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Friday, November 16, 2007

A Bronx View of Congestion Pricing

Miquela Craytor and I have been attacked and defended on Streetsblog for questioning Congestion Pricing in terms of how the money raised will be spent, particularly on improved transit for the Bronx, and how the impact of things like a potential park and ride uses at Yankee stadium will be mitigated. We wondered if there would be any money left over after the City got the #7 line extended in Manhattan and the express to JFK from Wall Street built.

Now comes Crain’s magazine for November 12-18 with a few updates. In The Insider column, Erik Engquist and Anne Michaud write under the headline “Higher tolls may block traffic plan” that “Insiders say the congestion pricing net revenue — money available for transit improvements — is now only $70 million a year” not the $100, $200 or $390 million advertised because toll increases will increase the discount, meaning people using toll bridges to Manhattan will “pay virtually nothing.”

And in a column about a possible fare hike, Greg David offers: “The Partnership for New York City and Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff … (and Crain’s) want transit money spent on new projects that boost the economy – principally extending the No. 7 subway line to the West Side and linking downtown to Jamaica and JFK.” Apparently MTA chief Lee Sander would rather spend money on projects that “improve the current system” such as the Second Avenue Subway.

Be that as it may, the list of big ticket projects going forward in Manhattan that are starving the outer boroughs for resources, goes well beyond any of the above. Here’s Henry Stern’s take from a couple of years ago in his New York Civic e-letter:

….On the capital side, however, the MTA is wasteful beyond reckoning, with three unnecessary projects in Lower Manhattan alone. The $450,000,000 South Ferry subway station, replacing a station that has worked well since 1912, is one. The problem here is that you must leave or board the 1 or 9 train on only five cars, because the old station was built in 1912 as a local stop. For access, 10 is better than five, but the difference is not worth half a billion dollars, which is probably less than the sum the reconstruction will end up costing.

The second boondoggle is the Fulton Street station reconstruction. This will take at least a billion dollars, and it is minor rerouting of existing lines, with an arcade to the former World Trade Center. Yes, some work should be done here, but the whole nine yards is unnecessary.

But these exercises in extravagance pale when compared to the two billion dollars that the Port Authority plans to spend on a subway station to replace the one destroyed on 9/11. The station has already been replaced, at a cost of $320 million, and the new station is operating. Now it is to be torn down, and the mother of all subway stations will be built. The architect is Santiago Calatrava, of Spain, who is world-renowned for his work. But if the project is unnecessary, it would not matter if Frank Lloyd Wright himself were exhumed in order to design it …

I must also add to this list the $7 or more billion to build East Side Access for the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central, the howevermanybillion Moynihan Station for NJ Transit and Amtrak and the newly revived $8 billion Access to the Regions Core - building another tunnel from New Jersey.

Congestion pricing promises 21 buses and maybe two or three train stations on the Amtrak line (Coop City, Parkchester and Hunts Point) that we were promised when East Side access took the Highbridge yards (a major potential Bronx waterfront development site) for a big car wash. And yes, the Second Avenue Subway might reduce crowding on the old Lexington IRT helping some Bronxites. But if 1 million more New Yorkers are around by then, with hundreds of thousands of new jobs on the West Side and Downtown, who knows?

Near as we can figure, there are nearly $19 billion dollars in projects in line before anything like that replacement for the Third Avenue el that we were promised when they tore it down in the 1970s.


  1. Congestion pricing is the only transportation policy that reduces traffic while raising money for transit. Which transit projects does it raise money for? That's a good question and it's something that New Yorkers can fight over for decades.

    One thing's for sure: If congestion pricing doesn't go forward the money will neither be raised nor spent.

  2. Congestion pricing is an invasion of privacy for everyone, bike riders as well as people with or without a car. It would be great to have less congestion on the streets in Manhattan, however one aspect which I have not seen discussed is the fact that the program will install several thousand TV cameras which are designed as both face recognition cameras as well as license plate recognition capabilities. The result will be that every aspect of every New Yorkers life will be observable and trackable. All elements of privacy will be eliminated. Though the program is supposed to work from 6AM to 6PM, there is little doubt that the location of people and cars will be tracked 24 hours per day, 7 days a week.

    Before Congestion Pricing is passed, privacy issues MUST be discussed and strong protections must be put in place. Perhaps a special provision to the law should include a law stating that all files are to be destroyed and the data expunged after a set period of time, such as 24 hours.

    Let’s make a better City, but without the total loss of privacy.


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