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Like another ‘Boston Tea Party’ - CB 14 chair criticizes congestion pricing plan

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The various congestion pricing proposals currently on the table have the potential to impact Flatbush and Midwood significantly. That’s the contention of Community Board 14, which has sent a letter to the commission charged with studying the proposal, pointing out that if it is adopted as presented, chances are that the central Brooklyn neighborhoods in the board area would be among those that would see an increase in park-and-ride behavior, while deriving little benefit from the infrastructure funding congestion pricing is supposed to create. “It reminds me of what prompted the Boston Tea Party, taxation without representa­tion,” noted CB 14 Chairperson Alvin Berk during the board’s January meeting, which was held at Edward R. Murrow High School, 1600 Avenue L. In a January 14th letter to the New York City Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, Berk asserted that creating a residential parking permit system for Brooklyn neighborhoods near Manhattan such as Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill, “Would simply shift the parking crunch outwards to the next tier of neighborho­ods,” including Flatbush and Midwood. The commission is charged with coming up with a recommendation by January 31st, with city and state legislators required to adopt a plan by March 31st in order to be eligible for $354 million in federal funding. The plan must be in place by March 31, 2009. The commission announced five possible plans on January 10th. These include the mayor’s original congestion pricing proposal, a proposal that would shrink the size of the central business district, a proposal that would impose tolls on all East River and Harlem River crossings, and two plans (license plate rationing and what is called a combination plan) that do not meet the eligibility requirements of the federal government for the grant money. In particular, Berk said that, “Flatbush and Midwood would be hard hit,” in large part because of their proximity to the Q and B trains, the only ones with the ability to absorb a significant number of additional passengers, because – unlike the F, the 2 and the 5 – they are not yet at or above capacity. In addition, Berk said that, in the board’s view, “Any new cost would weigh heavily on the 2,200 CB 14 residents who drive to the Manhattan Central Business District each day, as well as the thousands more drivers from Brooklyn’s outer tier of neighborhoods, without returning much in the way of local mass transit improvements to those same neighborho­ods.” To this end, Berk pointed out that fully 65 percent of the revenues gained from congestion pricing would be used for improvements within the central business district. The remaining 35 percent, he noted, “would be spread citywide to augment existing maintenance costs.” Indeed, Berk asserted that the board did not believe that charging drivers to enter the central business district would discourage many from making the drive. Rather he said, “People drive into Manhattan because they have to – or because they are well off enough so that a new entry fee won’t make a difference to them. Congestion pricing will not reduce traffic commensurate with its cost to drivers.” The letter reflected findings in a presentation put together by CB 14 staffer Jonathan Judge that board members viewed during a Transportation Committee meeting held earlier in the month at the board office, 810 East 16th Street. Judge had pointed out during his presentation that fully two thirds of CB 14 residents who commute into Manhattan by automobile earn under $50,000 a year. Under the mayor’s congestion pricing proposal, they would have to fork over an additional $2,000 a year to fund their commute. Judge had also noted that F train ridership had risen steeply between 1995 and 2006, from 18 million to 27 million. Yet, he said, there is no ability to offer F express service – which would allow an increase in capacity —- until, “Fire damage at the Bergen Street stop is repaired, there are enough subway cars for the F, and rehabilitation of the Culver line viaduct is completed in 2012.” Judge also said that the only capital projects that would benefit CB 14, that would be funded through congestion pricing revenues, would be, “bike lanes and general good repair” efforts. Parking is already a major issue in parts of CB 14. Board member Barbara Sheeran, who lives near the Junction, said during the committee meeting that she had, “Seen people pull guns, knives, fisticuffs for parking spots.” Rather than implementing congestion pricing, she opined that, “The money would be better spent in creating a subway line to Staten Island and creating alternate ways of moving people.” South Midwood resident Tom Valentino, who also attended the committee meeting, scoffed at the idea that implementing congestion pricing would make a significant dent in Manhattan traffic. “The only way to ease congestion in Manhattan,” he contended, ‘is the truck traffic has to be taken off the streets. Deliveries have to be made at night, unless they are made in small panel trucks.”

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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