As Geoffrey Gray warned us earlier, there's now a deal for congestion pricing. From City Room, the Times's metro blog:
“We have a deal,” Joseph L. Bruno, the Senate majority leader, just told reporters in Albany. “Like any deal, like any arrangement, its [sic] subject to the definitive word ending up on paper. As we speak, we are drafting paper, press release, with the governor’s office, with the Assembly.”
Asked if the deal would still qualify for a grant of $500 million in federal financing, Mr. Bruno said: “We are told if we get this there today, we will be one of the nine considered.”
Thought you didn't have to hear any more about congestion pricing? You may not be so lucky. This morning's Daily News reported that a marathon private negotiation went till the wee hours last night, putting Bloomberg and Albany leaders tantalizingly close to a deal to salvage the mayor's traffic plan. "We are extraordinarily close, but it's just not going to get there tonight," Spitzer's spokesman told the News just before midnight. "All the pieces have not come together." Well, the word we're now hearing is that those pieces have finally come together. A source in City Hall tells New York's Geoffrey Gray that they'll be holding a press conference in a few hours to announce a deal. We wouldn't hold our breath — considering the mercurial people involved — but it's what we're hearing.
Related:Congest Fight U-Turn [NYDN]
We missed this in yesterday's paper, presumably because we were so distracted by Bloomberg's unsuccessful shuttle diplomacy in Albany: While London, Stockholm, and Singapore all have successful congestion-pricing programs, and while Scandinavian capitals have longstanding center-city transportation cultures built around bicycles, and while an art installation in Soho last week made bikes available to New Yorkers for a few days, Paris is now trying to beat its traffic problems by making some 10,000 bicycles available for nominal fees around the city — there'll be 20,000 and change by the end of the year — for people to rent from one of 750 stations, ride to where they need go, and return to another station. This plan sounds like it could be another good way to get some cars off the road and emissions out of the air. Could it be congestion pricing 2.0, Mike? Of course not! It's an interesting and innovative idea; Shelly Silver must hate it.
A New French Revolution's Creed: Let Them Ride Bikes [NYT]
You know what? Let's just give up on this whole congestion- pricing business. We're now convinced it'll make no difference, anyway. Keeping a car in Manhattan is such a profoundly terrible idea, such a profoundly impractical one, that clearly those inexplicably sold on it won't be deterred by a little additional fee. Witness a test case reported in today's Times: A Long Island family that regrets not having snapped up a private parking space in Chelsea for $168,000 when they had the chance. Turns out it would have made a great investment property, with spaces in the neighborhood now going for $225,000. (The kicker is that, in several new condos, your $200,000 parking space comes with a $50 monthly maintenance. That's right, for a swatch of poured concrete.) So who pays this kind of money? Well, our heroine is a Long Island mother of three kids, ages 7, 9, and 11, who is brought to Manhattan at least twice a week by "her children's modeling schedules." We rest our case.
For Parking Space, the Price Is Right at $225,000 [NYT]
• Eliot Spitzer admits to the Times that his feud with Joe Bruno has become "ugly" and "eclipse[d] all discussion of policy and legislation." Plus, all the personal attacks are upsetting Mrs. Spitzer, who now regrets her husband didn't go into real estate. [NYT]
• The city is opening 290 "cooling centers" to help New Yorkers beat the heat; "I don't care how strong you are, you should take some precautions," Mayor Bloomberg declared, sounding even more like a testy grandmother than usual. [amNY]
• Now this is getting interesting: The Department of Transportation under Janette Sadik-Khan is trying to hire Danish planner Jan Gehl as a consultant (as Daily Intel reported two weeks ago), and now word is that his proposals include banning cars from Times Square. [NYDN]
• At the Phil Spector trial, the judge has allowed in a piece of blockbuster testimony from the producer's bodyguard — who says he's heard Spector say "all women should be shot in the head." [WNBC]
• And a Manhattan psychologist, William Swan, is accused of groping a prospective assistant during an interview and showing her porn to boost her "assertiveness." In an apparent triumph, she's now assertive enough to sue and go to the press. [NYP]
The Street Wizard of Copenhagen is coming to New York. That's a big deal, and great news for bicyclists and pedestrians: Danish planner Jan Gehl made his name by formulating little fixes — a plaza here, a planter there — that vastly improved pedestrian life in his home city and others from Milan to Dublin. New Transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, along with Planning commissioner Amanda Burden, took a field trip to meet him last month, and she told us last night that she's hiring him for Big Apple projects. Sadik-Khan won't say yet what he'll be working on in New York, but his firm, Gehl Architects, studies street use and designs ways to encourage it — so we suspect Department of Transportation leaders want him to make local landmarks more pleasant for walking, biking, or waiting for the light to change. Maybe he'll unchoke the Times Square bow tie, for instance, or propose ways to cross Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza in less than 30 minutes. Presumably he's open to suggestion. —Alec AppelbaumEarlier:What Does Socialite/Planner Amanda Burden Do on Vacation?
Okay, we're prepared to make a prediction: Marvelous Mike Bloomberg is going to win his congestion-pricing battle. Spitzer and the Bush administration are both on his side, State Senate leader Joe Bruno has said nice things, and at the Assembly hearing on his plan — held today at the Bar Association Building in midtown, and the only hearing scheduled on the matter before the legislative session ends later this month — Bloomberg more than held his own. He successfully parried the major misgivings about the plan — that its costs would mostly fall on moderate-income 718-ers and that its cameras would compromise personal privacy — and urged the state to join his bid for some $400 million in federal setup funds before the late-summer deadline.
As the battle over congestion pricing builds toward hearings in the State Assembly at the end of this week, the MTA — a state agency not always on the same page as City Hall — is starting to look like a Bloomberg ally. At a hobnobbers' breakfast this morning, MTA chief Elliott Sander offered his warmest words yet for what he adroitly renamed "value pricing." Staring at potential operating deficits of more than $1 billion annually by 2010, Sander acknowledged the plan's alluring promise of revenue and predicted that his agency could "align demand with supply" to accommodate riders who ditch their cars.
Don't count on Bloomberg's congestion-pricing plans quite yet, you northern city-slickers. Seems the great state of Georgia might beat us to the federal money the mayor is counting on to fund the implementation of his plan. Outside a New School forum on urban issues this morning, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin gently told us that her suburban neighbors in Fulton and DeKalb Counties have already voted to join Atlanta in expanding a tax to fund rapid transit, and Washington demands cities show proof of matching funds to get this federal money. "That puts us at the top of the list for federal funding," Mayor Franklin explained. "Our local people are willing to tax themselves, and that's a big hit in Washington." Albany, meantime, has yet to give Bloomberg the money he needs to show the Feds we're all on the same page. "If Atlanta is the economic hub of the state, the state has to take leadership on public transit," Franklin said. "And you could make the same argument in New York." Hey, we're trying. —Alec AppelbaumEarlier:PlaNYC Fine Print: Waiting for Albany
Congestion pricing is hardly the only idea Mayor Bloomberg has to separate Manhattan motorists from their money. He's now proposing harsher penalties for "blocking the box." Under his plan the fine will only go up from $90 to $115. Even better, instead of a cop pulling the culprit over in the middle of traffic to write a ticket, probably worsening the jam in the process, a red-light camera will simply snap a picture of the offender's license plate. Before you know it, the ticket's in the mail. Incidentally, the new rule should open up a nice and steady revenue source for the city, as new research suggests we don't know what the hell we're doing behind the wheel. In a recent nationwide test of driver knowledge, New Yorkers finished dead last; even New Jerseyans did better. One of the questions asked the proper protocol for approaching a yellow light. The answer was, shockingly, not "honk and floor it."
'Block'-Heads Better Beware [NYP]
New Yorkers Stop For Yellow Light? Hey, Fuhgeddaboudit! [NYDN]
Rosie O'Donnell's chief writer at The View was busted for drawing mustaches on pictures of arch-nemesis Elisabeth Hasselback. Accused D.C. Madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey wants to publicize more names from her client list, but ABC News says there are no other even remotely noteworthy names on it. David Blaine wants to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. (Please!) Mary-Kate Olsen and Matthew Modine are set to join the cast of Weeds. The maps have been removed from Jodi's Shortcuts, the semi-famous Hamptons traffic-avoidance routes. Callers trying to reach Sarah Silverman as part of an MTV Movie Awards promo have been accidentally dialing some company in Texas.
Mayor Bloomberg has said he wants the State Legislature to act on his congestion-pricing proposals this session — which means in the next month, as the session ends in mid-June — and an influential state senator thinks that it's doable if the mayor stresses the public-health benefits of the plan. Senator Bill Perkins, a longtime Harlem pol, told us outside a panel discussion this morning that Bloomberg should stress how decreased traffic can lead to cleaner air and lower asthma rates, as a similar plan did in London. Kids' health is indeed one of Bloomberg's passions, but Perkins says that point hasn't gotten through in Albany. So far, he said, "the message has a businessman's flavor to it." A shift in rhetoric, the state senator said, could well lead to the needed legislation. "It's difficult, but it's possible," he said. —Alec Appelbaum
Mayor Bloomberg wants his congestion-pricing plan, and he wants it now. That's what he told a largely sympathetic, lunch-sated audience at the Regional Plan Association's annual meeting today, when he said he'll insist Albany approves funding for PlaNYC's congestion-pricing and transit measures in the next six weeks. The necessary legislation will "have to be in this legislative session," he said in one of several deviations from his prepared text — and the legislative session ends in the middle of next month. "The reason the legislature doesn't do what we want is we haven't gone to them and said, give us what we need, or else," the mayor said in another improvised bit. Later in the speech, he turned more conciliatory, reiterating a promise to implement short-term transit improvements like extra traffic cops in 22 driver-heavy neighborhoods. "The leaders in Albany really want to get together and get this going," he added. "It will be a phenomenal legacy for them." Let's see if they agree. —Alec Appelbaum
Mayor Bloomberg announced this afternoon that environmentalists' preferred candidate, Janette Sadik-Khan, will be the new commissioner of the Transportation Department. Sadik-Kahn's appointment had been rumored since last week, and her selection puts muscle behind the transit element of Bloomberg's PlaNYC green goals, like instituting congestion pricing in Manhattan. Indeed, the city has submitted a "conditional application" for federal funds to help pay for the congestion-pricing experiment in advance of a Monday deadline, Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff said at the same press conference, though the state must also join the application and hasn't yet done so. Bloomberg was working the angles. "The geography of New York lends itself to something like this," he said. "It will make deliveries quicker for trucking companies, and it's a godsend for them … This will clean up our air and improve our economy, and the fact that money is available for technology that has been refined in other cities is a lucky thing, so I'm terribly optimistic." If only the road to Washington didn't go through Albany, we'd be optimistic too. —Alec Appelbaum
Mayor Bloomberg might be getting the credit — or the blame, depending on where you sit — for his pushing the idea of battling Manhattan traffic by instituting a fee to drive in prime neighborhoods at peak hours, but the truth is it's not his call. It's the state's. To start, no municipality can limit access to public roads without the state's okay. And even with that okay, to pay for the necessary infrastructure — how the city will track cars and bill their drivers — Bloomberg wants to apply for funding from a $1.2 billion federal fund, and federal rules say the state would have to join that application. Finally, to make clear that the city isn't merely seeking to burden outer-borough and suburban drivers, Bloomberg is promising major transit improvements to allow people to get into the city center without driving — and he plans to pay for those improvements with funds raised by the congestion fees, a city contribution, and an equal state contribution. Bloomberg has promised $200 million from this year's city budget; the state so far has promised nothing. To help convince legislators, the city is proposing 22 projects to help neighborhoods with high numbers of car commuters get better mass-transit access to midtown. So the question becomes: Will an imminent project to let buses escape some traffic lights on Staten Island's Victory Boulevard — one of those 22 plans — be enough to convince Albany to support the plan? We'll see. —Alec Appelbaum
• The mayor will use Earth Day to unveil a barrage of housing, transit, and environmental proposals. In the spotlight today: a charge for drivers to enter midtown, a cabbies' dream and car commuters' nightmare. [NYT]
• Governor Spitzer is requesting FEMA aid, including disaster unemployment relief, for twelve counties hit hard by the weekend's nor'easter. New York City is in line for some federal funds as well. [WSTM]
• Albany, meantime, is proposing the so-called Paw and Claw Tax (on pet food, natch), with the money going toward shelters. The tax would apply to "dogs, cats, gerbils, hamsters, rabbits and birds." Your ferret is now a bargain. [NYS]
• Tom Cruise, whom the Post now dubs "the diminutive Scientologist," hit Chelsea (an easy joke there) to raise funds for his questionable sauna-and-vitamins program for 9/11 emergency workers. Reporters were banned. [NYP]
• And it took two fumbling attempts for the NYPD scuba team to tow the departed Sludgie the Whale from Gowanus to his final resting place in Jersey City. Deadpanned one detective by way of equivocation, "This was my first whale." [WNBC]
Park Slope residents continued to set the standard for urban self-regard last night at New York Methodist Hospital, killing a Department of Transportation proposal in overwrought style. The department had proposed making Sixth and Seventh Avenues one-way in order to reduce traffic accidents. Local outcry was so strong they suspected a cabal to hurtle Nets fans through the streets the proposal was pretty much dead before the meeting even started. Since the lecture room was packed with about 250 people, another 200 clogged an anteroom in hopes of telling off Deputy Commissioner Michael Primeggia and giving their children (many of whom were, of course, there) a civics lesson.
A city planning guru dropped hints Monday that Team Bloomberg might be considering "congestion pricing" to charge drivers for the privilege of adding to gridlock, and today Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff the chief planning guru did nothing to discourage the speculation. Speaking at the annual meeting of the New York Metropolitcan Transportation Council, a regional body that coordinates federal transportation funds, Doctoroff talked of needing "a shift in the way we use automobiles" and called "congestion road, transit and pedestrian" the city's main barrier to growth. He also noted that taxes and user fees funded the 1811 street grid, the dedication of Central Park, and the city's water network. "Those who benefit should pay," he said. Was he hinting at a new fee on driving or cars? Providing political cover for an MTA fare increase? Telling the suburban county chiefs in attendance to look out for a commuter tax? It remains to be seen. But he did promise to issue the mayor's sustainability plan in early April, just before tax time. —Alec AppelbaumEarlier:Bloomberg's Planners Hear Public on Traffic Woes, Would Rather Talk About Something Else
In 2002, with the "primary cleanup" of ground zero barely over, the city quickly built and paved a service road connecting the World Trade Center site to West Street. Only gradually, and without much help from the media, it is becoming clear exactly how massive a screwup it was. Since Mayor Bloomberg reordered the search for human remains last October, medical examiners freed 445 "potential" body parts from beneath the road. Finally, after months and months of new grisly discoveries, the city is facing the obvious: A new, large-scale excavation is in order.