Volume 20 Issue 5 | June 15 - 21, 2007


Silver, don’t jam up mayor’s traffic plan

How high do you want the subway fare to go, how much more crowded do you want the trains and buses to be, which desperately-needed transportation projects do you want to derail, and how many more asthma and respiratory ailments are you willing to accept to prevent trying the mayor’s traffic pricing plan for three years?

Opponents of congestion pricing are too busy setting up roadblocks in Albany to answer these questions. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is not opposing the traffic plan, but his recent statements indicate he is leaning against it.

Silver is a master at Albany’s legislative poker table and he has frequently used his power for good: pushing the M.T.A. on the Second Ave. subway, extending rent stabilization and killing Mayor Bloomberg’s West Side stadium. We hope the speaker’s recent skeptical words are mere gamesmanship and not a signal that he will block a plan to help his Downtown district as well as the rest of New York and the world.

Congestion pricing will have traffic and health benefits, cut the city’s greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our country’s dependence on foreign oil. It will provide a major funding source for an estimated $31 billion in unfunded transit projects. Even without these extremely compelling reasons, congestion pricing would still make sense because government should not give away a scarce resource, street space in Manhattan, to more affluent people who can afford cars in order to impose what amounts to a regressive tax on New Yorkers — subway fares.

With many cameras already monitoring cars at toll booths and certain intersections, the opponents’ privacy concerns are bogus — that horse left the stable years ago. If Albany wants to set limits on how the information from thousands of existing cameras is used, that’s a worthy debate irrespective of congestion pricing.

Some of the questions and concerns Silver and others have raised are legitimate. The mayor has sprung this thoughtful plan on Albany at the last minute. As it is currently written, the bill is not a true experiment since it is up to the city whether or not to continue the program after three years. There are also reasonable differences about control of the new fund, and some neighborhoods that may have exacerbated parking problems.

All of these issues can be worked out quickly. None is enough to forgo $500 million of federal money to implement the plan. Mary Peters, the U.S. Transportation secretary, all but promised to fund the project last week, provided that Albany passes the plan by August.

The state bill will authorize an environmental impact statement, which will allow critics to point out possible problems and gaps in the plan and force the city to respond. It will likely lead to further adjustments.

Gov. Spitzer and State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno have shown support for the mayor’s idea. This is a harder issue for Silver. We know some of his and our Lower Manhattan neighbors oppose congestion pricing. So do some Democratic Assemblymembers, who make up part of the speaker’s power base. People’s first instinct is to oppose anything that involves new government fees. But Silver has fought hard for Downtown countless times before and this time he can continue his advocacy for mass transit investment and also help New York lead the rest of the country on these issues.

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