UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — The debate around congestion pricing in New York City is often focused on bustling areas such as Midtown Manhattan and the Financial District, but neighborhoods such as the Upper East Side stand to benefit from the policy as well, safe streets advocates said during a Thursday morning rally in the neighborhood.
A "robust" congestion pricing plan would reduce the number of vehicles entering the Upper East Side, resulting in fewer crashes and traffic injuries in the neighborhood, Transportation Alternatives senior organizer Erwin Figueroa said Thursday. Thursday's rally was held in Tramway Plaza, located across the street from the Queensboro Bridge output on Second Avenue, to highlight one of the Upper East Side's most dangerous intersections.
The Qeensboro Bridge is the only way to drive between Manhattan to Queens without paying a toll, making the Second Avenue output extremely congested and dangerous to traverse by foot or bike at all points of the day, advocates said.
"Manhattan is full of traffic and its time now for drivers to pay their fair share that all of us pay every day when we get on the subway," Figueroa said Thursday. "We're tired of delays, we're tired of being late to work and late to our appointments because the subways are not running on time. We're tired of being stuck behind cars that take up bus space."
Figueroa cited a data study that claims that the Upper East Side area of Manhattan could see an 18 percent reduction in crashes and a 16 percent reduction in carbon emission in two years if congestion pricing is adopted.
There have been 28 traffic fatalities between East 60th and 96th Streets since 2014, according to New York City's vision zero statistics. Upper East Side Resident Ryan Smith said that with the support of the neighborhood's state legislators, congestion pricing could reduce the number of crashes in the neighborhood.
"People are losing their lives on the streets where we live," Smith, a volunteer with Transportation Alternatives said Thursday. "In the past six months there were six fatalities between here and 96th Street, it doesn't have to be this way."
In addition to making streets safer, congestion pricing will also make the Upper East Side easier to traverse. City Councilman Ben Kallos arrived at the rally about 30 minutes late because he was stuck in traffic on the M15 bus — a story all-too-familiar with neighborhood commuters.
Congestion pricing means fewer cars on the street, which makes travel better for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers alike, Kallos said. Easier travel, and more money for transit, means New Yorkers won't wake up in the morning and wonder if the train or bus will cause them to run 30 minutes behind schedule.
"Congestion pricing will save lives, save jobs, give everyone a better commute and I think it will make New York a more livable city," Kallos said Thursday.
Figueroa said that advocates are "very glad" New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo endorsed congestion pricing below 60th Street in Manhattan, but called on state legislators to create a "strong" plan that would ensure funds raised by the policy would be invested in the city's transit system and include a limited number of exemptions. De Blasio has previously stated that hardship exemptions, such as medical emergencies, are key for his support of the policy.
Despite the upcoming deadline to pass New York's state budget, Figueroa is optimistic that "this is the year" congestion pricing will become law. De Blasio and Cuomo announced Wednesday that the policy as part of a 10-point plan to reform and fund the Metropolitan Transit Authority.