The Day I Traded My Car For A Dog: Why Congestion Pricing Matters

The year was 2007, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg was large and in charge. With his no-nonsense manner and drive to solve the city's big problems, Bloomberg took on one of New York’s great challenges: traffic. And he had on his team one of the most impactful transportation commissioners ever, Janette Sadik-Khan, who served as the Commissioner of NYC DOT from 2007 to 2013. Sadik-Khan was known for her transformative initiatives aimed at improving the city's transportation infrastructure, including the promotion of bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, and the implementation of the Select Bus Service.

To imagine the city New York would become, Sadik-Khan traveled around the world, looking for urban solutions. London, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Paris and Amsterdam were among cities she visited as part of her broader efforts to study and potentially adopt successful transportation policies from around the world for New York City.  For example, Stockholm implemented a congestion pricing system in 2006, Copenhagen was known for its extensive and highly successful cycling infrastructure, and Paris has been a leader in pedestrianization and public space reclamation.  



What Sadik-Khan imagined, along with the support of Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, was a city that valued people over cars. Bloomberg proposed a congestion pricing plan in 2007 as part of his PlaNYC initiative. The plan aimed to charge vehicles entering Manhattan below 60th Street during peak hours, but was ultimately canceled in 2008.

In 2007,  I was one of those drivers jamming up New York streets. I lived just above 60th Street and drove daily to my office at 28th Street. Why? I have no idea. I had a car, and I parked on the street both at my office and at home.

The Bloomberg plan was a wakeup call. I knew there was going to be a battle for parking as suburban commuters drove from Long Island and New Jersey and planned to park in the 70s and 80s, to jump on a subway for the last jaunt into midtown.

So I decided to abandon my car. In fact, I sold my car and traded it for a dog. I missed my Mitsubishi Montero, but Louie -- a treeing walker coonhound--- was a better friend and companion by far. And after a bit of an adjustment, it turned out the subway was just fine.

In 2024, New York City's congestion pricing plan, which was set to be the first of its kind in the United States, was scheduled to start on June 30, and would charge vehicles entering Manhattan south of 60th Street a toll to reduce traffic and improve air quality. On June 5, Governor Kathy Hochul announced an indefinite pause on the implementation of congestion pricing, citing concerns over the financial recovery of New York City.

But one has to wonder if the political backlash was more than Hochul could withstand. In the battle of the pedestrians versus the cars... this round goes to the drivers.

1 comment about "The Day I Traded My Car For A Dog: Why Congestion Pricing Matters".
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  1. Chet Dalzell from Digital Advertising Alliance, June 24, 2024 at 1:32 p.m.

    Congestion is chaos, and chaos is not cohesive to social order in urban settings. I am a classic Citibiker -- as I gave up car ownership in Manhattan years ago -- and know full well that unnecessary car traffic is just part of the problem. (E-bike chaos is also plaguing our city alongside the degrading level of traffic.) The bigger challenge is persuading personal vehicle owners to ditch their car when traveling about, into and out of Midtown and Downtown Manhattan and to use the plentiful mass transit options available. Train and subway crime is a convenient scapegoat -- but I surmise that more people die in car-related accidents. We need courageous lawmakers who can set the record straight -- and take the headwinds.  Is there a public education ad campaign in the works here? Persuasion can win the day, and I'd love to see such an advertising effort undertaken.  Car ownership culturally makes NY and USA different than London, Stockholm and Copenhagen. We need to change the culture inside and around condensed urban areas, and that's where advertising can be extremely useful.

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