Testimony of Noah Budnick, Deputy Director, Transportation Alternatives To the New York City Congestion Mitigation Commission

November 1, 2007

I'm a Brooklynite; I plan to spend the rest of my life here and raise a family, and I am here to implore the commission to take action and propose a plan that will actively discourage driving and institute a steady funding streaming for transit. As of now, there is one plan on the table that will do both, and that is congestion pricing, and I implore the commission to draft a congestion pricing plan for New York City.

If you do not take action, if you do not develop a plan that creates a sustained funding source for transit and if you don't take dramatic steps to discourage driving in the most over-congested parts of the city, this fruitless exercise will leave New York City headed in a worse direction for our children and for their children to deal with.

If you do take meaningful action, you will lead the city and region on a course to help us maintain our top ranking of a diverse economic and cultural mecca.

Something must be done to thin traffic in Brooklyn and around the city. Today, New York City streets are inhospitable to people, yet we spend more time on the streets than in any other public space, and people are afraid of traffic and are forced to breathe toxic air.

How many people feel threatened when they cross the street?
How many people are afraid to ride their bike in New York City?
Yet, how many people love to shut their street to traffic for block parties?

Something must be done to improve transit. Subways and buses are nearly at capacity, now.

How many people took transit today?
How many people took transit here?
How many people crammed their way on to the subway and bus?
How many waited for one to show up? And waited? And waited?

We need better transit. We are working people; together, on average, we make half as much as people who have cars, yet we're the ones paying for the costs of their traffic jams, crashes and pollution.

Brooklyn and the whole city need congestion pricing. It is the only plan that will effectively, equitably and simultaneously reduce driving and improve transit. Congestion pricing is the carrot that will improve to transit lure people out of their cars, and it is the stick to compel them to stop driving.

By meeting the requirements of the Urban Partnership agreement that New York signed with the US Department of Transportation (attached), congestion pricing will garner $354 million to make transit improvements now. For Brooklyn, in the next 18 months, that means:

  • Increased F train service;
  • More frequent G 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.

These transit improvements will benefit the 60% of Brooklyn's workforce who commute by transit everyday, not to mention many of the nearly half-million school-aged children in the borough.

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.

Congestion pricing will benefit the entire city, not just Manhattan, as many opponents have posited. In fact, the traffic and transit improvements will significantly benefit Brooklyn. Traffic jams just don't appear in Manhattan. Traffic jams start on the Gowanus Expressway, and on the BQE, on Flatbush Avenue and on Shore Parkway, and they work their way on to 4th Avenue, Metropolitan Avenue, Fulton Street, Ocean Avenue and our neighborhood streets. Traffic saturates Sunset Park and Gowanus, Downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Bushwick. By discouraging driving to Manhattan, congestion pricing will cut traffic in all neighborhoods because people will no longer drive through them to get to 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 equalize and reduce traffic at this and other neighborhoods adjacent to the Congestion Zone. It is estimated to reduce traffic here by 29% and by 24% in North Brooklyn.

New York is so desperate for traffic relief that if this commission does not draft a plan to cut traffic and come up with real funding for transit, you will have failed us. Congestion pricing is the only plan right now that will do both for the borough and for the city.

There is no other plan that will fund transit, get people out of their cars and meet the agreement signed by the City, State, MTA and the US Department of Transportation. The plan released this afternoon by Councilman Fidler will not reduce congestion in Manhattan's Central Business District or the neighborhoods around it in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan. His plan does not meet the requirements set out in the Urban Partnership agreement signed with the US DOT, which means that it will not garner the $354 million promised by Washington for immediate transit improvements. At the commission's Manhattan hearing, Congressman Weiner proposed a plan that included many elements already in PlaNYC, but he did not announce a plan to secure funding to implement his proposed transit improvements. Councilman Weprin's plan includes no proposal to discourage driving and reduce traffic, nor does it include any significant funding streams for transit and transportation improvements. Like the other plans it will not meet the Urban Partnership agreement and forfeits $354 million in free federal transit aide.

You are all smart, with a wealth of experience, from politics, to transit and transportation, to environmental justice to business to labor. To make congestion pricing work in New York City, there are many details to be worked out, and I am confident that you can and will work them out. There is too much at stake to do nothing.

Like tonight, at commission hearings in Queens and the Bronx, I have heard pleas for traffic relief from nearly every single person who's testified. I've also heard skepticism about how the plan will work and if it will deliver benefits.

  • There is skepticism about real transit improvements, so the plan must propose a mandate to put congestion pricing revenue in a lockbox to fund transit.
  • There is skepticism about the possible negative impact of congestion pricing on neighborhoods and parking, so, even though periphery neighborhoods are already parking lots, the plan must give serious consideration to residential parking permits (and, in fact, the City DOT announced this week that it is launching public workshops to address these concerns).
  • There is skepticism that bus service will improve, so, in addition to dedicating congestion pricing revenue to needed transit improvements, the State must authorize the use of bus lane enforcement cameras to clear blocked bus lanes from illegal driving and parking.
  • There is skepticism that congestion pricing revenue will bring transit benefits to all boroughs, so the plan must propose equitable distribution of transit and transportation funding.

As a Brooklynite, who regularly pays to ride the subway to wait for the A train to arrive, only to find it too crowded to get on, or pays for a taxi ride on Fulton Street because I can't wait 25 minutes for a bus stuck in traffic, as a Brooklyn resident who rides his bike, dodging traffic daily, and who breathes the air, I feel the negative effects of a transit system that can't meet demand and of congestion in and around the borough daily, and I pay for them too. I pay for them with delay and time wasted, I pay for them with spending less time with my wife, I pay for them with less sleep, I pay for them with breathing dirty air and being bombarded by traffic noise, and I pay for them with dangerous streets.

Like the 92% of Brooklynites who take transit, bike, walk or carpool to work in the proposed congestion pricing zone everyday, I demand better transit service and safer streets on my trip to work. My daily bike commute does not have to be through gridlock in Downtown Brooklyn or in Manhattan, and when I choose to take transit, I should have a quick, reliable ride. Like 57% of Brooklynites, I don't own a car, and I'm tired of paying for the damage cars inflict on my borough, and I'm tired of the wear and tear the overburdened, under funded transportation system takes on my quality of life.

Something has to change, and I'm asking this commission to propose a congestion pricing plan that discourages driving in the most gridlocked parts of the city and that thins traffic and funds mass transit. This will make transportation more equitable and improve the air, health, environment, safety, vitality and quality of life of everyone in this room, in the borough and of those yet to come.

Thank you.