Magazine article The New Yorker

Man with A Plan

Magazine article The New Yorker

Man with A Plan

Article excerpt

MAN WITH A PLAN

--Ben McGrath

The traffic engineer Sam Schwartz has a spiel about the haphazard allotment of tolls for the city's bridges and tunnels. He likes to imagine a group of Martians planning a visit, armed only with the knowledge that New York is Earth's most desirable destination, and with telescopes powerful enough to discern bottlenecks via car headlights. Which borough would they choose to visit first? "Take us to Staten Island!" Schwartz said the other night, standing in front of a crowd of several dozen in a SoHo restaurant and channelling a Martian voyager. "That's got to be the hottest place in New York!" Behind Schwartz was a PowerPoint slide showing a map of the Martians' favorite borough and listing the inbound tolls for each of the four bridges that lead to it: fifteen dollars at the Verrazano and thirteen at the Bayonne Bridge, the Goethals, and the Outerbridge Crossing. You can't drive there, in other words, without queuing up to pay an arm and a leg. Yet leaving the island is free. Surely this reflects a kind of interplanetary hipness. By contrast, numerous bridges over the East River and the Harlem River are free both ways, allowing for unrestricted (if slow) passage between lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, say, or between Harlem and the South Bronx: ho hum.

Schwartz, better known as Gridlock Sam, is trying to revive congestion pricing, the progressive planning scheme that Mayor Bloomberg failed to implement, owing to Albany's intransigence. The idea, meant to encourage a greater reliance on public transit by charging drivers who dare to enter Manhattan's central business district (below Sixtieth Street), was unpopular with what you might call the Post demographic: S.U.V. owners, climate-change skeptics, Staten Islanders. It smelled of righteousness, and became a proxy war in the class struggle between cyclists and motorists. Schwartz figured that a rebranding was in order, and has spent the past three years refining a more equitable anti-congestion strategy. It shouldn't cost a fortune to drive to Staten Island, after all, and demanding nearly four dollars for the privilege of exiting the Rockaway Peninsula seems punitive, given the paucity of transit options on the other side. His proposal, now known as the Move NY Plan, calls for lowering certain existing tolls in exchange for charging on all the East River crossings, and using the added revenues (he forecasts more than a billion dollars) to invest in transit infrastructure. …

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