UN gridlock won’t be as bad next year when Manhattan traffic has to pay a fee

Avoid around the UN this week. Avoid the East Side. Avoid Midtown. As the diplomats gather for the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, a big swath of Manhattan stuffed with limousines and motorcades and street closures and police barriers and blockades grinds from a crawl to a near stop.

New York’s worst week of traffic is here, running five consecutive Gridlock Alert days. The city Department of Transportation says that its traffic data shows that average motor vehicle speeds in Midtown this week are the worst of year, less than four miles per hour. That’s a third slower than the normal slow speed of six miles per hour. For comparison, a typical walker travels three miles per hour.

As the presidents and prime ministers move around town they make Turtle Bay the eye of the frozen zones. Yesterday, Joe Biden and Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the world in the morning, part of the roster of 15 speakers in the a.m. In the afternoon, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz were among the 18 at the podium.

Today, there are 20 speakers in the morning, some from big countries like South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol, and another 20 after lunch, including dignitaries from tiny nations like Monaco’s Prince Albert, the son of Grace Kelly. You get the idea. And we get the traffic.

But hopefully, during the 79th session of the United Nations General Assembly next September, the gridlock won’t be quite as bad, because by then New York will have congestion pricing firmly in place.

Starting in the spring, vehicles driving south of 60th St. will be charged a fee, with the money generated dedicated to supporting transit. The results will be less traffic (and pollution) and more revenue for the subway and buses.

The six-member Traffic Mobility Review Board will recommend to the MTA what the fee should be and who should get a credit or an exemption.

The panel had already had two public meetings and may be coming out with recommendations to the MTA shortly. We will remind the board that the fewer exemptions the better, as it curbs more traffic and means a lower fee.

The only toll credits should be for the four tunnels entering Manhattan: the Brooklyn-Battery, the Queens-Midtown, the Holland and the Lincoln. That is it. No bridges should get a toll credit, not the George Washington nor the Triborough. The same for the three Staten Island bridges from Jersey.

Between the MTA and the Port Authority, there are 15 tolled crossings in NYC. Drivers using these facilities have for many decades paid the tolls. The congestion fee should be similar. If you have a parking placard as a government employee, you still pay tolls, thus you should pay the congestion fee. If there is a government-issued orange E-ZPass on your windshield, your tolls are covered and we would think so would be your congestion fee.

As for government workers who drive their private cars into the zone for work, free parking via placards is not the same as getting a free pass on the bridges and tunnels. If you pay a toll, you must pay the congestion fee.

And as for all those diplomats clogging Midtown, make them pay the congestion fee also.

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