Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mayor Johnny One Note

In yesterday's NY Daily News, the paper reported on the mayor's continued shilling for his congestion tax-in spite of the MTA's own report that the money needed for the necessary capital improvements. As the News points out: "Successful implementation of the city plan will require the MTA to provide a full complement of new and enhanced service," the report says. "Neither the operating nor capital costs associated with these improvements are provided for."

Well, never mind! The MTA's analysis points to the fact that the entire congestion scheme was never fully thought out. In the first place, all of the needed infrastructure upgrades must be put in place if the system is gonna be able to accommodate the increased ridership. Secondly, the revenue stream needs to be fully examined to determine whether the cash flow will be adequate to fund the improvements. Finally, the role of the fare and tolls in this calculus needs to be simultaneously factored into the discussion in order to get a legitimate handle on all of the costs.

Of course, while costs need to be examined with a keener eye, we also need to have a better idea about the actual benefits that will accrue. We can't accept the mayor's usual, "Because I said so," response to critics who point out that his congestion relief projections haven't been independently vetted. Only a full EIS-done by independent analysts- can do this.

On the congestion relief front, there was an interesting piece on the City Room Blog that looked at the choice of the 86th Street congestion boundary. Increasingly, it looks as if it was arbitrarily chosen with out regard to its traffic ramifications. As the blog post points out: "But where is Midtown? And, even more vexing for planners considering the mayor’s proposed congestion pricing plan, where is the city’s central business district? And how should the boundaries of the toll zone that drivers have to pay to enter on weekdays correspond to the (possibly undefined) boundaries of those amorphous regions? These are the kind of questions City Hall’s planners wrestled with before setting the zone’s northern boundary at 86th Street –- though that designation is far from final."

But you see, "City Hall wrestling" is not a substitute for sober evaluation. We really don't need the mayor playing pin the tail on the neighborhood behind closed doors. And we don't need self-appointed traffic guardians telling us that the boundaries work well from their own perspective. As the Times points out, "...residents near that boundary who are worried about added traffic, idling cars and excessive regulations following the designation to their street. Some people suggested the line should be farther downtown, closer to Midtown. Others wondered why it wasn’t farther north, rather than cutting through the middle of the Upper East Side and Upper West Side."

The larger point, however, may be that the idling and the extra congestion may be a feature of all of the boundary neighborhoods-and if it is, than there needs to be the proper environmental review of just what these impacts will be. The fact that the boundary may be arbitrary adds to the necessity of such a review. As a former transportation commissioner says; “I don’t think that 86th in any way is a firm boundary,” he said. “It is something that has been picked. It could have been 79th or 96th.” Some due diligence, you think?