New Yorkers are accustomed to waiting. They wait, usually with Job-like patience, for a long-overdue train to pull into the station. They wait stoically at home for a store delivery promised for some time between 10 a.m. and never. They waited nearly a century for a Second Avenue subway line — and even then got only a few stations.
So it is not surprising that New Yorkers wait calmly for their governor and mayor to move forcefully on two important transportation ideas with a potential to transform travel in the city. One is congestion pricing, the other a streetcar line that would connect Brooklyn and Queens along their shared waterfront. But patience is not infinite. The two leaders would do well to hear a tapping of feet that signals the public’s desire for action.
On congestion pricing, nearly six weeks have passed since a task force handed Gov. Andrew Cuomo its recommendations to make drivers pay to enter the overcrowded core of Manhattan: $11.52 for cars, $25.34 for trucks, and per-ride surcharges of $2 to $5 for taxis and app-based services like Uber, Lyft and Via. The twofold goal is to ease strangling traffic and raise money for mass transit — as much as $1.5 billion a year by the task force’s estimates.
Granted, six weeks isn’t an eternity. But the congestion pricing concept is years old, and making it a reality is long overdue. Mr. Cuomo is said to have begun leaning on wary lawmakers, and he has taken a few preliminary steps in his executive budget to get the ball rolling. They amount, however, to dipping toes in the water. Even while recognizing the political delicacy of these proposals, especially in a state election year, we’d like to see him plunge in deeply. If ever an issue cried out for a vigorous exercise of gubernatorial muscle to get lawmakers on board, this one is it.
As for the streetcar plan, called the Brooklyn Queens Connector, it was put forth by Mayor Bill de Blasio two years ago. BQX, in shorthand, would run 16 miles between Sunset Park in Brooklyn and Astoria in Queens, looping through neighborhoods like Red Hook and the Brooklyn Navy Yard that qualify as mass-transit deserts. The price tag to build it is steep, $2.5 billion, and you can safely bet costs will rise because that’s always the case in New York.
There’s no guarantee the mayor will include tens of millions of dollars in start-up money in the proposed budget he must submit to the City Council in a few weeks. Serious concerns loom:
How big an obstacle to installing tracks is presented by the tangle of underground gas, water and sewer lines? Will there be resistance from affected neighborhoods? How will the streetcar connect to subway lines so riders can easily switch, and will the Metropolitan Transportation Authority agree to free transfers? Can the city capture a sufficient slice of rising property values along the route to bear out early claims that BQX would pay for itself? And will Mr. de Blasio decide that other priorities should get the money needed to get the project underway?