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KHAAAAN!-gestion Pricing Jumps To Warp Drive

By “Sid E. Walker” P.E.

(This is the second in an occasional series on Congestion Pricing by “Sid E. Walker”. The first article, “The MTA Steps on the Congestion Fundraising Accelerator”, appeared in last October’s issue, and highlighted the degree to which NYC DOT actually creates the congestion off of which the MTA hopes to fundraise.)

To Boldly Go Where No Plan Has Gone Before

As any Trekkie can regale, “Khan” is a recurring antagonist in the original Star Trek TV series as well as in two Star Trek movies, originally played and then reprised by Ricardo Montalbán, and more recently by Benedict Cumberbatch in “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013).  

The relevance here to looming and seemingly inevitable congestion pricing is that Khan is bio-engineered to be super-strong and super-smart, but he ultimately does NOT reflect the values he nominally espouses, and inevitably goes down to defeat at the hands of Captain James T. Kirk and the starship Enterprise. 

In each version, Kirk at some point screams “KHAAN!” out of exasperation as he redoubles his efforts to stand up to Khan’s megalomaniacal strength and intelligence with his trademark courage, resolve, and as always… teamwork. 

And here WE Villagers are: the sacrificial “red shirt” extras who never make it out of the episode in one piece. 

To stretch the analogy even further, Starfleet seems either helpless, hapless, or downright co-opted. As does our own Community Board 2. More on that later. But first, the state of the Vehicle-y Way Galaxy:

The Congestion Pricing Galaxy

Generally speaking, Congestion Pricing (CP) would charge vehicles to enter Manhattan below 60th Street, subject to some striking exceptions. The exact amounts and how they vary with to-be-defined peak and off-peak periods are still to be determined.  Ballpark $5 to $23. 

Think of it as a “driveway tax” — as nobody is talking about any sort of exemption for RESIDENTS of The Zone to return home from an out-of-zone outing, at least no one earning over $60k. And it gets worse. Details below.

Dear reader, do any of you know anyone who lives below 60th Street, makes less than $60K, AND owns a car? Anybody? (Don’t all raise your hands at once.)

Forecasts suggest that CP will raise $1B/yr, to be used by the MTA to close a giant pending fiscal gap, improve public transit operations, and fuel capital projects, mostly for the subways. 

(Side note: New Yorkers already pay a larger share of NYC subway operating costs than riders of any other system in the nation. The MTA is already raising fares as much as the public can withstand.)

On the other hand, forecasts also suggest that the actual volume of vehicles will only decline marginally. A few percent. Single digits. Maaaaybe 10-15%.

Paradoxically, the MTA must surely be praying that congestion pricing isn’t toooo effective at actually REDUCING congestion, because they are banking on the revenue. They need to milk the Golden Calf — not strangle it. 

As per this author’s prior article, the congestion created by NYC DOT would be better addressed by rolling back some of their extremist Transportation Alternatives-driven street mis-engineering. 

Simply put, no modest percentage reduction in the number of vehicles (5%? 10%? 15%) can possibly counterweigh the bottlenecks and choked arterials that NYC DOT has willfully caused via bike lanes, bus lanes, elimination of turn pockets, creation of buffer lanes, widened sidewalks, botched signal timing, banning vehicles from extensive stretches of Broadway and all through-traffic on 14th Street (because *cough* L-train repairs, right? Wrong.) Etc., etc., etc.  

Example E-ZPass truss set, with license plate readers (and strobes?), approximately 30-ft wide. Every eastbound street off of West Street will need similar. Photo credit Sid. E. Walker

The Legal Basis, and Process

Briefly, the authorizing legislation for congestion pricing is a NYS law passed in 2019. More recently, on May 5, 2023, the FHWA conditionally approved the MTA’s Environmental Assessment, and associated analyses by the MTA, NYS DOT, and NYC DOT, which would lead to a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). FHWA provided for a 30-day public comment period on the document, which closed on June 12.

CB2 and its Traffic & Transportation Committee

On June 1, the Community Board 2 Traffic & Transportation Committee, chaired by decade-long-serving Shirley Secunda, held a public meeting / Zoom presentation, with guest presenter Charles Komanoff, and Meera Sheer and Tevin Williams, two staffers from Congressman Dan Goldman’s office, who provided the “federal” perspective. (This author attended, as always, using his real name: Michael Markowitz, P.E.)

Worth note is that Komanoff, who described himself as a “mathematician” and “analyst” took pains to distance himself from the increasingly polarizing Transportation Alternatives, despite that his own website says: 

“He ‘re-founded’ NYC’s bike-advocacy group Transportation Alternatives in the 1980’s, co-founded the pedestrian-rights group Right of Way in the 1990’s, and wrote or edited the landmark reports Subsidies for Traffic, The Bicycle Blueprint, and Killed By Automobile.” 

Former recent CB2 Chair Jeannine Kiely — as a community board member — was one of the few people allowed to speak; she very gently challenged Komanoff on his ultra-detailed spreadsheet “model” which purported to show how beneficial congestion pricing would be. Also in attendance: current CB2 Chair Susan Kent, and prior former CB2 Chair David Gruber.

When challenged further by other CB2 members, especially re impact on CB2 residents, Komanoff bristled, warning that any such talk could “…jeopardize the delicate politics on which adoption and implementation of CP depends.” (Note to self: push harder.)

Both Sheer and Williams had to leave before the latter part of the meeting when a small number of questions submitted via chat by the public were finally read aloud by Deputy Committee Chair, Daniel Miller. Miller himself tried numerous times to be allowed to air more questions, but Secunda insisted there wasn’t time, and moved on to the “working business session” during which the public would not be allowed to speak — as if the public had any such opportunity in the first place — and during which time the various CB2 committees discuss and often vote on resolutions to present to the full Board for formal adoption.

Virtually none of this author’s questions were asked, including ones asking a) if anyone had analyzed the impact of congestion pricing on property values, or b) how to reconcile the small projected traffic reduction with the supposed windfalls in abstract lost time savings. Moreover, and quite possibly with this author’s frequent chat commentary in mind, Secunda repeatedly admonished the public that “comments and statements would not be read aloud — only questions.” Well

It seems that news of the ratification of the First Amendment hasn’t yet reached Manhattan’s second community board. Good thing the chat function was not disabled, and to Komanoff’s credit, he interacted extensively with the public in the Zoom chat.

A number of other members of the public approached me later to express their frustration and exasperation, one even noting how “one-sided” the meeting was.

The Full CB2 meeting is (was?) on Thursday June 22. Too late for the official “public” comment window, which closed June 12, but not too late for CB2 to reflect the public feedback at the T&T meeting, or flag the issues raised here.

“The time is always right to do what is right.”
— MLK Jr. 

Contact your CB2 members. Here’s hoping the next “reso” is not another unqualified fawning valentine that looks like it was written by MTA finance managers.

Not One, But TWO Bombshells

Oh. My. Gawd. It’s enough to make a Vulcan’s brain explode and pointy ears wilt.

“Route 9A” and the FDR are somehow exempt from CP.

To be clear, “9A” means the Henry Hudson Parkway… AND WEST STREET.

It’s as if Lower Manhattan has a suburban superhighway “beltway”. Traffic between New Jersey and Long Island that doesn’t traverse 42nd, 34th, (or formerly 14th, LOL), Houston, or Canal shouldn’t have to pay.

However…. what that MEANS, as Komanoff allowed under pressure to provide detail, is that “every eastbound street off of West Street” will need to be metered. Reread. Thrice. Take all the time you need.

Simply put: The FDR is a limited access elevated highway, with a frontage road in most stretches. West Street is not; it is an integrated part of the local street grid. Different.

Example: If you live between Hudson, the Street and the River, and drive around the block to avoid a street sweeper, and one leg is West Street, cough up $5 to $23! You didn’t “enter” the Zone — YOU LIVE IN IT. And you don’t get a resident discount!

Get this: Londoners who are residents of their Zone, get 90% off. So tell me again how well London’s plan works! Lower Manhattan’s zone is much bigger, and has over half a million residents. Half a million plus. Driveway Tax,

It also means that CP metering of the various TUNNELS is a complexity that is yet unclear. Just ask anyone from New Jersey. Komanoff was asked about the blocks between the Lincoln Tunnel and West Street, and was uncharacteristically… evasive. 

 What will that look like? How will that be accomplished?

See accompanying photo for a sample 30-ft wide E-ZPass gantry with license plate-reading cameras — and strobe lights.

In the middle of each eastbound block between West and Washington Streets. Yeah baby. And you thought the 5G cell tower beer cans were eyesores? Buckle up.

Historic Village Streets are about to look like metered freeway ramps. Truly historic cobblestoned Charles Lane is eastbound. Just sayin…

On every eastbound street off of West Street, from W60th to the Battery Park underpass!

If you live ON Washington Street…. brace for more southbound traffic to the Holland Tunnel. Lots more.

It is unconscionable that these two flaws have been buried. They need to be remedied. 

A “zone” with more holes than the IRS code for Cayman Island “residents” than for Lower Manhattan residents is a non-starter for Villagers.

In Conclusion

In the original Star Trek series and at least one of the movies, Kirk outwits an intentionally un-winnable Starfleet Academy training exercise — the Kobayashi Maru scenario, designed to test cadets’ mettle. How? By surreptitiously reprogramming the computer to change the ground rules, regardless that Starfleet and Mr. Spock think such is cheating.

Similarly, it may be time for all Villagers to ally with our neighbors to the immediate north and south — from Chelsea, Midtown, and Kips Bay to NOHO, SOHO, and FiDi — to do the same. 

“Khaaaan!-gestion Pricing” is a losing scenario for us locals. For any of us who own cars, obviously. But also, for any of us who use car services or take cabs, and for ALL of us who will be paying inevitably higher prices for goods and services — and food — delivered by truck, non-bike, or non-pedestrian. 

The rules are rigged. The program is fatally flawed. It must be changed. At the federal level if necessary. The FHWA’s pending FONSI is… Fonz-worthy. Oop. Wrong show.

And if Kirk can make treaties with Klingons, maybe Downtowners can seek alliances with (gasp) New Jerseyans. 

In Star Trek, the “prime directive” prohibits Starfleet from interfering with less advanced alien civilizations. It’s a moral imperative. But Khan knows better.

We — the over half a million residents of The Zone — will not be KHAAAAN!-ed. 

Sid E. Walker is the pen name (no, really?) of a long-time local Village resident, parent, and professional civil engineer who has been active in local community issues for the past 15 years, he helped unsnarl the LGA roadway system, and who would like to see a better-informed discussion of local traffic and transportation issues. His family have been Villagers for three generations.

3 thoughts on “KHAAAAN!-gestion Pricing Jumps To Warp Drive

    • Author gravatar

      Sid E Walker is my brother in law and I love him dearly. While we disagree on a variety of issues, when it comes to the west village and engineering I give him the right of way. You should too.

    • Author gravatar

      I believe you are underestimating the West/Washington conundrum by 50%. You cite Eastbound Streets will have the gantries, but, in fact, they have to be on all the streets including Westbound. Why? Because the MTA has said that if you enter the zone and stay longer than 24 hours, they will get you coming and going. Only way to do that is Westbound gantries. CP is the worst idea ever. It is going to prove to be economically devastating to Manhattan, the economic engine of our state.

      • Author gravatar

        Hi Andrew,
        Thank you for the additional info.
        I was only going by what Mr. Komanoff said on the record. I would be interested in learning whether this would be news to him, or he was holding back more pertinent info of interest to that CB2 audience.
        Cheers.

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