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Congestion pricing re-emerges on the public agenda

One solution to the inevitable and so far unmitigatible traffic problems in Downtown Brooklyn and environs might be congestion pricing, which would cause those driving to Manhattan via Brooklyn to think twice if they had to pay for the privilege.

BrooklynSpeaks says that the Atlantic Yards proposal “offers no real plan to avoid gridlock or improve subway and bus service” and recommends, among other things, that the developer and the city “implement roadway pricing to relieve traffic congestion in and around downtown Brooklyn.” The Empire State Development Corporation says that’s not on the agenda as of now--but it might emerge.

Indeed, both business groups and transportation progressives have begun to push for congestion pricing. In an article yesterday headlined Bigger Push for Charging Drivers Who Use the Busiest Streets, the New York Times reported how the Partnership for New York City, which includes major businesses, is bouncing back from an effort a year ago, in which a congestion pricing proposal was floated, then blasted by City Hall. According to the Times:
“We were premature in terms of talking about the problem and potential solutions without thinking about how those might be implemented here in the metropolitan region and what that would take,” said Kathryn S. Wylde, president of the group. “It takes a lot of public buy-in, building consensus.”

Indeed, Wylde said this spring that it would be a challenge to sell it to the public, noting that p.r. firms recommended the term “value pricing” to dissociate the policy from a new tax. Depending on how you establish the baseline, it could be considered a tax; on the other hand, current policies could be considered a subsidy for car owners.

New studies coming

The Partnership never released its study last year, but is expected to issue a revision within a few weeks, estimating the costs of congestion at $12 billion to $15 billion per year. Another study from the national group Environmental Defense will address the environmental and health costs of too much traffic. The conservative Manhattan Institute has its own report in the works.

And to show they’re really serious, Environmental Defense has hired the p.r. firm Dan Klores Communications to help market congestion pricing to the public. The firm also works on the Atlantic Yards project, among many others.

Paul Steely White of Transportation Alternatives told the Times that any congestion pricing program would have to be combined with — or preferably preceded by — other measures like improving bus service and smoothing traffic flow. Will that be enough to get support from City Council members from more suburban parts of the city, where driving is more common? Unclear.

But Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff is preparing a long-term strategic plan for the city, and he’s been closemouthed about its contents. Should the outside groups begin the bandwagon, Doctoroff just may join in.

Congestion pricing dissed in FEIS

Chapter 24 of the Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement, which includes responses to comments, acknowledges congestion pricing, but punts on the larger issue. Below are the relevant comments, and responses.

Comment 12-27: Two-way tolls should be implemented on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Tolling of the East River Bridges should be implemented to ease congestion.

Response 12-27: Implementation of new tolls on the East River Bridges and changes in the current toll system at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge are beyond the scope of this project. Any implementation of new tolls would be subject to an independent environmental review.

But that’s also because the state wouldn’t listen to many requests to include the East River crossings in the scope of review.

Comment 12-79: A comprehensive transportation plan should include congestion pricing and improved transit capacity and access. The failure to consider congestion charging in the vicinity of Atlantic, Flatbush, and 4th Avenues and the Downtown Brooklyn core, as a serious measure to address traffic load, is a clear shortcoming of the DEIS.

Response 12-79: The proposed project includes a major new on-site entrance and internal circulation improvements at the Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street subway station complex. In addition, the traffic mitigation plan proposed in the FEIS incorporates a comprehensive package of travel demand management strategies for arena trips that include a free-fare transit incentive program and free charter bus service from park & ride facilities on Staten Island, and a high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) restriction of three or more occupants per car would be enforced for onsite arena parking in order to discourage single and two-person auto trips. In addition, congestion pricing has also been incorporated in the proposed mitigation plan in the form of a surcharge that would be imposed for on-site arena parking on game days.

This would be congestion pricing and traffic mitigation just for basketball games. The rest of the project, as well as certain arena events, also would generate much traffic.

Comment 13-48: The DEIS has incorporated several elements into the plan that will encourage use of transit for trips to and from the arena. However, the real mitigations for the impact of this and other developments in the Downtown Brooklyn regional area can only be carried out by the state and the city. These would include improvements to the capacity of Atlantic Avenue subway (and overall transit improvements to the station), roadway/congestion pricing, traffic calming in surrounding neighborhoods, residential parking permits and other measures beyond the scope of the developer to implement.

Response 13-48: The proposed project does include a major new on-site entrance and internal circulation improvements that would increase the capacity of the Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street station complex. However, as noted in the comment, measures such as congestion pricing and implementation of traffic calming and residential parking permit programs in surrounding neighborhoods are beyond the scope of this project.

Whether or not Atlantic Yards gets built, the case for congestion pricing will be made. Atlantic Yards would make it even more urgent to find solutions.


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