Unlocking the Global Warming Gridlock: Congestion Pricing Speeds Ahead in NYC

Like millions of New Yorkers, I ride the subway all the time. I view it as one of the small steps I can take as an individual to help curb global warming, since fewer cars on Manhattan streets mean fewer greenhouse gas pollutants in the Earth’s atmosphere. That’s why I am thrilled that the New York City Council approved congestion pricing this week. Congestion pricing will not only cut down on traffic, but it will also raise billions of dollars for one of our best global warming busters: public transit. 

The congestion pricing proposal calls for charging a fee of $8 per car and $21 per truck for entering Manhattan below 60th Street on weekdays. That money will be used to fund major upgrades in subway and bus lines. London enacted a similar plan five years ago and got impressive results: car traffic within the congestion pricing zone dropped by an amazing 30 percent in the first year alone, while bus traffic has grown 22 percent and bicycle use has risen 43 percent. 

Despite these great numbers, congestion pricing has been a tough battle, and we wouldn’t have come this far without the leadership of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. This was not a popular issue for the mayor to take on--several council members were concerned about how the pricing would impact their neighborhoods. 

But Mayor Bloomberg is courageous. When he identifies something that can benefit the city, he is willing to fight for it. He has confronted the challenges that await us----explosive growth, aging subways, global warming--and said: we can solve this. We can create a cleaner, more vital future for this city, and congestion pricing will help get us there. 

Last night, NRDC honored the mayor at our annual Forces for Nature benefit. We also got to thank Council Speaker Christine Quinn for Monday’s historic vote. Our benefit was held in Midtown Manhattan, and fittingly, the Empire State Building was lit up green in NRDC’s honor. With measures like congestion pricing, New York can indeed become a green beacon--an example for other cities to follow as they tackle global warming themselves. 

Granted, the congestion pricing battle is not over. As Mayor Bloomberg said last night, “We are 95 percent of the way over the Grand Canyon, but that doesn’t get your there.” The plan still has to be approved in Albany, which promises to be a challenge. Stay tuned to my colleague Rich Kassel’s blog for progress on the Albany front.