Testimony of Karla Quintero, Deputy Director of Planning, Transportation Alternatives To the New York City Congestion Mitigation

Hello my name is Karla Quintero and I am the Deputy Director of Planning of Transportation Alternatives. Transportation Alternatives is a 6,000 member strong non-profit citizens' organization that works with communities in every borough to reduce automobile use and re-envision New York City streets as greener, more healthy and environmentally sustainable public space that promotes transit, walking, bicycling and other efficient modes of transport appropriate for our big, dense, diverse city. I am also a lifelong Queens resident and currently live in Astoria close to my family.

As a Queens resident, a New Yorker and on behalf of Transportation Alternatives, I am hear to express strong support for using congestion pricing to fund transit, reduce traffic, clean the air and improve quality of life in New York City. The congestion pricing plan proposed in Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC long-term sustainability plan is fair and will bring benefits to Queens and to the entire city: drivers, transit riders, walkers, bikers, lower income and working class people and anyone who happens to breathe New York City air.

Neighborhoods in Queens need traffic relief. We need fewer cars driving down our streets. And, we need better transit. We need funding to increase subway and bus service, to reduce waiting time and lessen delays so that we can spend more time visiting our friends and families, so that we can breathe cleaner air and so that we can improve the vitality, health and economies of our neighborhoods. Congestion pricing is a means to this end.

The goal of congestion pricing is to make New York a better place to live, work and raise a family. The point is not simply to charge people who drive in Manhattan south of 86th Street on weekdays between 6am and 6pm. Specifically, congestion pricing will raise very sorely needed funding for mass transit, it will improve public health by reducing pollution, cleaning the air and reducing crashes, and it will thin traffic, allowing New York City to make greener, more efficient and healthful use of its streets. There is no other plan on the table that will do all of these things, nor meet the Urban Partnership agreement that the City and State signed with the US Department of Transportation.

Today, Transportation Alternatives is here to express our strong support for a plan that deposits congestion pricing revenue into a transportation funding Lockbox. For any congestion pricing-based plan to operate and function as intended, the funds it collects must be committed to paying for New York City metropolitan area transit improvements and the plan must include a mandate for doing so. If congestion pricing fees are not placed into a Lockbox from which they can only be spent on Metro Area transit improvements, they will almost surely be lost amongst the State's general expenditures. Equally problematic, congestion pricing fees will come to be viewed (and likely rejected) as just another way of taking money from Metro Area residents to pay for the rest of the State's needs. To deliver the needed transportation improvements that New Yorkers are asking for, congestion pricing funds must go in a lockbox for transit improvements.

Congestion pricing is the only proposal on the table right now that will raise significant funds for mass transit. The New York City region is facing a $31 billion transportation funding gap. While our transit system is in better condition today than its been in the past twenty years, it is still far from reaching a state of good repair and meeting today's travel demand, let alone the projected increase in demand brought on by a growing population.

After congestion pricing is approved, and before it goes into effect, 105 new clean air buses will immediately be put into operation to crisscross Queens. Three new express bus routes will begin operation, serving east and northeast regions of the borough. In the medium- and long-term, congestion pricing revenue will be used to open super express buses, or Bus Rapid Transit, in the borough and help complete transit improvements needed to meet the growing travel demand across the borough, city and region.

Borough-wide, everyone in Queens will benefit from congestion pricing to pay for improved transit and reduce traffic, including the majority of people who take transit to work and everyone who breaths the air. Only a small percentage of commuters will pay the charge and, now, those who choose to drive can best afford it.

Right now, in our borough, the majority of workers don't work in the congestion pricing zone, or they work in the zone but commute by carpool, mass transit or some other means—that's 95.5% of the borough's workforce. Of Queens' workers bound for the proposed congestion pricing zone, 87% take transit, walk, bike or carpool there, and 85% of these transit riders live within a 5 to 10 minute walk of a subway or Long Island Railroad station. All of these people will benefit from congestion pricing revenues invested in better transit; they will benefit from less traffic clogging bus routes; they will benefit from safer streets; and, for those who do drive, they will benefit from less congestion and quicker travel times. Only 4.5% of the borough's workers drive alone to the proposed congestion pricing zone, and most of them have a time competitive transit option that they choose not to take.

In most of the borough, taking transit to the proposed congestion pricing zone is time competitive to driving, only adding five to ten minutes to the trip, and today 62% of people who currently choose to drive to the proposed prizing zone live within a 5 to 10 minute walk of transit and commuter rail, the same distance as most people who already take transit. Even in the most eastern neighborhoods, where the difference between driving and taking transit to Manhattan ranges from fifteen to twenty minutes, 71% of Central Business District bound commuters take mass transit. These people will benefit from congestion pricing revenues going to improve their commute.

While only a fraction of Queens' residents would pay the congestion charge, all of us will benefit. In Queens, as in every other borough, lower income and working people will benefit tremendously from transit improvements funded by congestion pricing. Less affluent New Yorkers ride transit much more frequently than those with higher incomes. Census data shows that in Brooklyn and Queens, commuters making less than $50,000 a year are twice as likely to take transit as drive to work. Borough- and citywide, households with cars earn twice as much as households without them. (Please see U.S. Census analysis at the end of this testimony.)

Congestion pricing will also benefit small businesses because they will not be paying their employees to sit in traffic to do their job. The times savings will mean lower overhead to businesses. It will also mean that workers will get more done in less time and get home for dinner with their families at a more reasonable hour.

The high volume of motor vehicle traffic that courses through almost every neighborhood in the city hurts our health, economy, quality of life and relationships with our neighbors. Last year, I led a research project to assess the impact of motor vehicle traffic on New Yorkers' quality of like. The study, “Traffic's Human Toll,” definitively demonstrates that high volume vehicular traffic has profound negative impacts on the lives of residents who live near it. I worked with researches to conduct over 600 in person interviews around the city. We talked to people who lived on streets with low traffic volumes, medium traffic and high traffic. In Queens, we interviewed 150 Astoria residents.

The difference between the quality of life of those who lived on streets with light traffic volumes is markedly different from those on streets with heavy traffic. On heavy traffic streets, over one-third of residents said that their sleep was often interrupted by traffic and that they went out on their street less often, while only 2% were frequently disturbed or went out less on light traffic streets. Not surprisingly, people who live on heavy traffic streets have fewer friends on their block than people who live on light traffic streets. Overall, 28% of Astoria residents thought traffic had gotten worse on their block over the last few years, but 40% suspect that traffic will get worse there in the next five years.

In periphery areas of the proposed congestion pricing zone, Transportation Alternatives does not believe there will be significant negative effects. In west Queens, congestion pricing will reduce traffic by 27%. Furthermore, it is already extremely difficult to find parking in neighborhoods on the periphery of the congestion pricing zone, and it is unlikely that drivers will spend 45-minutes to an hour looking for a parking space on the zone's periphery, than walk or pay $4 to take transit to and from work to avoid paying the congestion pricing fee. Nonetheless, Transportation Alternatives does support a residential parking permit program for periphery neighborhoods to guard against any potential negative impacts.

The Mayor's proposal is the only one that meets the requirements set forth in the Urban Partnership Agreement signed by the City, State, MTA and the US Department of Transportation, which grants $354 million to New York. In addition to the $354 million in federal transit aid, Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing proposal will bring in annual revenue of up to $400 million. The agreement with the US DOT, among other measures, requires any plan implemented in New York to use pricing as the principal mechanism to achieve a 6.3% reduction in vehicle miles traveled within the congestion zone, and provide for at least 18 months of congestion pricing operation. If New York's plan does not meet those criteria, then New York will lose $354 million in free transit funds from Washington D.C.

To achieve the goals of a healthier, more viable and economically robust city and region, we need to invest in a more modern, robust transportation system. New York has the second dirtiest air of any city in the country, after Los Angeles; we lose 37,000 jobs and $13 billion each year to traffic delay and traffic; pollution and transit crowding and reliability will only get worse unless we take bold and decisive action.

In reviewing the proposal, we should ask ourselves what kind of neighborhood and city do we want to live in? A vital, diverse, healthy and economically and culturally thriving one or a polluted and decaying one, stuck in gridlock 24/7? And we need to ask ourselves: What kinds of lives do we want to lead? Lives where we spend hours waiting for subways and buses, stuck in traffic and away from our family, friends and neighbors or lives where we can get to and from work and around the community quickly, efficiently, safely and at low cost, see our families at the end of the day and breathe clean air?

We have found that the more New Yorkers learn about congestion pricing and the transit improvements it will bring, the more they support the plan. Transportation Alternatives urges the Commission to move forward with this plan that will bring benefits to all New Yorkers. Thank you.

Testimony Old URL
Secondary Title
public hearing on Traffic Congestion and Mitigation in the City of New York