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Expert: No more free rides out of Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Paper
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A plan to put tolls on all bridges and tunnels and drop existing ones could help ease Brooklyn traffic, a respected traffic guru said this week.

The scheme, devised by former Department of Transportation deputy commissioner Sam Schwartz, also known as Gridlock Sam, with the advocacy group Move NY, would levy new tolls on the free East River crossings and decrease existing tolls by $2.50. One goal is encouraging drivers to use the bridges and tunnels that are better connected to the highway system.

The current pricing policy does the opposite, Schwartz said on Feb. 19 at a town hall meeting in Downtown’s YWCA.

“Our policy is to encourage people to leave the highways and go on city streets,” he said.

Keeping cars and trucks on the highways is a safety issue, he said.

“On a highway, you do not hit pedestrians. On city streets, you do,” Schwartz said.

Another aim of the new pricing structure is the $14-billion hole in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s $32-billion four-year capital budget, a problem Assemblyman Jim Brennan (D–Park Slope) calls dire.

“We have a mass-transit funding crisis,” he said at the meeting, noting that Albany could authorize the transit agency to borrow money, but that would drive up subway and bus fares.

The plan would supposedly increase revenue by rejiggering the current tolling system, which Schwartz calls happenstance, and also streamline the way traffic moves around the city, he said.

The current toll structure charges more for bridges and tunnels that lack alternative modes of transportation, such as the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which currently costs $10.66 for E-ZPass users, while giving drivers a free ride over spans that are near mass transit, such as the Brooklyn Bridge.

The proposal calls for charging drivers traveling over the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg bridges $5.54 each way with E-ZPass, while reducing the toll by $2.50 on the crossings that currently charge. It also prescribes fees for motorists traveling in Manhattan below 60th Street.

Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon (D–Brooklyn Heights) said avoiding the toll at the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel was a habit she picked up as soon as she moved to the borough in 1981, and that everyone else does the same thing.

“One of the first things I learned was don’t take the Battery Tunnel because it’s free to go over the Brooklyn Bridge,” she said at the meeting. “The bridges have created these wonky traffic patterns all around avoiding a toll.”

She added that 50 percent of the traffic Downtown is through traffic, and that it should not be so.

Many civic activists were in attendance, as well as members of three community boards, and some of the area’s business alliances. Their involvement does not amount to an endorsement, but it means they are all interested in the issue, a leader of a community group said.

“It’s indicative of how seriously people perceive the challenge,” said Gib Veconi, from the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council.

The construction boom in the area around Barclays Center will only exacerbate already existing congestion there, Veconi said.

“There’s a tremendous amount of development here and these projects are adding tens of thousands of residents,” he said. “And they are centered around some of the busiest, most dangerous streets.”

Bill Harris, a member of Community Board 2’s transportation committee, said tolling the free East River bridges is the right thing to do. He laments the fact that he can drive all the way from Brooklyn to his second home upstate and only pay $1.25 in tolls.

“That’s not fair,” Harris said.

In Williamsburg, the head of the transportation committee of the neighborhood’s community board had a different take, saying that more people taking mass transit and cycling will actually increase traffic.

“It will mean that people will be parking and leaving their vehicles and crossing the bridge in other ways,” said Karen Nieves. “It will add to congestion.”

Nieves is also afraid that the tolls will put a strain on already-stretched small businesses.

“It is going to be extra expensive and hinder doing business in New York,” she said.

In Bay Ridge, a telecommunications service worker who drives to jobs in Brooklyn and Manhattan daily agreed that the new system would be hard on the little guys trying to make a living.

“The city has increased the cost to guys like me going into the city to work tremendously in the last 20 years — much higher and much faster than everything else as far as traveling in the city goes, and I think it’s just another way to suck more money out of us,” Greg Ahl said. “It reminds me of Bloomberg, who just doesn’t want us driving into the city, and that’s not realistic, because there’s too many people that don’t have a choice.”

— with Danielle Furfaro and Max Jaeger

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260–8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the proposal calls for lowering existing tolls to $2.50. It would lower them by $2.50.
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Reasonable discourse

bkdude64 says:
Tal, this is nuts??
Feb. 24, 2015, 2:35 am
bkdude64 says:
they better not
Feb. 24, 2015, 2:35 am
Rufus Leaking from BH says:
Congestion? I thought that was "traffic calming."

More money for the piggies to fill the trough and be wasted.
Feb. 24, 2015, 7:19 am
Charles from Bklyn says:
Further deterioration of the middle and working class' s evonomic freedom and standing in NYC is not warranted. In fact, this idea is disgraceful. Tolls on the East river bridge? NEVER.
Feb. 24, 2015, 7:23 am
Rufus Leaking from BH says:
Marxists don't want mobility for the masses. Get on the bus comrade!
Feb. 24, 2015, 8:48 am
MJ from Bay Ridge says:
the mayor could not do what Bloomberg would do, never!
Feb. 24, 2015, 9:30 am
Rob from Greenpoint says:
Good stuff! Looking forward to this becoming reality.
Feb. 24, 2015, 9:39 am
ty from pps says:
Charles -- What the extra-nut job flavor of your comment intentional?

(By the way, the East River bridges used to have tolls. So that sort of undoes the "NEVER.")
Feb. 24, 2015, 9:45 am
Charles from Bklyn says:
Coming from you Ty, that's a compliment. And ALL of my comment is nut favor. ALL OF IT.
Feb. 24, 2015, 10:17 am
AlmadeCubano from Canarsie says:
This plan makes perfect sense, and for those of you who don't like it, my heart bleeds. Since I was born here in Brooklyn, I'm sorry to say I'm out of bandaids to swallow.

You don't "need" a car in the big apple unless you "need" it for business. In that case, you have to pay.

Don't like it, take the subway or a bus. Or, better yet, learn to ride a bike.
Feb. 24, 2015, 10:23 am
Rufus Leaking from BH says:
See? Take the bus comrade!

"Need" does not enter into the equation.
Feb. 24, 2015, 10:26 am
Benny from Park Slope says:
This plan to add tolls to the East River crossings and, incidentally, alleviate the outrageous prices charged on other bridges and tunnels throughout the region makes perfect sense. Why the f$%& should cars and trucks get a free pass crossing the East River, when all they do is add to the congestion in both Brklyn and Manhattan? We have to move toward making NYC less-friendly toward automobiles, not friendlier, while investing in efficient and wide-ranging mass transit. (And I say that as a car owner, not as a self-involved, self-righteous car-hater.) Make cars pay for the damage they cause!
Feb. 24, 2015, 12:13 pm
Phoebe from BedStuy says:
Pretty narrow focus and elitist, sounds like. I don't see any discussion in this about the effect on small businesses. Vans and trucks need to be intelligently discussed in this. Right now the view seems to be only from folks who are driving their cars in to park and lark.

Aging yuppies can't keep killing small businesses trying to get by!
Feb. 24, 2015, 12:20 pm
ty from pps says:
Phoebe -- Business owners and commercial vehicles will be the BIGGEST beneficiaries of better distributed traffic.
Feb. 24, 2015, 2:31 pm
George Metesky from 131st street says:
Commercial Vehicles! More big trucks! More pollution! More deaths at intersections!
Feb. 24, 2015, 2:39 pm
Mike from Williamsburg says:
I'm very disappointed in Karen Nieves, who is actually the only person on Community Board 1 who isn't a horrible human.
Feb. 24, 2015, 2:57 pm
Mike from Williamsburg says:
The Brooklyn Paper should publish a ranking of how horrible the different humans of Community Board 1 are.
Feb. 24, 2015, 2:58 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
First of all, the position one takes on this issue has very little to do with the political spectrum. Let's not forget that those that opposed congestion pricing in the past the most weren't conservative, but rather liberal and we have Sheldon Silver, Richard Brodsky, Anthony Weiner, and Lew Fidler to name a few, plus last time I checked none of them were conservative. The reason I feel that this idea will fail won't just be because it will be seen as a regressive tax, but also the fact that the MTA is hardly allocating the funds they currently have right now, and they should be audited before even thinking about this idea. Also, I find it very awkward to call it a Fair Plan considering how unfair it will be to those that don't live near any viable alternatives to driving. As for the so-called free crossings and highways, they aren't exactly free, they are paid for via taxes for transit and infrastructure, so they are already being paid for even if not on the spot hence the tolls are just double tipping. On a side note, since this involves the MTA, I do have a say on this considering the fact that I too am paying taxes to them as well.
Feb. 24, 2015, 4:07 pm
The Duke from Flatbush says:
anyone want to bet that the other tolls won't ever come down? Typical shell game to turn united opposition against each other.
Feb. 24, 2015, 4:17 pm
A from Boerum Hill says:
This is a great plan that will alleviate congestion in every neighborhood close to the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. It'll also improve subway service for everyone in Brooklyn.
Feb. 24, 2015, 4:37 pm
Ujh from Downtown Brooklyn says:
Does the "little guy" ever tell us how much he/she pays for parking in Manhattan?

Perlman neglected to tell your readers that the Move NY plan is to raise funds for the restoration of dropped bus routes and creation of Bus Rapid Transit routes.
Feb. 24, 2015, 5:37 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
The claim that this plan will help the MTA in improving transit is nothing more than an empty promise. If they are barely managing the way they are using the funds now, I highly doubt this plan will make it any different. To quote Brian Adams, "We've been down that road before." As long as they will treat this the way they treat any other type of funding, nothing will ever change. Also, don't expect the existing tolls to stay down, because they will be increased within a year as will the new tolls. BTW, the original purpose of tolls was to pay off the bonds that were used for whatever they were placed on and be removed after that was paid off, which most of them were decades ago, but they stay only because politicians see them as a source of revenue mainly for what they want, which is what makes them increase so constantly and the same goes for fares. Perhaps, if tolls and fares were just being allocated to what they are supposed to be for, then there wouldn't be much of a need to raise them so much. Overall, I just see this as nothing but another plan that sticks it to the little guy. Maybe if some of you drove on a normal basis, then you will understand where the opposition to this plan is coming from.
Feb. 24, 2015, 7:56 pm
ty from pps says:
Tal --
You already said all of that at 4:07pm... neither version was any more coherent.
Feb. 24, 2015, 8:13 pm
Don't believe from The hype says:
Other tolls won't be reduced more than $1. That $1 you save will be included in the new registration rate increase, plus another $1 for the convenience fee.
Feb. 24, 2015, 11:32 pm
Scott from Park Slope says:
They could discern between commuter and commercial traffic by granting small businesses a tax credit for the toll increases. It would help commercial traffic if far fewer people drove to work in the city. It adds a lot to delivery costs to have drivers and product stuck in traffic. And NYC has such an excellent and extensive public transportation system that there is little reason for the vast majority of residents to drive on a daily basis. There is, however, much more commercial traffic in the city than there should be, and a good chunk of it could be eliminated if the rail tunnel Nadler's been pushing for decades were built. So I say, reducing all vehicular traffic is the right goal, so bring on the tolls and the rail tunnel.
Feb. 25, 2015, 9:41 am
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Scott, it's great that those such as yourself have the luxury to live where you don't need a car to get around a lot, but that's not the case for everyone else. If you look at southern Brooklyn, eastern Queens, northern Bronx, and pretty much all of Staten Island, you will see that those areas don't have a lot viable alternatives to driving. The commuter trains are very sporadic while the express buses can only be accessed at certain times only, which makes it more convenient for them to drive, and that's even with traffic when Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free did that study back when Bloomberg wanted it. More importantly, it costs a lot more to live with access to just about anything compared to somewhere isolated, and not everyone can afford that. Last time I checked, I have never seen a website such as Streetsblog or even Transportation Alternatives advocate for affordable housing or even rents near major transit hubs. What's really important here is knowing if the MTA will keep their end of the bargain, which they have history of failing to do so, and that's why many will be opposed to this plan. Again, I would love to see the proof that this won't end up being another black hole to dump money in for something that most likely never happen no matter how many times they say they can be trusted. Overall, this idea wasn't needed back in the 1970's, it's not needed now. Keep in mind that NY already has among the highest in both average tolls and gas prices yet the roads and crossings are still in bad shape, which really makes me question where the current spending is going and why any new way to collect money for such will hardly make it better when it will most likely end up being used the same way anything else is.
Feb. 25, 2015, 3:42 pm
The Duke from Flatbush says:
Scott has a good point. There are infrastructure needs that would justify these tolls. There needs to be commitments made to these projects before a naked cash grab is allowed. The cross harbor tunnel is at the top of that list.
Feb. 26, 2015, 11:13 am
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Even if a cross harbor tunnel could be done, it wouldn't eliminate commercial traffic as a whole, it would just relocate it somewhere else. There will still be a need to transport the goods from those freight trains, and I doubt that many of the places receiving them will be right next to the tracks. I highly doubt that both the NY&A Railway and NYCR have everything right near their tracks so that there won't be any need for trucks and these are freight lines that exist in NYC right now.
Feb. 26, 2015, 5:59 pm
Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr. from Southside, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, United States says:
Based on the given political climate going on in NYC as well as NYS, I am sorry, but this proposal will not gain any steam anytime soon. They better think of other sources of funding besides this.
Sept. 12, 2015, 2:01 pm

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