The Angry Buddhist: Political gridlock takes a toll
BY CARL ROSENSTEIN | For decades I, The Angry Buddhist, have resided on a street of living hell, reprobate Broome St. Tired and forsaken, old Broome is one of the conduits to the Holland Tunnel. So, with a healthy degree of skepticism, I attended last month’s Community Board 2 Traffic and Transportation Committee meeting, ostensibly convened to address East River bridge traffic.
The hearing featured four self-proclaimed traffic experts, who resurrected Mayor Bloomberg’s failed congestion-pricing plan for Manhattan, albeit reinvented by noted traffic consultant Sam Schwartz with additional bells, whistles and bike lanes. Inexcusably they skirted the issue of the straightforward, free ride from the East River bridges to the Holland Tunnel, not to mention its sordid politics.
For those who strive to understand traffic patterns, it is crystal clear that the ever-increasing backup from the Holland Tunnel — that now extends, especially on weekends, to Delancey St. and back over the Williamsburg Bridge to some point in Queens — is largely due to the one-way, outbound toll on the Verrazano Bridge, now a staggering $13. To an average working person, it is worth his or her wait to cross a free East River bridge to honk and grind across Lower Manhattan to the free outbound Holland Tunnel to New Jersey.
As a result, Downtown neighborhoods are strangled, from Chinatown, Little Italy, throughout Soho and over to Hudson Square. All thoroughfares and many side streets in between are gridlocked, creating what is certainly the city’s greatest environmental problem. In the 1990s an environmental impact statement determined that the one-way toll added more than 10,000 additional vehicular trips daily across the Canal St. corridor, costing the M.T.A. tens of millions in lost revenue annually. By accretion that number is now probably double. The cost in quality of life is immeasurable.
This devious traffic pattern was a political gift to Staten Island back in 1986 from Governor Mario Cuomo. Senator “Pothole” D’Amato subsequently codified the toll into federal law. For decades one politician after another has broken promises or ignored Lower Manhattan, from Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton to Congressmember Jerrold Nadler.
Schumer flat-out changed his position.
From 1992, for 14 very long years, Nadler swore on a stack of pancakes that once the Dems were in control of Congress he would override the D’Amato legislation. Well, the Democrats finally controlled the entire Congress from 2006 to 2010. There has never been any clarification from the senior northeastern member of the Transportation Committee why he never delivered. His staff is downright arrogant when the question is posed.
Both Community Boards 1 and 2 have never forced the issue. They tend to be politically neutered. D.I.D. (Downtown Independent Democrats) has been a D.U.D., as well, repeatedly endorsing Nadler for re-election without getting him to deliver on his promise.
Some speculate that the ambitious congressman was vying for Senator Hillary Clinton’s seat that was vacated when she was appointed secretary of state after Obama’s victory. Seeking favor, Nadler placated the New York State Democratic Party by deferring on bridge legislation. According to a reliable source, the congressman was asked directly by Obama, as well.
Appeasing Staten Islanders would allow the Democrats to gain control of the congressional seat in the 2008 election that was vulnerable due to Republican Representative Vito Fossella’s sex scandal.
It’s apparent that Nadler’s great constituent responsibility was sacrificed to the Democratic Party for its shortsighted political gain and his personal ambition. This is an unforgivable betrayal and we all know what Obama did with his commanding landslide victory — capitulate to the Republicans. And in the end, Kirsten Gillibrand was Governor Patterson’s surprise selection. I wonder if she even knows where the Verrazano Bridge is? I have heard she’s been to Balthazar.
The Democrats predictably only held Staten Island for that one term. Tea Partier Michael Grimm now represents Staten Island. The irascible freshman recently fought tooth and nail for his constituents to lower a recent Port Authority toll hike by 50 percent on its three bridge crossings to their borough from New Jersey. Nadler, with all his power on the Transportation Committee, has never fought that way for his district. He is fixated on futile infrastructure projects, such as the revitalization of the Brooklyn ports and a cross-harbor rail tunnel. Grimm’s Port Authority discount actually encourages his constituents to use the free Holland Tunnel homeward-bound. Where was Congressman Nadler when this deal was cut with the Port Authority?
The otherwise antiwar and dependably progressive congressman could clarify the matter in his re-election campaign. His long-suffering constituents deserve that much. If the above scenario is accurate, he doesn’t warrant one vote. He should do the honorable thing like Nixon and resign. Let determined state Senator Daniel Squadron become our next representative.
So back to the C.B. 2 hearing that skirted the one-way Verrazano toll and chose instead to promote the impossible dream, that pearl of panaceas — congestion pricing. They fundamentally ignore the basic political reality that Americans take their right to drive as divine. If autos were around in 1787, driving, along with the right to bear arms, would be enshrined in the Second Amendment. Yes, citywide, traffic is an issue. But tolling the East River bridges would be tantamount to political suicide for any outer-borough politician who supports the matter. The tolls would hit working people hardest. As long as gas prices are below $5 a gallon and degenerate Americans are willing to tolerate permanent war in the Middle East, automobiles will always have preference in our suicidal highway culture, even at the expense of education, parks, libraries or social services.
All of the traffic panel’s calculations of increased revenues benefitting mass transit are nothing more than unrealistic and idealistic schemes. Their plan also demands revoking the parking-tax exemption for already-burdened Manhattan residents and adding surcharges on taxi rides within Manhattan. A cab ride across the Village already costs $8. Most Manhattan residents don’t own cars and they will be required to sacrifice for Queens residents? The logic is perverse.
If almighty Mayor Bloomberg was unable to succeed in implementing congestion pricing in his first term, how will one of his likely diminutive successors achieve this? It is unlikely.