Clearing The Air

The Great Lobster On High continues to visit a series of plagues upon the Sodom (or is it Gomorrah?) that is New York City. First, it was the Canadian wildfire smoke, which people freaked out about but I thought was oddly pleasant since it felt like we were all on a great big camping trip. Then there were the boils, though those were only visited on me in the form of the nasty case of poison ivy I got. And now it’s the locusts–or the gnats, or aphids, sorry I’m not a Bug Fred:

Had I only heard about this on the “news” I’d have laughed it off, but it just so happens I rode home from Brooklyn through the gnat cloud and “plague” is exactly the word I used as I texted my wife photos of the tiny creatures engulfing my person:

I will spare you the facial selfie of the bugs in my eyes, caked on my sweaty forehead, and stuck in my greasy, thinning hair.

Oddly, the bug cloud seemed to be concentrated in what will soon (relatively speaking) be Manhattan’s congestion pricing zone, so maybe it’s some sort of pilot program:

The Smuggies are very, very excited about congestion pricing. The idea is that if you have to drive into midtown Manhattan nobody will do it. At the same time, all these people not driving into Manhattan are somehow going to generate lots of revenue anyway, which will be used to fund transit improvements, and finally we’ll become the sort of global city that people who read Streetsblog dream about and then wake up with sticky underpants.

To be clear, I am in favor of congestion pricing. In theory. There are too many cars in the city, it sucks, and drivers have this pesky habit of running people over. However, this is New York State, which operates similarly to a cheap Windows computer. Basically, they’re constantly serving you notifications for important-sounding new programs. They sound like something you need, foolishly you believe them, and before you know it you’re paying $79.99 per year for McAfee Total Protection anti-virus software that does absolutely nothing but slow down your system while siphoning your money.

This is not to say I buy anti-congestion pricing arguments like “This is a regressive tax!” or whatever the latest one is. Owning and operating a car is already expensive. Moreover, driving a car into midtown Manhattan is already a tremendous hassle, and the workarounds you need to employ to avoid the tolls and the parking fees and everything else are so time-consuming as to be impracticable for anyone whose time is worth anything at all. Congestion pricing or no congestion pricing, complaining about how difficult it is to drive in midtown Manhattan is like entering Unbound Gravel and then complaining that it was too hard.

All of this is precisely why I can’t imagine congestion pricing accomplishing any of the things Hochul says it will in her Tweet, nor can I imagine she believes any of them. If people are already driving under these conditions, why would a few more bucks stop them? The number of registered vehicles in New York City has increased every single year since, like, forever, and traffic only gets worse and worse–this despite the fact that driving only gets more difficult and more expensive. So if we’re supposed to oppose highway widening because of induced demand, shouldn’t we at least question the claim that midtown Manhattan will remain uncongested when anyone who wants to can still just pay the fee and drive there? Indeed, wouldn’t that make it more attractive? I get that induced demand involves “an increase in supply” that leads to “a decline in price and an increase in consumption,” whereas congestion is the same supply at a higher price. But in a city where time is money, it seems to me that a toll designed to reduce congestion is tantamount to lowering the price, and just like that extra highway lane, once everything’s done it’ll still be the same bunch of assholes sitting in traffic and honking at each other.

And if nothing else, the fact that Paul Krugman is on board should disqualify it immediately:

Seriously, that guy is wrong about everything.

Okay, fine, let’s say worst-case scenario the traffic continues to get worse despite the new tolls. Well at least it’s funding the transit system, right? Maybe–but what miracle is going to take place by which the MTA suddenly becomes a responsible agency? The Smuggies themselves are constantly telling me everything the MTA does is a “boondoggle.” Progressive types love models, but I have yet to see a model that indicates a sudden financial windfall makes people behave more responsibly.

If the city and state are really interested in reducing the number of vehicles in Manhattan, there’s a simple solution: close more streets to cars. To be fair, this is slowly happening. But pretending that anything else is going to work strikes me as highly disingenuous. As for helping the transit system, it seems like more riders would do that, and if people can’t drive into Manhattan then more of them will use transit. (I know fares only cover like a quarter of the MTA’s budget–this is the logic the Smuggies use to say we shouldn’t enforce fair evasion–but that ain’t exactly nothing, either, and it seems like more fare-paying riders is better for the system.) Of course the default anti-congestion pricing response is, “If people can’t drive into Manhattan nobody will come at all and it will die!,” but people have been predicting the death of the city forever, and such reports always turn out to be greatly exaggerated.

Obviously I’m an idiot and liable to be completely wrong about all of this. Maybe congestion pricing will indeed transform the city into the stuff of urbanist wet dreams. However, I suspect what will happen is the businesses that need to service Manhattan via motor vehicle will simply bake it into their prices, the city and state employees and various members of the placard class will continue to look out for each other and keep parking on the sidewalk, the civilian drivers who suck it up now will continue to suck it up, and all the people with fake license plates will just keep doing whatever the fuck they want. As for the transit system, it’ll continue to be a bunch of highly visible “boondoggle” projects interconnected by buses that creep along in heavy traffic and trains that rumble along with regular service interruptions on tracks held together by bubblegum. And everyone will just continue to deal with it, because ultimately this city’s all about making money, and there’s always a dollar to be made here–even if you do have to kick a chunk of it upstairs.

Speaking of charges, I see Strava is raising its prices:

By Hochul’s logic they must be trying to get rid of all their subscribers. I keep telling myself I should cancel. Maybe I will. But I have a feeling that come August 1st I’ll still be one of those schmucks sitting in traffic.

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