Activists Break from Huddle After Congestion Pricing Defeat

Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan has flat-lined, but transportation advocacy groups said that dealing with congestion and traffic remains imperative at the city level.

The Straphangers Campaign said they are “sorely disappointed” the plan to charge drivers below 60th Street an $8 fee during peak traffic hours will not be adopted, but said they are “looking forward to working with state and local officials to secure the dollars needed to have a decent and affordable transit system.”

“Serious problems remain and need to be addressed,” the group said in a release. “New York’s subways, buses and commuter rail are in desperate need of many billions of dollars in operating and repair funds. And we are drowning in traffic congestion, which undermines our economy, our health and the quality of our lives.”

The nonprofit group Transportation Alternatives faulted the State Legislature for allowing “$354 million in federal transit aid to turn to dust,” by refusing an open vote, and urged the city to go ahead with measures “within their power” to curb traffic congestion.

"If you have a child with asthma or if you are late to work because your bus is stuck in traffic, today’s inaction was a cruel endorsement of the status quo," Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, said in a statement. "But we cannot let this setback jeopardize New York City’s move towards greener streets. Our leaders have a responsibility to take on these challenges head-on."

Reforming parking regulations, expanding sidewalks, designating pedestrian priority zones, and encouraging bicycle riding are some of the moves the mayor’s office and the City Council could implement without state approval, according to Transportation Alternatives.

The city could boost transit, biking, and walking by more than 20 percent by carving wider sidewalks, protected bus lanes and bike lanes from existing streets, the group said. To boost bicycle riding the city could model a program on Paris’ Velib bicycle share, which generates 200,000 new bicycle trips per day and is funded through advertising contracts.

Most importantly, the city should increase parking charges. Over 60 percent of Manhattan-bound drivers do not pay to park, according to Transportation Alternatives. Increasing parking charges would not only reduce congestion, but it would provide revenue “to reapportion streets to favor those who use it most efficiently: bus riders, car-poolers, pedestrians and bicyclists.”

Walter Hook, the director of the Institute for Transportation Development and Policy, also called the State Legislature’s move “short-sighted,” but said many of the reduction targets that would have been achieved through congestion pricing can be met by other means.

“If I were asked by the mayor’s people what they should do," Mr. Hook told The Observer, "I would tell them to change the parking system and implement a bus rapid transit system to give buses priority access to the streets.

“Some of the innovative parking proposals could also be [blocked] by the State Legislature, but I think the city could do a lot of things like increase charges for parking spaces, remove some of the existing spaces, [and] change zoning to prevent construction of new spaces.”