As I sit in a house in Los Angeles for a week away from New York, I know that New York City is unique among all of this country’s urban areas. The Big Apple does not need cars to survive. The Big Apple lives and dies on its public transportation network.
Last night was a sad one for the City as the cars ruled and the public transportation network, facing a financial crisis, received what could become its death blow. In a day that could be worse for New York City than when Robert Moses and his short-sighted, automobile-centric, neighborhood-destroying ego came to power, Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion fee plan died in Albany tonight.
It died in the arms of people who think they know what’s best for New York City and people who are beholden to special interests. It died in the arms of residents of the Outer Boroughs who live far beyond the subway in Eastern Queens. It died in the arms of suburban residents who travel into the city every day, polluting with their cars and not giving back to the city in the form of taxes or other fees. It died in the arms of those who feel a sense of entitlement because they ride around in cars that affect our environment while they go back to their whitewashed suburbs with cleaner air and more trees.
The Times gives us the bleak details:
Lawmakers on Monday shelved Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan to charge a fee to drivers entering the busiest parts of Manhattan, dealing a setback to the mayor as he tries to raise his national profile and promote his environmental initiatives.
The State Senate, which had convened in a special session, adjourned without taking up the plan after it became apparent that the votes for passage were not there.
Meanwhile, the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, proposed sending the issue to a study commission that would also consider other ways to reduce traffic, and giving the Legislature until next March to act.
While Bloomberg’s plan, one that would guarantee a steady source of income for the MTA to provide for better public transportation options, has been rejected by the apparently All-Knowing Sheldon Silver, the fate of the $576 million grant that the federal government had planned to award New York City is unknown. The State Assembly is attempting to set up some bureaucratic commission to further study the long-term social, environmental, health and economics effects of the congestion fee plan an in effort to secure the money the city would have received had Bloomberg’s plan passed.
So now, we in New York City stand neglected. Those of us who live in subway-accessible areas and rely on subways and buses for our transportation could face a bleak future thanks to a bunch of suburban people too impressed with themselves to ride mass transit and residents in faraway Queens and the Bronx who don’t realize that the congestion fee would bring them more reliable and faster public transportation.
Today is a sad day for New York politics. It is a sad message sent to the City. Get a car, the pols tell us. Well, I say, New York was built by the subways. Where the subways ran, people followed. No one likes to drive in New York, and no one should drive in New York. Commuter rail, subway lines and buses could get more people all over the city with fewer environmental consequences than cars do now. This isn’t hard to understand if you live in the city. But apparently our Albany overlords, many of whom live in areas that we as New Yorkers wouldn’t even recognize as New York, think they know what’s right.
Today, I’m bitter. I’m bitter that New York won’t follow London’s lead and become a model for a more efficient approach to traffic problems in the 21st century. I’m bitter that our wonderful public transportation network could be facing an uphill battle to maintain even its current levels of service. I’m bitter that politicians couldn’t get this deal finished.
Tomorrow, we’ll move on. We’ll go back to the drawing board and attempt to get this plan back on track. Tomorrow, we’ll pick up the wacky stories and ongoing subplots of the MTA’s coping with its second hundred years. But today, we can be mad that the congestion fee did not pass and hope that we can drop a “yet” into this sentence too. Today, we can mourn a bold idea turned away and complain about people from “upstate.” Today we can think of what could have been and hope that one day it still might be.