Queens is experiencing tremendous growth, with an influx of jobs, housing units and retail and office development, but our future growth is in question, unless we take steps today to improve and expand our transportation network. While there is widespread consensus that our roads are too congested and our transit system needs significant upgrades, few people are discussing what to do about it.
We can no longer afford to tolerate ad hoc government unwilling to address long-term issues so important to the growth of our borough and city. Mayor Bloomberg should be commended for his bold, smart congestion pricing plan, and our state leaders in Albany should give us the go-ahead to try it by July 16, 2007, lest we lose out in hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds for short-term mass transit improvements.
To understand what congestion pricing in Manhattan would mean for the other boroughs, just look at Queens Boulevard, Flatbush Avenue or the Bronx River Parkway during rush hour today. The major thoroughfares and surrounding side streets of our neighborhoods are clogged with cars en route to Manhattan, and many of them are coming from outside New York City from areas throughout Long Island and Westchester.
All New Yorkers will be well served by congestion pricing, but Queens residents will be among the biggest beneficiaries. Here is how:
While driving to Manhattan is a necessity for some, it is a luxury for most, and too many cars starting out in the suburbs are passing through our neighborhoods each day. Instead of using their mass transit options like the Long Island Rail Road or Metro-North Railroad, commuters from outside the city are choosing to drive to Manhattan unnecessarily.
Meanwhile, the most popular work destination of people in Queens is Queens. Most of the jobs held by Queens residents are right here in our own borough. Only 35 percent of us work in Manhattan, and a small minority, 6 percent, drives in. Of those who drive, most have mass transit alternatives.
New York City has one of the highest asthma hospitalization rates in the nation, and young children in the city’s poorest communities fare the worst. There is little debate that vehicle emissions are a leading cause, and it is incumbent on us all to do something about it. Congestion pricing discourages people from driving through our neighborhoods.
IMPROVED PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
What has been lost in the initial reaction to the congestion pricing proposal is that, as a part of it, the mayor identified neighborhoods across the city on which to focus transportation improvements before a congestion charge is implemented, and nearly half of them are in Queens. We have to seize this opportunity.
We have to reopen the Elmhurst LIRR station, establish Bus Rapid Transit service on Merrick Boulevard, complete East Side Access, which will mean more frequent and better Long Island Rail Road service, create a new station in Sunnyside and relief on the No. 7 train and the trains that go to Jamaica. These are no-brainer improvements. However, they have yet to happen due to a lack of funds. It is time we make these improvements happen.
We are known as the Gateway to New York, and we are proud to be, but Queens is a destination unto itself, and if you are just passing through, we do not want your traffic or your fumes. Yes, congestion pricing is good for the earth and great for the city, but do not lose sight of how much it would do to improve life in Queens. Ad hoc government that is unable to look past today’s headlines and address tomorrow’s challenges is no longer acceptable. We must plan for future growth for our children and theirs, and we have to start today.
Claire Shulman is the former Borough President of Queens and an active member of the community.