Friday, October 12, 2007

My Way or the Highway-Not the Only Way

As the Congestion Commission begins to evaluate the merits of the mayor's expensive congestion tax scheme, opponents of the taxing mechanism submitted a number of less expensive alternatives-both to implement and to commuters pockets-for the commission to review. The NY Times reports on the proposed alternatives this morning, "Raising parking meter rates in Manhattan, creating more taxi stands and putting in place a series of other measures could achieve the same level of traffic reduction as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan, according to a report by a group opposed to the mayor’s proposal."

Under the terms of the legislation, the commission is required to examine alternatives to the congestion tax, and while we're confident that there are any number of feasible alternatives, we're less so about the ability of the commission to separate the wheat from the chaff. Where is its staff?

Without the technical means to do so, the commission will be left with the option of making a political decision that is not based in ant way on sure technical grounds. What this means is that, should the body opt for the congestion tax, its decision will be subject to legal challenge, one that we feel will inevitably be successful.

What's remarkable in all of this is the fact that you have a cacophony of environmental voices weighing in on the putative beauty of the mayor's plan, yet the supposed public interest choir remains absolutely silent on the need for the plan to be subject to environmental review-a remarkable case of lockjaw from folks who will go to court on a moments notice if they feel that some developer has avoided an environmental review.

Their silence on this issue in regards to the congestion tax, it they're unable to find their voices fairly soon, will be to their long lasting shame. They will be exposed as cherry picking hypocrites; but even worse, their silence will potentially lead to the legal defeat of a plan that they've placed so much faith in.

The essence of the proposed alternatives-put forward by our own benefactor, Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free-is to find specific measures that directly impact on the city's congestion problem: "Chief among the measures is a proposal to increase greatly the number of metered parking spaces in Manhattan by putting meters on many blocks where parking is now free. The study also proposes raising the rate for on-street parking, doubling it in many areas and increasing it even more in the busiest parts of Manhattan."

In fact, as Crain's is reporting, and the NY Sun as well, Governor Spitzer is adopting one of the opponent's proposals: "The Spitzer administration is planning to convert a West Street garage from private parking to bus parking, potentially removing 175 commuter and tourist buses from idling along the lower Manhattan riverfront." It's a good start, and this is just one of the things that the city can do-before it puts additional tax burdens on commuters.

The author of the Appleseed report, Hugh O'Neil, told the Times that the 13 traffic relief measures proposed could reduce city congestion by 7-11%. He admitted, however, that this was a "rough" estimate: “I would fully acknowledge that those numbers are speculative and would need to be subject to further analysis,” he said. “I think what the numbers legitimately show is that there are real options, real world alternatives, many of which are much simpler to implement than what the city has proposed.”

What is refreshing here, is the acknowledgement of uncertainty-something that is glaringly missing from the mayor's pronouncements, and from the huzzahs of the mayoral toadies-many of whom are in this environmental business and should definitely know better. So what is needed now is a recognition by the commission that it cannot adequately address the issues at hand without a full EIS, one that examines all of the potential reduction measures-their costs as well as their benefits-and bases a final determination on legitimate data and not self-serving rhetoric.