Now that the Legislature has turned back the proposal for congestion pricing, it is time to do something about the true cause of all that traffic congestion in Manhattan: decades of overbuilding. City Hall has allowed tower after tower to be built high above what the zoning law permitted, leading, predictably, to more and more traffic.
Of course, the group that initiated the congestion pricing plan - The New York City Partnership, lobbying arm of the Chamber of Commerce - would never go for that. It presented congestion pricing in an attractive green package, but underneath the wrapping, it was just an attempt to open up Manhattan for further real estate overdevelopment by the Partnership's members.
The Partnership, it should be pointed out, was established in part to lobby for construction of Westway, another transportation idea that was really a real estate development plan. Critics said, rightly, that Westway would have drawn more traffic into Manhattan.
Despite all of the environmental studies that are done, the truth of the matter is that development in Manhattan and, more recently, downtown Brooklyn, is carried out with little or no concern among most elected officials and the business community for increased traffic congestion and the air pollution it causes.
If the business/political community were ready to do its part to limit congestion-inducing development in Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn - making the sacrifice of accepting lower property values - then it might be time again for the Partnership to re-hire Dan Klores for another clever PR campaign, cozy up to environmentalists and launch a new effort to convince the public to pay to drive into Manhattan.
It is hard to understand how Mayor Bloomberg expected drivers to make this sacrifice when he had pursued construction of a new stadium that would have drawn thousands more cars into Manhattan and when he had championed massive development that would aggravate the already congested traffic situation in downtown Brooklyn.
The Times, in its story today on Albany's rejection of congestion pricing, misunderstood the politics of the situation:
"Ultimately, some supporters said privately, the same qualities that liberated Mr. Bloomberg to propose such a far-reaching plan — his independence from established power-brokers and detachment from traditional politicking — are what doomed the plan to failure."
In fact, it was steady prodding from the city's establishment - The New York City Partnership in league with The Times - that induced the initially reluctant mayor to embrace congestion pricing. Bloomberg never mentioned congestion pricing in his bid for re-election. Just after Bloomberg's re-election in 2005, the Partnership floated the idea via an article in The Times:
“It is an idea that has been successful in London, and is now being whispered in the ears of City Hall officials after months of behind-the-scenes work by the Partnership for New York City, the city's major business association: congestion pricing.”
Bloomberg shot the idea down quickly, but The Times persisted with an editorial, telling the mayor, “there's no time like the present to begin thinking about it.”
(Paul Moses is a Professor of Journalism at Brooklyn College. See previous Brooklyn Ron post on Professor Moses.)