There are powerful economic reasons for adopting Mayor Michael Bloomberg's
congestion pricing policies. Thirty five years ago, I wrote a plan for the Lindsay
administration that included tolls across the East and Harlem rivers. But to
avoid the political heat of instituting tolls, our congressional leaders proposed
to meet federal Clean Air Act's requirements to reduce auto use by making a
serious commitment to capital financing for the Metropolitan Transportation
Authority. However, the investment of $40 billion in transit has demonstrated
that transit improvements alone do not sufficiently curb auto use.
Now, 35 years later, we finally have a mayor with the insight and guts to take
on the "elephant in the room" -- our failure to charge drivers more
than a fraction of the costs they impose by using their cars. Motorists who
gripe about raising their cost to drive don't appear to realize that car and
truck travel create huge public costs-lost productivity from congestion, traffic
accident costs not covered by insurance, environmental damage, air and water
pollution and noise.
This is not trivial. In the New York metropolitan area, the costs related to
cars and trucks total more than $40 billion annually. Every time someone drives
into Manhattan it costs the rest of us $30.
The addition of the million more residents and 750,000 more workers envisioned
by plaNYC will increase car and truck use by 2 million trips a day in New York
City and add millions of daily riders to our subway system. Accommodating this
growth will take billions of dollars of investment. It will cost even more if
we are to meet the mayor's goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent.
At the same time, auto-centric mega-development like Gateway Center and Atlantic
Yards in Brooklyn and the Bronx Terminal Market will further clog our roads
and subways. New York can do better. The plan that I proposed 35 years ago recommended
creating what we then called "urban activity centers." These were
to be new communities within New York City where people could live, work, shop
and play within walking distance without having to drive or even depending on
transit. Cobble Hill in Brooklyn is such a community. Bloomberg's plaNYC overlooks
this approach to real sustainability.
The other key to a successful plaNYC is congestion pricing. While the system
the administration has proposed is unnecessarily complex and costly, those features
are negotiable. What is important is that we finally have a mayor with the vision
and persuasiveness to embolden timid elected officials to see the true equity
of congestion pricing and give it a try. This took great courage.
Motorists cannot defend getting a free ride into Manhattan and imposing huge
costs on everyone else, including other drivers stuck in traffic. Congestion
pricing is the only fair way to level the playing field. It is also one of the
few ways left to secure funding to expand and improve public transit.
Brian Ketcham is a traffic engineer who lives in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.
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