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Posts from the Walter McCaffrey Category


The 2008 Streetsie Awards, Part 2


Biggest Setback: After being approved by an unprecedented civic coalition, the mayor and New York City Council, congestion pricing -- the one policy measure that simultaneously reduces traffic congestion while raising money for mass transit and livable streets -- died in an Albany backroom without even a vote.

Lobbyists of the Year: Walter McCaffrey and the Committee to Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free (below). It turns out New York City government is controlled by a handful of Queens Democrats, suburban state legislators and the Automobile Club of New York.


How Not to Lobby a State Legislator: Brooklyn State Senator Martin Malave Dilan's car is towed during a congestion pricing meeting with city officials.

Most Sociopathic Elected Official: Bronx State Senator Jeff Klein nearly crushes a cyclist with his black Mercedes and then tells him, "Get your hands off my car, you f*#king a55hole." Unfortunately for Sen. Klein, this particular cyclist happens to run a pretty robust media operation.


Most Disappointing Elected Officials: During the congestion pricing debate, three State Assemblymembers stood out for their enormous potential to exert leadership and their utter inability or unwillingness to do so. Deborah Glick, Joan Millman and Hakeem Jeffries all represent districts that would have overwhelmingly benefited from New York City's congestion pricing plan. Yet, Glick could only find reasons to oppose it. Millman decided she supported it -- two hours after the proposal was killed by her Democratic Assembly colleagues. And Jeffries had the gall to demand increased subway service on the G line three weeks after helping to eliminate the revenue source that might have paid for it. If only New York City were represented in the state Assembly by an aggressive, attentive, self-aggrandizing politician like...

Elected Official of the Year: You've got to hand it to Westchester Assemblyman Richard Brodsky -- he works hard for his constituents and supporters. Unfortunately for New York City's traffic-choked neighborhoods, beleaguered transit riders and asthmatic kids, his constituents are the metropolitan region's wealthiest car commuters and his supporters own a bunch of parking garages in Manhattan. While New York City's legislators rolled over and played dead, Richard Brodsky worked his butt off to make sure that New York City's congestion pricing plan -- a plan approved by the Mayor, City Council and a state commission -- died a quiet death in the Assemly's Democratic conference. Brodsky did incredible damage to New York City in 2008 but he also showed us what effective representation in Albany might look like.


Worst Elected Official: Rochester Assemblyman and transportation committee chairman David Gantt continued his decade-long effort to deny New York City the ability to deploy automated traffic enforcement systems on its streets. He loosened up a little bit though. This year he introduced legislation that would allow counties outside of New York City to use red light cameras -- as long as they purchased the technology from a Swedish firm represented by one of his cronies. Shocking? Not really. Just another day in Albany.


Most Opinions Fewest Solutions Award: From now on, this will be called the Anthony Weiner Award.


Most Moronic Idea From Albany: State Senators Jeff Klein and Eric Adams put on their serious, fighting-for-the-people faces and proposed suspending tolls on New York City bridges and tunnels and giving drivers a $200 gas tax rebate ahead of Memorial Day weekend. Not planning to burn lots of gasoline for your summer holiday? These two have nothing for you.



Daily News to Congestion Pricing Opponents: “Your Fault”


With higher gas prices pushing drivers onto the city's trains and buses, the Daily News today blasted Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assembly Dems for passing up the billions of dollars that congestion pricing would have brought to MTA coffers. 

The trends prove that the theory of congestion pricing was valid: When the cost of driving rises, people actually do switch to mass transit.

Had Silver and the Assembly passed congestion pricing, as the City Council did, the MTA would already be using that $354 million in federal aid (which has now been disbursed about the country) to make more bus and subway seats available.

Then, the congestion fee would have given the MTA a half-billion dollars a year to pay for big projects like completing the Second Ave. subway and extending LIRR service to Grand Central Terminal. When that money vanished, the MTA's building plan was eviscerated.

The agency does not have the money it needs to keep the transit system in good repair, let alone to expand. Gov. Paterson has asked the estimable Richard Ravitch, a former MTA chairman, to hunt up cash.

He'll find no easy fixes. Option 1: Raise taxes. Option 2: Raise fares. Option 3: Congestion pricing.

Pricing foes must be waiting for Ravitch to make the next move, because we've heard virtually nothing from them since the plan was smothered behind closed doors over a month ago -- other than demands for improved transit service.

But what of Brodsky, Glick, and Weiner? Or Bearak and McCaffrey? Where are they now that their storied working class drivers, priced out of their cars, must rely on a beleaguered transit system that doesn't have the fiscal boost promised by congestion pricing?

Oh, right. They're stuck in traffic.

Graphic: New York Daily News 

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Dueling Videos: Weprin and McCaffrey vs. New York’s Future

Azi Paybarah at the Politicker shot this video of Queens City Council Member David Weprin's anti-pricing rally yesterday. Sharing the podium with Weprin is Walter McCaffrey of Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free. Can you count the distortions relayed in this nine minute reel?

After the jump, Azi gets a response from Michael O'Loughlin of the Campaign for New York's Future.


Congestion Pricing Populist Soundbite Contest

Why do Richard Brodsky and Walter McCaffrey  get to have all of the populist soundbite fun?

Last Friday, in a story about the Committee to Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free stepping up its lobbying efforts, the Daily Politics blog published this gem of a rallying cry from pro-congestion lobbyist Walter McCaffrey:

"You are in the driver's seat. Put the brakes on congestion pricing now before it goes to Albany."

Which means, of course, it's time to launch the Congestion Pricing Populist Soundbite Contest. Paul White at Transportation Alternatives gets us started with the following:

"Diiiiing Dooong. You are in the subway seat. Tell your state legislator not to hold the doors on congestion pricing."

Here's mine: 

"You are walking across the street. Put the brakes on congestion pricing opponents before one of them runs you over in his Buick Skylark."

I'm sure you can do better...


New Congestion Pricing Plan, Same Jeffrey Dinowitz

The recommendation of a modified congestion pricing plan put forth last week by the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission has elicited another editorial from Bronx Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz. Tellingly, the piece, from this week's Riverdale Press, starts off with talking points that fellow Assembly Member Richard Brodsky and "Keep NYC Dinosaur.jpgCongestion Tax Free" spokesman Walter McCaffrey have repeated again and again since the TCMC released its recommendation report:

The Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, whose job it was to evaluate Mayor Michael Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan, has succeeded in only making a bad plan worse.

... it seems this new version has raised more questions than it has answered.

But rather than raising more questions, Dinowitz, for the most part, simply restates the same asked-and-answered arguments we've come to know by heart. Still, at the risk of repeating ourselves, we thought we'd answer them again, one by one, for old time's sake.

Who could support a plan that creates a regressive tax on middle-class and working people from the Bronx and the outer boroughs while giving an exemption to drivers from New Jersey who are more likely to be able to afford such a tax?

According to census data, less than five percent of New Yorkers drive into Manhattan's central business district for work. An analysis by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and the Pratt Center for Community Development shows that in all but one state Assembly district in the city, households with a vehicle are 50 percent wealthier than those without. In nearly half of the districts -- including Dinowitz's -- average income is twice as high. So actual figures suggest that the popular "regressive tax" cry is so much faux-populist bluster. Further, nearly all of the "middle-class and working people" Dinowitz and other pricing opponents claim to be speaking up for are now relying on a transit system that will benefit from congestion pricing.

As for the toll credit "exemption," New Jersey drivers would pay $8 to enter the CBD, same as everyone else, even if the money doesn't go into the same pot. Are New Jerseyans really "more likely to be able to afford" a fee than New Yorkers? If so, Dinowitz offers no data to back the claim. Even if he did, the argument itself is a red herring intended to put New Yorkers on defense against "the other" -- just as Dinowitz and his fellow pricing opponents have tried to cast the "Manhattan elite" as the beneficiaries of a plan designed mainly to improve access to Manhattan from outside the borough.



As Anti-Pricing Arguments Fall Away, It’s Just Parking & Politics

Over the weekend, City Council Member David Weprin and "Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free" spokesman Walter McCaffrey got a lot of press by casting doubt on whether congestion pricing revenues would, as promised, be invested in transit. It looks like a plan was already in the works to allay that fear.

The Daily News reports:

State and city officials are hashing out a plan to ensure congestion pricing money pays for mass transit upgrades -- and mass transit upgrades only, sources said Wednesday.

Under the developing plan, net proceeds from new tolls for motorists entering a large section of Manhattan would be put in a "lock box" administered by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, sources in City Hall and Gov. Spitzer's office said.

The fund could only be used for transit projects that meet specific criteria, which would be spelled out by state legislation, sources said.

A member of Gov. Spitzer's administration confirmed that Spitzer will include the creation of the MTA account as a line-item in the proposed budget he unveils next week.

At a Congestion Mitigation Commission hearing yesterday at Hunter College (which saw the notable emergence of a pro-pricing coalition of advocates for low-income transit customers), Regional Plan Association President Bob Yaro testified that similar measures have successfully earmarked transit funds for decades.

The MTA's revenues at their bridge and tunnels in excess of operating costs is guaranteed by formula set by the State Legislature for use by the MTA for transit since 1968. Taxes such as the mortgage recording tax, petroleum business tax, corporate franchise tax and sales tax have also been reliably dedicated to transit since the early 1980s. It should not be difficult to establish a mechanism for congestion pricing revenue that would do the same, while requiring the use of the funds by the MTA on the projects agreed to by the MTA and the City.


Weiner and Wylde Square Off in Pricing Forum

Four veterans of the congestion pricing wars went toe-to-toe at the Museum of the City of New York Wednesday night -- the last showdown before the Congestion Mitigation Commission releases its draft proposals today.

Taking the stump for pricing were Kathryn Wylde of the Partnership for NYC and Michael O'Loughlin of the Campaign for New York's Future. Arguing against were Congressman Anthony Weiner of Queens and Walter McCaffrey of the Coalition to Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free. The standing-room-only crowd of more than 120 people -- most of whom came from the Upper East Side and East Harlem, judging by the post-debate Q & A -- appeared to favor Weiner and McCaffrey by a noticeable, though not overwhelming, margin. Wylde and O'Loughlin scored their share of applause, but Weiner was the only speaker to draw vocal cheers.

Claiming that "we are buying a pig in a poke," Weiner made several arguments familiar to Streetsblog readers, adding a few rhetorical flourishes worth noting. Among his main points:

  • The current plan is "not fair" because suburban drivers from LI and NJ won't pay any fee in addition to the existing tolls on the Hudson River crossings and the Queens-Midtown Tunnel.
  • Commercial truck traffic in Midtown is increasing faster than car traffic, so a priority should be placed on mitigating truck congestion.
  • The number of people who switch to mass transit because of congestion pricing will impose costs on the transit system that significantly outweigh the revenue pricing will generate.
  • Republicans support congestion pricing because it "bolsters the idea that municipalities should pay for their own transportation enhancements," as opposed to the idea that transit improvements should be paid for from a federal pot of gas tax revenue.

Weiner built up this last point quite dramatically, painting congestion pricing as a wedge issue that has played into the hands of "Texas conservatives" by dividing people who share a concern for the environment. "There's a reason that George Bush likes this plan," he said, insisting that "there are smarter and more progressive ways to do this."



Anti-Congestion Pricing Group Suggests Alternatives

While waiting for Walter McCaffrey to send over an official version (he sent it -- download it here), we managed to get a hold of a bootleg copy of the executive summary of the Committee to Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free's new report. Willie Neuman has a write-up of the report in the Times today as well.

The Committee's report aims to offer up alternatives to Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing proposal, many of which are ideas familiar and appealing to regular readers of Streetsblog. The executive summary itemizes eight specific traffic mitigation ideas and calculates that, together, these could reduce VMT, or vehicle miles traveled, between 7.6 and 11.5 percent south of 86th Street (table above).

New York City's $354.5 million federal grant is dependent on a plan that reduces VMT by at least 6.3 percent. The grant, however, is also dependent on the City implementing some form of congestion pricing technology as a part of that plan, so it's not at all clear if any of the suggestions above would allow the city to keep that money.

Hugh O'Neill, the president of Appleseed, the economics consulting firm which wrote the report, acknowledges that his numbers are soft. Neuman reports:

Altogether, the study says, such measures could reduce traffic volume by 7 to 11 percent. Mr. O'Neill said, however, that the estimate was very rough.

"I would fully acknowledge that those numbers are speculative and would need to be subject to further analysis," he said. "I think what the numbers legitimately show is that there are real options, real world alternatives, many of which are much simpler to implement than what the city has proposed."

The report does not include an overall estimate for the cost of putting its proposals in place, but it says it would cost far less than the mayor's congestion pricing plan.

In addition to a "speculative" analysis, the report offers no price tag for its proposed changes. Some ideas, like increasing the cost of on-street parking and reforming the city's government employee parking abuse problem, are almost certainly net revenue earners, though come with their own set of costs and political challenges. Other suggestions have a universally appealing but vaguely expensive ring to them; for example, this one: "Major transit improvements."

In addition to the eight congestion pricing alternatives listed in the table above, the executive summary offers these as well:

Options that reduce VMT, congestion or both (2008-2009)

  • Reducing congestion caused by black cars and non-yellow for hire vehicles.
  • More effectively regulating the use of streets for construction projects.
  • Modernizing traffic signal systems.
  • Implementing 511 (A system to notify drivers of real time traffic conditions).

Options for reducing congestion beyond 2010

  • Bus Rapid Transit.
  • Lower Manhattan bus depot.
  • Incentives for off-peak delivery.
  • Increased use of water transportation for movement of freight.
  • Expanding the Lower Manhattan traffic management program to Midtown.
  • Improving the distribution of information to motorists by state of the art technology.
  • Encouraging greater use of bicycle transportation.

Congestion Pricing Should be Attached to Parking Reform


The daily scene on SoHo's Crosby Street, jammed with illegally parked government employees.

The Observer reported on Wednesday that Walter McCaffrey's Committee to Keep New York City Congestion Tax Free recently solicited UCLA parking policy guru Donald Shoup to do a study of curbside parking policy in New York. Carolyn Konheim, a Brooklyn-based transportation consultant and decades-long congestion pricing advocate, thinks that sounds like a great idea.

As DOT Deputy Commissioner Bruce Schaller pointed out in his 2007 study, Free Parking, Congested Streets, "free or reimbursed parking is an inducement for the majority of motorists who choose to drive to the Manhattan Central Business District rather than use public transportation or other means of travel." Despite this fact, Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030 has almost nothing to say on reforming parking policy. Konheim suggests that "we need to price both roads and parking." Perhaps this is something that congestion pricing advocates and opponents might actually be able to agree on.

Here is Konheim's commentary:

The Mayor should extend the offer to Shoup. The California- based consultant concluded years ago that pricing parking can be as effective as pricing roads. The high cost of Manhattan off-street parking proves the point. Bruce Schaller's finding that half the auto entries into the Manhattan Central Business District (CBD) park for free also proves the point.

London has demonstrated that we need to price both roads and parking. Seeing parking as the low hanging fruit, London started curbside pricing first. At an NYU forum on pricing this spring, London's First Deputy Mayor Nicky Gavron, congestion pricing ambassador extraordinaire, whispered away from the microphone: "I hate to be critical, but you've got parking all wrong -- you need to control it first. In London, you can't park for more than 20 minutes without a permit or you'll be clamped. If you can park, it costs 40 quid [~$80]."



Pricing Friends and Foes Find Common Ground in Shoup

Matthew Schuerman at the Observer reports that New York City congestion pricing opponents sought to commission UCLA urban planning guru Donald Shoup to do a study of New York City's parking policies. Shoup declined their request. Presumably, congestion pricing opponents hoped a Shoup study might show that New York City could solve some portion of its traffic congestion problem through changes in on-street parking policy.

While it sounds like a serious study and revision of New York City parking policy is something that pretty much everyone might be able to get behind, Schuerman points out that Walter McCaffrey's lobbying group, "Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free is supported in part by parking garage owners who would logically see underpriced on-street parking as unfair competition." The Observer reports:

The lobbying group opposing congestion pricing is considering ways to reform curbside parking as one alternative to the Mayor's plan to charge drivers $8 to enter core areas of Manhattan.

The group, Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free (which now has a Web site), even approached Donald Shoup, a parking guru at the University of California at Los Angeles who advocates for higher metered rates, to commission a study. But the lobbying group seems to have dropped the idea after Mr. Shoup wrote back with an ambivalent answer.

"They asked me and I wrote back," Mr. Shoup told The Observer via telephone recently. "I told them I'm a great fan of congestion pricing."

Still, Mr. Shoup said raising metered rates makes a good deal of sense, and would be a necessary prerequisite for congestion pricing. His theory is that rates should be raised high enough to discourage idle trips. That would free up one or two spots on every block, creating a so-called "Goldilocks effect" that would reduce the number of cars trolling for spaces.

"I think that [New York City] has done everything wrong in terms of getting something done soon," Mr. Shoup said. "It doesn't make sense to introduce this very expensive congestion pricing system and keep curb parking free. It is easy to charge a parked car. It is hard to charge a moving car."

Walter McCaffrey, the lobbyist for the anti-congestion pricing group, could not confirm that his team had reached out to Mr. Shoup, but said that it was looking at parking policy.

"In some places, you could end up having an ability to remove meters to allow for a better flow of traffic depending on the width of the street, or you could temporarily remove the meters on a street where there is construction going on," Mr. McCaffrey said.