As the deadline approaches for the City Council and State Legislature to adopt Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal to provide congestion relief and transit funding, it is vital that Queens residents understand what is at stake for them.
Congestion pricing will bring in $491 million a year to pay for long-term transit projects in New York City, and another $354.5 million in federal money for immediate transit improvements, such as 300 new buses, many of which would be used in Queens.
The congestion relief we need will be seen citywide, but particularly in Queens. Western Queens alone stands to see some of the greatest reductions in traffic jams - by a whopping 38.6 percent. Much of this is caused by motorists saturating streets and highways, looking for a free way to cross to Manhattan. Overall, traffic jams across Queens would be reduced by six percent.
Congestion pricing also means improved transit. Even before pricing takes effect, there would be four new express bus routes in Queens (three from Northeast Queens to Lower Manhattan and one from College Point to Manhattan), three new local routes (21st Street, Flushing and Metropolitan Avenue), and additional service on 13 existing express and local lines spread across the borough.
Queens transit commuters in the long-term will also benefit greatly from congestion pricing’s transit-dedicated revenues, which will be used for local upgrades. This funding is necessary as the MTA faces a $9 billion funding gap and plans hang in the balance to rehabilitate 13 Queens subway stations, update technology on the A, E, F, G, R and V lines to increase capacity, and for critical maintenance at Jamaica station.
Lower- and middle-class residents in Queens will benefit significantly. It is a fact that Queens commuters who rely entirely on mass transit live in households that make only about $36,000, or about 45 percent less than the $65,000 earned in households that own a car.
In addition, the overwhelming majority of Queens households uses mass transit or would not otherwise be subject to the congestion fee. Only 3.8 percent of Queens residents drive alone into Manhattan for work. The remaining 96.2 percent rely on transit, walking, bicycling, or carpooling to get work, or they drive to jobs outside of Manhattan.
In addition, we have set up a system to let communities set up residential parking permit programs in their neighborhoods, ensuring that local streets do not become parking lots for “park and ride” commuters looking to take a subway or other transit into town.
It is important you know that congestion pricing is a plan that would benefit Queens’ 2.4 million residents. Your elected leaders have a historic opportunity to help the city and the borough, so I encourage you to let them know that Queens needs the improvements that congestion pricing will deliver.
Janette Sadik-Khan is Commissioner if the New York City Department of Transportation