Bridge tolls, an idea whose time will come

Mayor Mike Bloomberg did New Yorkers a favor last week when he declined to put the final nail in the coffin of the idea of tolling the East River bridges. After his spokesperson said the idea was pretty much dead in the river, Bloomberg, according to New York Newsday, said, “Nothing is off the table…. You always want to have the administration look at all possibilities.”

Given the opposition of Gov. George Pataki and many residents of Brooklyn, Queens, Chinatown and the Lower East Side, Bloomberg was just being realistic when he dropped the fight for now. We’re glad he is at least keeping the option open.

Unlike the painful ways the city’s budget deficit was recently closed – increases to property and sales taxes and cuts to services – tolls, in addition to the pain, would also have a beneficial effect. They would limit pollution and congestion and put more people where you want them in New York City – on public transportation.

Brooklyn drivers like to say tolls would unfairly punish them, but the real sufferers are the Brooklyn subway riders who now must pay $2 while their more affluent car-owning neighbors get a free ride into Manhattan.

Before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority looks to hike the subway fares again, officials would be better off to institute tolls – a plan that would likely drive up ridership and revenue for the M.T.A.

The city’s next budget problem could be less than a year away. If we once again have to raise taxes and cut services we will just make the city less livable. Tolling the bridges will have some negative effects, but compared to the other options, which have no positive effects, tolls are a better alternative.

Mayor Bloomberg would be well advised to consider beginning the necessary environmental studies of tolls. The day may come soon when people realize the best way to close the next deficit includes reducing pollution and keeping a few more libraries open and a few more teachers in the classroom and cops on the street.

Pier 40 action
The fate of the largest pier in the Hudson River Park, Pier 40 near Houston St., remains in limbo and the Hudson River Park Trust, the state-city agency in charge of the pier, needs to show the public it will move quickly to follow the law by expanding the open space at the parking lot building on the waterfront.

If the Trust is in need of a wakeup call, we hope the recent letter it got from the Friends of the Hudson River Park is just what the doctor ordered. Friends admittedly has an axe to grind since its chairperson, Doug Durst, was part of one of the development teams with a plan for Pier 40 that was passed over by the Trust. But Friends raised legitimate concerns in the letter that cannot be ignored by anyone who cares about the waterfront.

When the Trust decided not to go with any plan for Pier 40 including the Durst/C&K proposal, it made the decision behind closed doors, which appears to be a violation of New York’s Open Meetings Law. The Friends letter points out this and other possible legal transgressions.

Ultimately, the public will be best served if the Trust complies with the law and quickly builds park space — preferably ballfields — on half the 15-acre pier footprint. Downtown could finally get a baseball field big enough for teens to play.

If Trust officials have a sense of urgency about expanding the field space on the pier, they are keeping it well hidden. They would serve themselves and everyone else best by coming up with a plan quickly and defusing the lawsuit talk.


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