Basically, fuck Sheldon Silver

Congestion pricing is dead.” I just have to regard this as a tremendous betrayal of everyone who lives here, and of what would have been a significant step toward making this a better city in which to live.

I’m sure municipalities in every corner of the globe face much the same set of challenges when it comes to embracing novel transportation plans: entrenched business elites, institutions and individuals who benefit (overtly or otherwise) from the status quo, fear of the unknown, and never least, simple inertia. And yet other big cities seem to have grasped that we’re on the cusp now of the second decade of the twenty-first century, and that the times and conditions we now face both deserve and demand fresh thinking about how best to get around. Whether it’s the RFID-based touchless payment systems I’ve written and thought so much about, traffic calming initiatives, regional transit planning, transit-oriented development, the Vélib bikes of Paris, Helsinki’s self-locating and self-reporting buses, or congestion pricing in the London mode, innovation is everywhere in urban circulation these days, demonstrably saving time and money, reducing resource consumption, and improving lives.

So what’s wrong with New York? It saddens and, frankly, in some real way, sickens me to think that this greatest of cities is getting left ever further behind, unwilling or unable to adapt to the changing realities so evident all around us. In this specific case, the city government itself seems to have done everything it could have, for which I’m grateful. But we remain dependent on a laggard state (to which, ironically, we provide a hugely disproportionate share of revenue) and, perversely, in this instance it’s the upstate legislators that disdain us so that have the veto power over our ambitions.

So I’d humbly submit that this is the very first settled arrangement that needs a fresh look – but far, far from the last one. I personally don’t much care if you-all upstaters want to retreat into some regressive fantasy of midcentury life, but leave us be to determine our own future. You don’t want to live here, fine, but we do. Who do you think should have the greater say over how that living plays out?

12 responses to “Basically, fuck Sheldon Silver”

  1. Daniel says :

    When I lived in Ithaca an era or two ago, I was at a bar one night and noticed a petition to “give” NYC to New Jersey. And while that’s neither here nor there (nor am I – well, maybe I’m here), I do admire the EU countries’ ability to conceptualize, plan and implement transportation solutions that start making the US look like the dinosaur in the realm of people moving, despite our so-called “shorter” history (another ideological discussion, for sure). Rotten end days empire. “Air conditioned nightmare.” Undsoweiter.

  2. bge says :

    Congestion pricing in the London mode has had rather little impact on congestion (and none at all outside the central district where it applies). On the other hand, it has kneecapped a lot of the small independent shops in the congestion zone whose customers don’t want to spend $40 a time to visit them…

  3. Paul Mison says :

    bge: ah, good to see the anti-congestion charge contingent can’t even let it lie on a New York blog. Of course, you’re ignoring the significant proportion of people in Inner London (well over 50%) who don’t own cars, many of whom will have Oyster travelcards, making the marginal cost of travelling zero.

    You’re ignoring the massive investment in buses over the last decade – buses that may, I admit, have taken up road space, so that congestion’s about the same, but it’s far more efficient, since a bus carries many more passengers than a car or taxi. (Those buses also run across the whole of Greater London, and bus usage in London is way up on the decade, unlike the rest of the UK.)

    You’re also ignoring the fact that the Tube is finally, after between a quarter and half a century, getting some decent funding, partly as a result of the charge – hell, we might even get Crossrail within a decade at this rate.

    If there’s a final argument I have for the success congestion charging here, it’s that it’s not even an issue in the mayoral election; all three major candidates support it (for the central area, anyway). If it’s so terrible, why isn’t even Boris campaigning against it?

    Adam: I heard this on Radio 4 this morning, and it sounds like it’s folks from the sprawl who are against it, because it “discriminates” against them. You’d have thought they’d see the way fuel prices are going and welcome the income from charging as helpful in the transition from private to public transit, but no, apparently they’re too smallminded. You have my sympathies.

  4. AG says :

    Heh heh. Thanks, Paul – for that, and for the reason.

  5. bge says :

    I live in the zone, and i don’t drive. That cut the ad hominem part of your argument.

    And I work on Oxford Street, so I’m used to seeing a dozen or more totally empty buses stacked up, blocking the road and doing nothing but belch diesel fumes… But that’s the mayor’s incompetence, not a problem with the congestion charge.

    You, on the other hand, might notice that the Congestion Charge barely covers its costs, and certainly doesn’t make a significant contribution to the Tube, which certainly does have implications beyond London.

    And to my point – the congestion charge has had little effect on actual congestion, and none outside zone 1. And in the mean time it has had had a major impact on small shops in the city centre, whose customers are now much more reluctant to visit them. I have an acquaintance running a book shop whose business is down 25% since the zone was extended to cover her.

    So, we have a tax that raises no money beyond what it costs to administer, has no impact on pollution or congestion, and damages those small neighborhood businesses that this new urbanism malarky is supposed to be so keen on. Not exactly a model for the world, is it?

  6. AG says :

    bge, all this is anecdotal either way until someone comes up with some meaningful numbers.

    If nothing else, I don’t hear you asserting that the congestion charge has made Zone traffic and crowding worse, which would be the only clear sign that it’s “not working.” (We can’t assume that the background rate – the noise floor, as it were – would have remained static in any event.) I also think any scheme this ambitious deserves five years to see if it’s had any impact.

  7. Abe Burmeister says :

    Adam, I certainly have no love for the State’s strangle hold over NYC finances. But in all fairness this thing was held up by the more city centric Assembly, not the Republican controlled Senate. Silver himself represents the LES and Chinatown, he has 3 bridges and 1 tunnel entering his territory and thus massive amounts to gain by congestion pricing. More than anything this plan was cut down by the short sighted regressiveness of supposedly progressive representatives of New York City…

    Personally I never thought congestion pricing was the best solution, although it is of course infinitely better than nothing. East River tolls on the bridges and higher tolls on the Hudson would have nearly the same effect sans all the surveillance. And banning on street parking would do wonders..

  8. AG says :

    More than anything this plan was cut down by the short sighted regressiveness of supposedly progressive representatives of New York City.

    You are, of course, quite correct in pointing this out. It wasn’t the upstate Republicans that scuttled this specific initiative; I reserve my ire for Silver mostly because of his unaccountable, backroom tactics. I was grateful to him for sinking the Olympics bid, however autocratically he did so, but now feel like he’s just reflexively opposing anything Bloomberg supports, for the sheer pleasure of sticking it to him. It’s asinine, it’s unbecoming, and it does his district a real disservice.

  9. Paul Mison says :

    bge: I’m sorry you thought there was an ad hominem portion to my argument; I didn’t intend there to be one, nor can I see one in retrospect. I accept that CC funding doesn’t help the Tube significantly, but it does help to increase the pressure for investment, and that’s been overdue for decades. As to your anecdote about bookshops, can you really tell if that’s due to the charge, or to Amazon (and to a lesser extent, chain bookshops)? Certainly in Islington (outside the zone), I’d blame the latter for the closure of the two independent bookshops near the Green.

    Adam asked for some facts, so here’s the 2001 census figures on car ownership – note how the top 11 English regions are all London boroughs, often with 50% of households car free – and here’s the page of Transport for London reports on the charge.

    In particular, page 20 (page 28 of the PDF) of the latest Impact Monitoring Report has a chart showing a major drop in the number of private cars entering the zone, a drop that’s not been significantly reversed since 2003. It also states that “the identified
    benefits exceeded the costs of operating the scheme by [a factor of] 1.7 with an £8 charge”. Now, yes, this is put out by the body that runs the charge, but it’s also a good source of data to start from.

  10. Enrique Ramirez says :

    Donald Shoup, one of my professors at UCLA, often said that in LA, people treated congestion pricing as a joke. As in, should you ever mention the words “congestion pricing” to MTA folk, they would start laughing. Very unfortunate indeed.

  11. AG says :

    I had no idea you were a Shoupista!

  12. jon says :


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