Thank you for the chance to speak here tonight, and for your work addressing our City's long-overlooked transportation crisis. My name is Wiley Norvell and I am a resident of Greenpoint, a neighborhood increasingly choked by traffic and chronically underserved by public transit. I am also the Communications Director of Transportation Alternatives, a 6000-member advocacy organization (including 1,800 here in Brooklyn) working for better biking, walking and public transit in New York City.
Traffic congestion and poor transit are the fundamental quality of life issue facing my neighborhood; it's why people decide to move away, and it's the primary condition everyone fears will only get worse as tens of thousands more people move to North Brooklyn.
For this reason, I ask you to adopt the Alternative Congestion Pricing plan that will cut congestion across New York City, and finally provide a stable funding stream for mass transit that will put new trains and buses into the system.
In addition, I ask you to support a "lockbox" that will ensure congestion pricing revenues are dedicated solely to public transit. A clear majority of New Yorkers, 60% in the most recent independent poll, support a congestion pricing plan whose funds are dedicated to transit improvements. While it's true that no mechanism is 100% inviolable, with political will and vigilance, it is clearly possible to ensure that pricing revenue is dedicated to transit. Today, we use the gas tax for road repairs; we use the cigarette tax for public health and a special portion of the real estate transfer tax to fund the MTA. The Governor's recent commitment for congestion pricing "lockbox" is a good omen for the will of legislators, and the public, to see pricing revenue spent to improve transit.
The Alternative Congestion Pricing Plan is fair, feasible and can be put into action immediately to raise money to improve transit and reduce traffic. It incorporates many points and addresses many concerns raised at previous Commission hearings and at Community Boards and other public forums.
The Alternative Plan is fair on economic, geographic, traffic reduction and transit improvements grounds. The lower a person's income, the more likely they are to commute by public transportation. Congestion pricing will clear the streets for the city's 3 million daily bus riders its dedicated transit revenues will clearly benefit the majority of low and middle income New Yorkers who have no choice but to take transit.
Speaking with my neighbors about pricing, I'm often asked why drivers from Brooklyn should have to pay (and mind you, none of my neighbors own a car). And I take this as an opportunity to remind them what Brooklyn already pays under the status quo. As a Brooklynite, I regularly pay my fare to wait for the four-car G train to arrive, perpetually late and overcrowded. I regularly ride my bike to work, not because I like to live dangerously, but because my closest transit option, the B61, is stuck in traffic. I feel the negative effects of a transit system that can't meet demand. I feel the costs of congestion in and around the borough daily. I pay for them, we all pay for them, with delay and time wasted. We pay for them with spending less time with friends and family. We pay for them with less sleep every morning. We pay for them with breathing dirty air, and we pay for them with dangerous streets. And make no mistake, we want congestion pricing to ease these costs.
Like 57% of Brooklyn households, I don't own a car, and I'm tired of paying for the damage cars inflict on my borough; I'm tired of the wear and tear the overburdened, under funded transportation system takes on my quality of life. Only 1 in 25 Brooklyn commuters drives to the Manhattan Congestion Zone – that means 24 out of 25 of us get better transit, or faster driving commutes elsewhere in the City. And that 1 in 25 still benefits with a faster, more reliable drive as well.
These benefits deserve mention here tonight. No Brooklynite should make up his or her mind about pricing without knowing what is on the table. By meeting the requirements of the Urban Partnership agreement that New York signed with the US Department of Transportation, congestion pricing will garner $354 million to make transit improvements now. For Brooklyn, in the next 18 months, that means:
- Increased C and F train service;
- 33 new buses on Flatbush Avenue;
- 23 new express buses from Bay Ridge to Manhattan;
- 13 new express buses from Canarsie to Manhattan;
- New Bus Rapid Transit on Nostrand Avenue;
- New local bus service from Bushwick and Williamsburg across the Williamsburg Bridge to Lower Manhattan (12 buses), and;
- 18 new buses on routes that traverse southern Brooklyn;
- Express bus (and HOV) lanes on the East River bridges.
And this is just a down-payment on what pricing will fund in the years to come. By generating annual revenue and dedicating it to transit, congestion pricing will continue to improve transit. This isn't a one-off deal. This is an investment that will continue to improve transit year after year. The longer the plan is in effect, the more money it will raise for transit improvements.
And under the Alternative Congestion Pricing plan, Manhattan's drivers will pay their fair share of the burden through market-rate curbside parking, a surcharge on taxi trips and by eliminating their parking tax exemption.
Congestion pricing will benefit the entire city, not just Manhattan. Nearly three-quarters of the congestion reduction from pricing will take place outside Manhattan. 40% of traffic in the neighborhoods of Downtown Brooklyn is from Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge-bound motorists avoiding the Battery Tunnel toll. Congestion pricing, by equalizing tolls, will cut congestion and finally give traffic relief to neighborhoods adjacent to the free bridges. It is estimated that pricing will reduce traffic by 29% in Downtown Brooklyn and by 24% in North Brooklyn. That is staggering.
New York City needs this; Brooklyn needs this, and I'm asking this commission to give the Alternative Congestion Pricing plan its endorsement.