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Home » Opinion | If Not in New York, Then Where?

Opinion | If Not in New York, Then Where?

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Here is what the indefinite pause on New York City’s congestion pricing program, if it sticks, will cost: 120,000 more cars daily clogging Lower Manhattan’s bumper-to-bumper streets, according to a New York State analysis, and perhaps $20 billion annually in additional lost productivity and fuel and operating costs, as well as health and environmental burdens and a practically unbridgeable budget shortfall for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that will straitjacket an already handicapped agency and imperil dozens of planned necessary capital improvement projects for the city’s aging subway system.

Here is what it gains Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, who announced her unilateral decision about the suspension last week: perhaps slightly better chances for New York Democrats in a couple of fall congressional races. According to reporting, these are especially important to the House minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries, who may still be somewhat embarrassed about his state’s performance in the 2022 elections, when surprise victories for several New York Republicans kept the House of Representatives out of Democratic control. It has also handed the governor several news conferences so bungled, they have made reversing a policy unpopular with voters into a genuine political humiliation.

In her announcement, Hochul emphasized the precarious state of the city’s recovery from the Covid pandemic, but car traffic into Manhattan has returned to prepandemic levels, as has New York City employment, which is now higher than ever before; New York City tourism metrics are barely behind prepandemic records and are expected to surpass them in 2025. Tax coffers have rebounded, too, to the extent that the city canceled a raft of planned budget cuts. The one obvious measure by which the city has not mounted a full pandemic comeback is subway ridership — a measure that congestion pricing would have helped and pausing it is likely to hurt.

In announcing the pause, she also expressed concern for the financial burden the $15 surcharge would impose on working New Yorkers, though the city’s working class was functionally exempted from the toll by a rebate system for those with an annual income of $60,000 or less. In a follow-up news conference, she emphasized a few conversations she’d had with diner owners, who she said expressed anxiety that their business would suffer when commuters wouldn’t drive to their establishments. But each of them was within spitting distance of Grand Central, where an overwhelming share of foot traffic — and commercial value — comes from commuters using mass transit.

Robinson Meyer, a contributing Times Opinion writer, wrote for Heatmap that delaying the plan will be “a generational setback for climate policy in the United States,” adding that “it is one of the worst climate policy decisions made by a Democrat at any level of government in recent memory.” He called it worse than the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Willow oil project in Alaska — not just because of the direct effect on emissions, though that would be large, but what a pause means for the morale and momentum of any American movement toward a next-generation, climate-conscious urbanism.

For years, the country’s liberals have envied the transformation of London by its Ultra Low Emission Zone, which generates hundreds of millions of pounds annually and quickly cut nitrogen dioxide air pollution in central London by 44 percent from projected levels. And liberals practically salivated over the remaking of Paris by Mayor Anne Hidalgo, whose policies have significantly reduced the number of cars in the city center, cutting nitrogen oxide pollution by 40 percent from 2011 levels, and turned huge swaths of the urban core into a paradise for pedestrians and bikers.

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