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Transit, Travel and Congestion Pricing

posted by joe on Sat 15 of Mar, 2008 [17:55 UTC]

Traffic, Transit & Congestion Pricing

by joseph tiraco

Perhaps no community can better understand this issue then people who live in the Rockaways.

Politicians find it easy to take away, and hard to restore - kind of like the law of evolution - things evolve only in one direction, there seems to be no mechanism for reverse evolution, the organism simply dies out and something else fills the void.

The Rockaway Beach Line is a prime example. Forty years ago, politicians made a tax settlement with the Long Island Railroad, and took the Rockaway Beach Line as payment for back taxes. But all they (the city) wanted was the sturdy steel bridge across Jamaica Bay built by the Army during WWII to hold the weight of harbor guns. The city's wooden railroad bridge for the "A" Line kept burning down. So politicians took the bridge and threw away the rest of the Rockaway Beach Line. They didn't care about "in the long run," and did what politicians always do: they solved the immediate problem, leaving all the future ramifications in limbo.

Flash forward forty years and we see traffic piling up in ever tighter knots on Crossbay-Woodhaven? Boulevard, the main north-south road running 1 block west of the old Rockaway Beach Line. Naturally, if the railroad is no longer there, and people need to go where the railroad once took them - they will still travel, but by other means - in this case by car.

The city's politicians now have another immediate problem: traffic knots and commensurate air pollution in Midtown Manhattan, so they put their heads together (50 x 0 still equals zero) and decided in their infinite wisdom to slap a toll on every car that enters midtown (except their own of course) and they promise, very solemnly, that the proceeds will go solely to improve mass-transit.

What did forty years worth of tolls on every car to enter and exit Rockaway do except slowly bleed the community? How much mass-transit did it buy? Here's the reverse-evolution concept at work: to reopen the Rockaway Beach Line less then three miles of track needed to be restored - the distance between Liberty Avenue and Queens Boulevard - hardly transcontinental in scope. Lose an inch to government, and it stays lost forever.

The city's top politician shares some traits with the national top politician - the oil man and the media mogul, both headstrong my way or the highway types with Brobdingnagian egos, and strong medicine for policy; both want to hear a chorus of "how high" when they yell jump. NYC's mayor is asking New Yorkers to hop through a hoop. He will photograph every car that passes through a forbidden zone, and send a bill for the transgression; today it's midtown that gets ruled out, tomorrow it may be the free parkways, and the next day comes this street or that Boulevard . . . politicians need cash like Moloch needed babies.

There was a time when New York politicians from both parties labored to give the public a bit more then they found when entering office: take the Roosevelts, Theodore (R,NY) gave us a National Park System with millions of free-forever acres; and Franklin (D,NY) managed to eke out old age pensions and Social Security from the depths of Depression. Political fashion now is take, take, take.

Yes, a sprawling metropolis without mass-transit is as dysfunctional as a skyscraper without elevators. And yet, only Manhattan has a viable enough system where life without a car is not only practical, but preferable. Mass-transit in the boroughs has been neglected for a half century - here, life without a car is the kiss of death - completely unimaginable. The mayor cannot superimpose an image of Manhattan refinements over the boroughs to win his point; the infrastructure simply does not exist! Queens has no crosstown mass-transit at all; to get from Southern to Northen Queens one drives-period. An attempt to tax cars out of existence is a recipe to demobilize the boroughs. Taking away city streets for parking, places an undue burden on already over saturated conditions. Taxing daytime travel by car falls exclusively on the Long Island boroughs since per capita car ownership in Manhattan is close to nil.

OK Mr. Mayor, what are you saying? That if we give up the free use of public streets - a right since Dutch colonial times, you, in your last few months in office, are going to extend the Manhattan - station on every corner - mass-transit system to the boroughs using new-found toll money? Bear in mind, we know this is not true - the city's commitment to the boroughs wont reach anywhere near this level until the 23rd Century or beyond. Today's sad legacy and twisted vision will linger in the lives of New Yorkers long after the current administration leaves office.

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