestion pricing and all this could be yours

If Tony Avella and David Weprin and other Queens City Council members succeed in killing congestion pricing, at least Queens residents who lose out on transit improvements could take comfort in knowing that their representatives will have escaped the wrath of the Queens Civic Congress. Check out this (unedited) warning from the QCC [PDF]:

Queens Civic Congress puts all elected officials and would be ones on notice that the communities are closely following what people say and how they will vote. The Civic community expect the City Council to vote a strong thums down to the congestion tax." stated Jim Trent, Transportation Chair for the Queens Civic Congress, a the borough-wide coalition of civic and condo, cooperative, tenant and other community organizations. "Anyone who supports the unfair tax and/ or votes for it stands to lose any chance of being 'awarded" the coveted five unispheres rating; it could costs them as they look ahead to the next election.

Photo: K. B./Flickr

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What Western Queens Stands to Lose Without Congestion Pricing


Queens residents crash Friday's anti-pricing rally

We've received several reports that Friday's anti-pricing rally on the Queens side of the 59th Street Bridge, spearheaded by City Council Member Tony Avella, was a bust.

According to our sources, of the council members slated to attend -- Avella, Leroy Comrie, Melinda Katz, David Weprin "and other possible members of the Queens Delegation" -- only Avella and Weprin showed up. Pro-pricing folks who came to either counter-protest or just express support for pricing, including those from Queens, were reportedly yelled at and accused of being "undemocratic" by Avella. Environmental Defense was on hand to measure air quality and found that "contaminants were sky high."

Notably absent from the proceedings was Councilman Eric Gioia, who represents the district where the rally took place. Here are a few possible reasons why, as enumerated in testimony to council members by DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

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Queens Pols Rally to Keep Using Gioia’s District as Their Doormat

Gioia_Headshot3.jpgTony Avella, Leroy Comrie, Melinda Katz, David Weprin "and other possible members of the Queens Delegation" are holding an anti-congestion pricing rally tomorrow morning at 8:00 on the Queens side of the 59th Street Bridge, according to an e-mail from the Queens Civic Congress.

Notably, Eric Gioia (right), who represents the traffic-burdened district where the rally will be taking place, is not listed as a participant. Perhaps he realizes that standing in front of a backdrop of rush hour traffic, yelling, "We need to keep this as is!" isn't going to play all that well with his constituents.

But who knows. Maybe he'll show up. Despite the clear benefit to his district (only 3.2% of his constituents regularly commute by car into the pricing zone), Gioia has yet to come out in support of congestion pricing. You can be sure that the car commuting Council members to his east are happy about that. For them, Gioia's district is little more than a highway on-ramp that helps them avoid the toll at the Queens-Midtown Tunnel.

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Queens Chamber Continues Campaign Against Congestion Pricing

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Foes of congestion pricing marshalled by the Queens Chamber of Commerce held a press conference yesterday at which several politicians from the borough took a stand against the mayor's plan. According to a press release provided by the chamber, City Council Finance Chair David Weprin called the proposal unnecessary: "I don't think City Hall understands that another unfair tax which would hurt working class people is not only uncalled for, but also unnecessary to reduce traffic. Before we tax people more we should first consider trying some simple traffic mitigation alternatives to reduce congestion."

The release also quoted Councilmember Tony Avella: "Until the City provides adequate mass transportation services, congestion pricing is just another tax on working and middle class families and small business. Everyone agrees that we need to address traffic congestion problems throughout the city, but the first step has to be improving mass transit."

Of course, Bloomberg himself, in the Sunday speech the Queens Chamber was protesting, said that mass transit in the outer boroughs would have to be improved before congestion pricing went into effect. In that speech, he clearly stated: "We know that service to many areas is not what it should be. That's why, before implementing congestion pricing we'll implement a range of mass transit improvements to our least-served neighborhoods."

The Queens Chamber has been in the forefront of the anti-congestion-pricing battle for some time now, releasing a study in March 2006 called "A Cure Worse than the Disease? How London's 'Congestion Pricing' System Could Hurt New York City's Economy." A group called the Citywide Coalition for Traffic Relief, including the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, Transportation Alternatives and the Citizens Committee for New York City, has released "Debunking the Attack on Congestion Pricing," an analysis of the Queens Chamber's report that refutes its major points (download it here):

The attempt to disregard congestion pricing as a potentially viable traffic mitigation measure is based on a study commissioned last year by the Queens Chamber of Commerce, performed by Appleseed Consulting. Even a cursory examination of this study finds it to be biased and deeply flawed.

The Queens Chamber of Commerce study erects a draconian "straw man" congestion charging scenario that is neither based on London's system nor on any scenario that has been proposed for New York City.... In supporting its spurious claim that congestion pricing will result in a net negative impact on the City's economy, the study relies, among other things, on assumptions about how this policy will impact vehicle and person trips into the relevant parts of Manhattan.

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Detractors Find Congestion Pricing Facts in Short Supply

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Add the Queens Chamber of Commerce to the list of pre-emptive congestion pricing foes.

The chamber's Legislative Advocacy Committee has prepped a report on the "harmful effects" of congestion pricing on businesses, and chamber members are also reportedly spreading the word.

Writing in the chamber newsletter, Queensborough, QCC President Raymond J. Irrera espouses the usual rhetoric regarding "punishing" motorists with a "tax." Irrera fans the flames by citing the "dire negative impact" congestion charging supposedly had on downtown London.

Also in Queensborough, City Council Member Tony Avella refers to vague "serious financial consequences" of New York's non-existent congestion pricing plan, and takes the opportunity to plug his legislative proposal to ban the city from "imposing tolls or other charges on any and all bridges controlled by the New York City Department of Transportation." Avella finds himself in good company on the council, which appears on the verge of enacting its own anti-business initiative.

Thing is, the London experience shows that overall business does not suffer from congestion charging. According to Malcolm Murray-Clark, who runs the London program and who visited New York a few weeks ago, a very small number of auto-dependent businesses were negatively affected there. This could be because, among other reasons, while the number of car trips into London's central business district was reduced by 31 percent, the number of people entering the CBD dropped by just two percent.

Murray-Clark was careful to point out that congestion pricing is no "panacea," and that implementing the plan successfully required a lot of give-and-take between government and the private sector. Seeing as how other New York business leaders have pegged the cost of gridlock at $13 billion a year -- not to mention all those inconvenient side effects -- maybe honest dialogue would be a better course than unsubstantiated hysteria.

Photo: latca/Flickr