Tuesday, April 8, 2008


So congestion pricing has gone down to a rather ignominious defeat, and the responsibility for its failure is shared widely. I haven’t been following this too carefully, but one of the reasons for its failure seems to be that Mayor Bloomberg did not do an adequate job in his wheeling and dealing. Certainly much of the outcome can be laid at the feet of Sheldon Silver, who in the most annoying and insensitive way possible, i.e., not even allowing a bill of this importance to come up for a vote, has reminded everyone that absolutely nothing has changed in Albany, that it’s still three men in a room, and all important decisions are still made out of sight and out of mind of New York State’s public.

In reading the commentary, there was a fair amount of outrage that a question so important to New York City was decided in Albany. This seems to be the usual New York City parochialism at work. The congestion pricing plan was killed by the state assembly, dominated by New York City and downstate representatives (Joe Bruno in the state senate had indicated his approval) It is clear that politicians in the metropolitan area killed the plan, led by Richard Brodsky, who offered one specious argument after the other against the plan. Too many were at best lukewarm about the plan, if not openly hostile.

Once again this might be due to Bloomberg’s faltering powers of persuasion, but it seems to rest on another reality; all environmental or quality of life reforms are all too easily tagged by their opponents of goo-goo-ish and “elitist,” as something that benefits the middle class and upper classes, and leaves the poor to pay the bill. I don’t understand this. People who drive cars into Manhattan have enough money to own a car, pay $40 for a tank of gas, and pay whatever exorbitant rate Manhattan parking is going for these days.

The whole sorry mess reminds me why I always despair that environmental reform will ever make much headway. To the extent that environmental reforms (as they invariably do) involves some inconvenience to somebody, some restriction on the vaunted freedom to pollute at will, the somebodies inconvenienced will holler, complain the burdens fall unfairly on them, and will resolutely argue their puny self-interests against the greater good for the greatest number, since the peronsal inconvenience is clear and immediate, and the realization of the greater good more abstract and only coming about some time in the future, self-interest almost always wins. At some point I suspect, as the environmental crisis worsens, an environmental version of Robert Moses will emerge, willing and able to smash heads together, and something like congestion pricing will be enacted in New York City.

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