Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Mysterious 6.3%

You might know about the old ethnic joke that asks the supposedly stupid member of that particular group, "What's the greatest invention of all time?" To which he replies, "The thermos." "What about the telephone, the computer, or even the wheel, for God's sake," asks the questioner. The justifying reply in favor of keeping the thermos as number one: "When you put something hot in it, it stays hot. And when you put something cold in it, it stays cold." "So what," says the questioner. "So what?" goes the reply- "How does it know?"

Which of course brings us to the mysterious 6.3% in the mayor's traffic congestion plan; this is the alleged percent reduction we'll see in congestion if we apply the proposed taxes on commuters and trucks going into the city's CBD. To which we reply: "How does it Know?"

This is an extremely important point in the debate that is going to unfold about the mayor's plan in the next few months. Editorial boards, chiding opponents of the congestion tax, have hectored them with the admonition that any alternative plan must do as well or better than the mayor's reducing traffic congestion. Yet in the hundreds of pages that make up PlaNYC 2030 there are only 16 pages that address the congestion pricing plan and its traffic reduction abilities-and there is absolutely no documentation of the methodology or work product that underlies the skimpy conclusive statements in the plan document!

We're not surprised. This is all de rigueur for the land use flim-flam artists that comprise the city's environmental consulting class. They submit reams of documents that allege all sorts of fairy tale scenarios designed to mitigate that most severe possible traffic congestion impacts. The only thing that's always missing? Any back-up documentation; without which it is impossible to test the validity of the conclusions submitted.

So who did the original work on the 6.3%? The answer: Parsons-Brinckerhoff, the same firm that has given the city its new transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Kahn-someone who just so happens to sit on the new congestion commission. All of which underscores the Manhattan Institute's observation about what's wrong with the city's land use process: the circulation of the consultants who rotate effortlessly from the private sector world of consulting into high government positions, only to rotate back once certain lucrative decisions have been made.

This is a climate of collusion that our local press has been slow to examine. Perhaps the paper of record would like to take a stab at this? After all, if this was the military-industrial complex the Times would be all over how this circulation process enriches the Halliburtons of the world-at the expense of tax payers. In NYC, where real estate is the reigning power elite, this kind of collusion remains unexamined; and a good reason may be that the corporate interests of the media are intertwined here.

All of which demands that the examination of the mayor's tax plan be done through an independent environmental review, one that examines any number of alternative scenarios as well. The examination, however, must be as free of bias as possible. This means that the three or four major consulting firms, the city's usual suspects, need to be told to sit on the sidelines; and outside expertise must be brought in to fairly vet the mayor's ex cathedra proclamations.