Will Manhattan's "Central Business District Tolling" Clear the Way for More Congestion Pricing?

Cordon pricing applied to Manhattan's Central Business District, approved by the state legislature on March 31 and signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on April 1, has the ability to be a game changer for other cities considering similar programs.

4 minute read

April 8, 2019, 6:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid


Traffic

Sofiaworld / Shutterstock

"Congestion Pricing Marks the End of an Era," posted by James Brasuell on Friday, refers to the landmark passage of the Central Business District Tolling Program in the state budget bill on March 31.

According to Emily Badger, the idea of charging drivers to enter parts of Manhattan, also known as Cordon Pricing, could enact a generational shift in the conventional thinking about transportation.

Badger's colleague, Winnie Hu, New York Metro desk reporter for The New York Times who focuses on transportation and infrastructure, agrees.

"[T]he rest of the country is far more likely to seriously consider embracing such a policy — even though it was once considered politically toxic, according to municipal officials and transportation analysts," writes Hu on April 1 (source article).

“New York’s use of congestion pricing could be a game-changer,” said Travis Brouwer, an assistant transportation director in Oregon, which has considered congestion pricing for traffic-jammed Portland.

“If New York City can prove that congestion pricing can work and gain public acceptance, it could give cities like Portland a boost as we look to introduce pricing.”

Down the Acela corridor, Philadelphia is watching. “It makes a difference,” Christopher Puchalsky, director of policy and strategic initiatives for the city’s transportation office, told Jason Laughlin, The Inquirer's transportation reporter, on April 2. “We always try to keep an eye out for best practices and see if we can make it work in Philadelphia also.”

New York City’s experiment with congestion pricing will provide valuable data for Philadelphia, Puchalsky said Tuesday, but ... Philadelphia has no policy proposal for congestion pricing, and Puchalsky has said in previous interviews that it would likely take hundreds of thousands of dollars to study how to do it right before attempting it. 

Up the Acela corridor, transit advocates in Boston are pushing the mayor and governor to consider congestion pricing.

On the West Coast, in addition to Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles all have actual plans or studies, unlike Philadelphia or Boston, to enact cordon pricing. However, their outcomes are uncertain. All the more reason to see what happens in Manhattan below 60th Street, the northern edge of the Central Business District toll cordon, after the pricing program begins in 2021.

"Congestion pricing’s moment follows decades of failed efforts to unclog roads around the country," adds Hu.

Historically, cities responded to congestion by building more roads or widening existing ones — only to find that those, too, became jammed, said Matthew Turner, an economics professor at Brown University.

Listen to Turner speak with Meghan McCarty Carino of KPCC (Southern California Public Radio) in 2017 about the Southern California Association of Governments' consideration of congestion pricing in Los Angeles (posted here).

But congestion pricing is not just about reducing traffic congestion.

“As we build a city of the future, we must reduce our reliance on cars,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan tells Hu. “My goal is to make our downtown core a healthier place for all with fewer cars, a more equitable transportation system and less climate pollution.”

Formidable challenges to adopting cordon pricing

“Social equity was the conversation stopper when it came to congestion pricing,” Stuart Cohen, the founding director of Oakland-based TransForm, told Hu. “In West Coast cities, equity is very high on the political agenda.”

While imposing tolls on drivers brings up issues of equity, Joe Cortright of City Observatory reminds us that equity is a concern with all transportation funding options. 

Fortunately, Cohen's group and the NRDC published a report to deal with this set of challenges. See Todd Litman's post, "Road Pricing Equity Report and Toolkit."

In the Manhattan program, "[r]esidents of the CBD [Central Business District] making less than $60,000 per year (adjusted gross income) are entitled to a tax credit equal to the amount paid for tolls (except if the toll is claimed as a business expense)," write Kate Slevin and Alex Matthiessen in a timely post on April 5 for Streetsblog NYC: "Every Last Detail About Congestion Pricing … Explained!"

Matthiessen worked with Charles Komanoff, a New York economist in an earlier version of cordon pricing promoted by Move NY (see 2017 post, also based on Hu's reporting). "[T]he idea of “putting a price on driving” clashes with America’s car-loving culture in which driving wherever the road may lead is often seen as the ultimate freedom," Komanoff tells Hu.

And with that assertion, we come right back to where this post began: if you haven't read, "Congestion Pricing Marks the End of an Era," do so now!

Related in Planetizen:

Monday, April 1, 2019 in The New York Times

Large blank mall building with only two cars in large parking lot.

Pennsylvania Mall Conversion Bill Passes House

If passed, the bill would promote the adaptive reuse of defunct commercial buildings.

April 18, 2024 - Central Penn Business Journal

Rendering of wildlife crossing over 101 freeway in Los Angeles County.

World's Largest Wildlife Overpass In the Works in Los Angeles County

Caltrans will soon close half of the 101 Freeway in order to continue construction of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing near Agoura Hills in Los Angeles County.

April 15, 2024 - LAist

Workers putting down asphalt on road.

U.S. Supreme Court: California's Impact Fees May Violate Takings Clause

A California property owner took El Dorado County to state court after paying a traffic impact fee he felt was exorbitant. He lost in trial court, appellate court, and the California Supreme Court denied review. Then the U.S. Supreme Court acted.

April 18, 2024 - Los Angeles Times

View from back of BART Police SUV driving down street in San Francisco, California.

Podcast: Addressing the Root Causes of Transit Violence

Deploying transit police is a short-term fix. How can transit agencies build sustainable safety efforts?

33 minutes ago - Streetsblog USA

Sunset view of downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota skyline.

Minneapolis as a Model for Housing Affordability

Through a combination of policies, the city has managed to limit the severity of the nationwide housing crisis.

1 hour ago - Brown Political Review

Row of yellow Pacers Bikeshare bikes at station in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana.

Indy Bikeshare System Turns 10, Expands to E-Bikes

Pacers Bikeshare riders logged over 700,000 rides since the system launched in 2014.

2 hours ago - Indy Today

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.