In a move to quell some of the criticism his congestion pricing plan has received, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has added a component he believes will alleviate concerns in the outer boroughs.
A Residential Parking Permit program is to be included in the congestion pricing legislation, Bloomberg announced last week. He and Department of Transporation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said the program would give parking priority to local residents, while balancing the need for visitor and commercial parking.
“This is a promising and proven parking management strategy,” Bloomberg said, adding that it will contribute to“cutting down on pollution-creating traffic and creating an environmentally sustainable transportation system.”
The transportation department will create RPP-designated parking spots, where only residents with permits will be able to park all day. These residents will receive annual permits if they show proof of vehicle registration at an address within the permit area. They will have to display the permits on their vehicles if they park in the designated spots.
The program is designed to discourage park-and-ride activity, likely to be spurred by the passage of congestion pricing, Bloomberg and Sadik-Khan said. It will address concerns expressed by elected officials in Queens and other boroughs that congestion pricing will create traffic congestion pockets by enticing commuters to drive into neighborhoods just outside Manhattan’s pricing zone, which begins at 60th Street. There, commuters will park their cars for the day and then use public transportation in order to avoid paying the $8 congestion fee.
This will cause an increase in traffic congestion and pollution, and further limit parking in many neighborhoods bordering the congestion zone, which recent DOT studies found to be at or near on-street parking capacity.
One Queens lawmaker believes this permit strategy solves little. “A residential parking permit plan raises as many issues as it resolves,” said Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), who has vocally opposed congestion pricing since the mayor introduced it in April 2007.
“How much will residents have to pay for the permit? How will guests and visitors park? How will people park to shop?” Lancman asked. “And of course, residential parking permits don’t address the fundamental unfairness of charging outer borough commuters $2,000 a year to drive to work without giving them any new meaningful mass transit options.”
Parts of the assemblyman’s district in eastern Queens lacks sufficient public transportation, he noted. Since many commuters have no transit alternative, they must drive into Manhattan and pay the fee or drive to a transit hub, park and take public transportation from there.
Both the mayor and the DOT commissioner insisted that their plan would not affect short-term visitors coming into these neighborhoods to shop, use local services or conduct other business.
Under the RPP program, the DOT will designate some parking spots as permit-only spaces, where those without permits will be prohibited from parking for a 90-minute time period each day. This will prevent long-term parking without discouraging short-term visitors from coming into the neighborhood.
City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) insisted that the RPP program would burden Queens neighborhoods that already suffer parking shortages. “If access to a local business is through finding parking on side streets, it’s clearly bad practice to limit further access through a residential parking permit,” he said, using Sunnyside as an example.
Weprin, who chairs the council’s finance committee, also warned people not to be fooled. “(RPP) is being sold as a no-fee program. I can almost guarantee that a fee will be charged at some point.”
According to the mayor, it appears that a number of neighborhoods in the outer boroughs, including Long Island City, have expressed interest in the RPP program. They first heard about it in November 2007 and in February when the DOT held about a dozen workshops in various neighborhoods to discuss congestion pricing concerns.
Under the proposed congestion pricing legislation, residents would be able to petition for the establishment of an RPP zone in their neighborhoods beginning this fall. They would submit a request, the form for which can be found at the DOT Web site, www.nyc. gov/dot, to their local community boards, which would then hold a public meeting on the subject. The community board, borough president and local council member would each have to approve the plan before it could be implemented.
The City Council and state Legislature are expected to consider the congestion pricing legislation and decide whether to approve it by the end of the month.