Episode 111: Why Congestion Pricing Matters with Diana Lind
Aaron Naparstek: Okay, guys. Big breaking news we’re gonna discuss on the podcast today.
Doug Gordon: What’s the …
Sarah Goodyear: Which news?
Doug: What’s the big news?
Aaron: Congestion pricing just got approved.
[NEWS CLIP: Just in: pricing debate has been brewing for years, but now it is set to become a reality for drivers coming into Manhattan.]
[NEWS CLIP: The Federal Highway Administration clearing the way for the city to implement this controversial plan. CBS News’s Dick Brenan here now with reaction, and it’s hot tonight, Dick.]
[NEWS CLIP: It sure is, Maurice. This is the final hurdle that will allow the MTA to begin its first in the nation congestion pricing plan, charging drivers a fee when they go below 60th Street. The MTA says it will use the money to fund its capital plan.]
[NEWS CLIP, driver: This is New York. Why I gotta pay more? Everything is going up.]
[NEWS CLIP: Talk to people coming off the West Side Highway just below 60th Street, and you won’t find too many fans of congestion pricing.]
[NEWS CLIP, driver: I can’t believe it. oh heck, no! And I live right here.]
Doug: Well Aaron, I’m totally shocked that drivers coming off the West Side Highway are opposed to paying an additional fee to enter Manhattan. That is shocking!
Sarah: Breaking news!
Aaron: Right? I’m completely shocked that this is happening, because congestion pricing was approved in 2008. This has been going on for 16 years.
Sarah: Yeah, I think that this—between the three of us, we’ve had several children and, you know … [laughs]
Doug: My daughter was born in 2009, yeah.
Aaron: My kid was born when this started, and now he could get his driver’s license.
Sarah: There you go. The cycle of life. The circle of life.
Aaron: Hello, and welcome to The War on Cars. I’m Aaron Naparstek, and it’s hot tonight, Doug and Sarah!
Sarah: [laughs] It sure is!
Doug: Aaron, I just don’t think it was very fair of you to charge me $9 to come into the studio today.
Sarah: [laughs] It is kind of crowded in here.
Aaron: So New York City is getting set to launch a major new weapon in the war on cars.
Sarah: I don’t know. I don’t know, is that appropriate? Do we want to talk about …?
Aaron: The war-like language that I’m always using?
Doug: It’s not—it’s not a new weapon. It has been deployed in the Pacific and European theaters of war, one might say.
Aaron: Well, this is an actual—this is literally a Manhattan Project, what’s happening right now. It’s just congestion pricing took a lot longer to develop than the atomic bomb, that’s all.
Sarah: Well, some things—some things are truly complicated.
Aaron: So New York City’s congestion pricing plan has been slogging its way through city, state and federal government for 16 years now. Some would even argue it’s taken longer, like, people started talking about this in the early ’70s. But the Federal Highway Administration finally gave the green light. After producing something like 4,000 pages of environmental review, they said that New York City can finally implement this congestion pricing plan that it’s been working on for so long. So if all goes as planned, people driving cars and trucks into Lower Manhattan will have to pay a fee starting sometime in the spring of 2024.
Aaron: We have a guest here to talk about this with us. She argues that congestion pricing has the potential to be a very big deal, not just for New York City, but for cities all across North America. Our guest is Diana Lind. She is a writer and nationally recognized expert on urban policy from the PEN Institute for Urban Research in Philadelphia. And she writes a newsletter called “First and Foremost.” [ed. Note: Now “The New Urban Order.”] We will put a link in the show notes so you can subscribe. Diana Lind, welcome to The War on Cars.
Diana Lind: Thanks so much for having me.
Aaron: In your newsletter the other day, you argued that the launch of congestion pricing marks the beginning of a new era. And I’m quoting you here, “The next 20 years will be the beginning of the end of the private car in cities.” Is this it? Have we—have we won the war on cars? Is it done? Is it over?
Diana Lind: No, no. Definitely haven’t won the war on cars, but we have started what I would say, like I wrote, you know, the beginning of the end of private cars in cities. There’s gonna be a lot of different ways in which congestion pricing sort of starts out as being perhaps about reducing congestion, maybe becomes also about reducing emissions. And eventually, I think where we’ll get is reducing the numbers of private cars being used in cities. So I think that there’s a trajectory there over the—over the course of the next couple of years.
Diana Lind: And I think what congestion pricing can do is it can really start people thinking about pricing mobility, about, you know, the ways in which we are sort of dedicating space in our cities to cars or not anymore. And I think it will start a broader national discussion once people see what’s happening in New York, and start thinking about, “Well, if it’s working in New York, how could something like this work in Philadelphia or Boston or Los Angeles?” And I think it’ll just open up a bigger conversation about who gets to own the streets, who gets to walk, bike or drive in them.
Sarah: Okay, so that all sounds amazing, but before we can even talk about what might happen in the future, let’s talk about what the plan is and how it’s supposed to work.
Diana Lind: So my understanding is that the plan will be a congestion pricing zone that will run from 60th Street to the bottom of Manhattan, that you will have cars and taxis and trucks charged at various different rates once a day to enter that zone, that there will be some exemptions for lower-income residents, for city workers, et cetera. But in general, this will work by having scanners and technology that are, you know, built into the streetscape that is going to scan your E-Z Pass, and from there charge you for entering the zone.
Doug: And we should say that right now there’s no specific fee that has been proposed, but the range is anywhere from $9 to $23. A lot of that might depend on time of day, type of vehicle, like you were saying. So the fee has not been set, but that should be coming soon.
Aaron: Right. And the goal, what the MTA and the city is hoping for, is that congestion pricing will reduce car and truck traffic in lower Manhattan by something like 15 to 20 percent. So you would see a significant reduction of car and truck traffic in the congestion zone, and ideally on the streets leading to it. The plan is supposed to raise about a billion dollars a year in new revenue, and those funds will be used to pay for all kinds of improvements for public transit, capital improvements. And so also, of course, the expectation is that with fewer cars and trucks, you’ll have safer streets, improved biking and walking, better transit, cleaner air, better quality of life.
Sarah: And better quality of life for drivers. People who do need to drive will be able to drive with—on streets that have less congestion on them, which would be great for them, too.
Diana Lind: Also I would add in there better for buses. So buses are crawling on a really slow rate, something like less than seven miles per hour. So this could be a huge boon for the bus network.
Sarah: So it sounds great. Why have we been talking about this since 2008? [laughs]
[NEWS CLIP: Now we continue with other news today, starting with congestion pricing.]
[NEWS CLIP: Yeah, it’s a border war. New Jersey politicians file a lawsuit to stop the MTA’s congestion pricing plan, but it may be just a stalling tactic.]
[NEWS CLIP: The suit claims the feds didn’t consider the environmental impact on New Jersey before giving congestion pricing the green light. CBS2 political reporter Marcia Kramer here now to explain. Marcia.]
[NEWS CLIP, Marcia Kramer: Well, there are a lot of strong words used today about the MTA’s controversial congestion pricing plan: highway robbery, brazen money grab. But the legal action filed today was not based on high tolls charges, but about the environmental cost to New Jersey residents.]
[NEWS CLIP: And the environmental cost is anathema to our shared obligation to protecting vulnerable communities from hazardous air quality …]
Doug: Unless they live in Jersey City and live next to the highway.
[NEWS CLIP: … to protect New Jerseyans.]
[NEWS CLIP: Because of the congestion tax, come next spring, trucks will be backed up here in North Jersey as far as the eye can see, billowing cancer-causing pollution into the lungs of children in our communities.]
[NEWS CLIP: CBS2 video shows the crush of trucks and cars coming from North Jersey into the George Washington Bridge right now.]
Sarah: Right. That’s …
Aaron: Right now.
Sarah: … the congestion that we will be pricing, and thereby reducing.
Doug: Environmental concerns—environmental concern is the last refuge of the NIMBY. It really is.
Doug: It’s like these guys don’t give a shit about the environment as it stands right now. There’s nobody advocating for the communities by the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels or the George Washington Bridge, you know, saying that something has to be done to reduce the number of cars that are polluting the atmosphere right around there.
Aaron: The same governor is literally about to spend $11 billion …
Doug: $11 billion!
Aaron: … to widen the highways through Jersey City.
Sarah: They don’t give a shit. There’s no difference between these guys and the people who show up to a bike lane meeting and say, “If you put the bike lane in there, I’m just gonna be circling, looking for parking and that’s going to add to the emissions and heat the planet.” They don’t actually give a shit.
Aaron: The people you hear from in that clip, it’s this sort of rogues’ gallery of the same people who have been opposing this stuff for on and on for decades.
Doug: It’s like a Marvel Cinematic Universe reboot, basically, of the Prospect Park West bike lane fight, for sure.
Sarah: Yeah. But let’s remember, they lost that fight.
Aaron: They did lose.
Sarah: And they are going to lose this one, I hope.
Doug: And also look, you know, like, it’s all gonna depend—you gotta hope that this doesn’t land before a judge who drives into Manhattan every day. But they’re basically saying that, you know, the MTA and Albany didn’t—and the federal government didn’t consider the environmental impacts on New Jersey. And that’s just patent bullshit, because they literally went practically to Maryland to consider the environmental impacts on, like, Philadelphia traffic that this might have. So that’s just patently untrue.
Doug: A 4,000-page environmental review considered—I mean, literally if there was like a car on a boat in the Atlantic Ocean, they probably considered the environmental impacts. Let’s take a quick break. We’ll be right back.
Doug: So it’s September, and that means back to school or back to the daily commute or just back to life in general after your summer vacation. Whatever you’re getting back to this fall, you can stay dry when you’re walking and cycling with Cleverhood. Cleverhood makes the best rain gear around, from the bright and colorful Rover Rain Cape to the stylish Urbanaut Trench. And not only do the good folks at Cleverhood support us here at The War on Cars, but they also support all kinds of organizations working to make their communities safer, sustainable and more equitable. Now through the end of September, listeners of The War on Cars can save 15 percent on anything and everything in the Cleverhood store. Visit Cleverhood.com/waroncars and enter code FALLBACK at checkout. Again, that’s Cleverhood.com/waroncars, coupon code FALLBACK. We thank Cleverhood for all they do to support safe streets.
Aaron: So Diana, we’ve waited 16 years to put this plan into action, what’s a few more months, I guess, right? We’re only in the midst of a massive climate crisis caused in large part because of all of the cars that are gridlocking our cities. But no seriously, your assertion that this plan is going to be a big deal for other cities, it’s potentially the beginning of the end of the private car in cities in general, let’s dig into that a little bit. Why do you think this could change the fundamental relationship that cities have with cars?
Diana Lind: New York is very unique in terms of both the numbers of people that it has and the density that it has and its ability to kind of shun the car in favor of public transit. Other US cities don’t really have that luxury, they don’t have that infrastructure. But all of the American cities are grappling with some of these fundamental challenges that I think that congestion charging or just sort of a broader rethinking of how we’re allowing cars into our downtowns and neighborhoods, all of these cities are grappling with these kinds of similar issues, whether it’s the number of delivery vehicles that are entering our cities, and curb access. Those are things that are clogging downtowns. They’re creating a ton of traffic. And a lot of the vehicles that are doing those deliveries are often running on diesel, so they’re extra polluting.
Diana Lind: What I’ve seen, for example, is how the congestion pricing scheme in London really affected how other cities within Europe have thought about not just congestion charging, but particularly things like low-emission zones. So London wasn’t the first to create low-emission zones. Cities in Sweden were. But when London sort of created the first really large one in 2008, a lot of other cities have followed suit. So, you know, Paris, Madrid, Lisbon, et cetera, and there are more than 300 low-emission zones across Europe, which are these restricted areas where only low-emission vehicles can go.
Diana Lind: And it’s really been a way for these cities to kind of control how many cars are coming into their downtown, what kind of cars are coming into their downtown, and seeing how that has spread across Europe. I think it started to, you know, make me think, “Well, if we have a model in New York in the US, I bet a lot of other cities are gonna start looking to congestion charging and think, ‘How can we apply this to other places in the US?'”
Sarah: This, to me, seems like one of the most interesting and potentially fruitful things about congestion pricing is that it creates a mechanism that can be used in a lot of different ways. And, like, you’re talking about limiting types of vehicles, there are some of us who really don’t think that enormous SUVs, for instance, are an appropriate vehicle to have in dense urban areas. And it seems like this would be a great way to get people not only to give the city a mechanism that they can use to say, no, this vehicle costs more than this other vehicle to come in, or this vehicle isn’t allowed to come in at all, but it also will help to raise awareness among the public, I would think, the driving public of, you know, the impact that different vehicles have, and maybe create a kind of norm like, “Oh, yeah. Man, I don’t want to drive in in Joe’s Suburban because then we’re gonna have to pay $23. Let’s, you know, take a different kind of vehicle,” you know? So that seems like a really cool opportunity in a way.
Diana Lind: Yeah, absolutely. I think that there’s the possibility of just differentiating among the types of vehicles that cities could have, where those vehicles are allowed to go, how you price them, et cetera. And so there’s, for example, a pilot in Santa Monica to have a low-emission zone. It’s a voluntary, low-emission zone that is partnering with delivery companies. So the idea here is that only zero-emission delivery vehicles are allowed to have priority curb access.
Diana Lind: And it’s sort of an interesting idea because then you say okay, if you want to have curb access as a delivery provider, you have to be driving in on a zero-emission car. And I think that’s a really smart way for cities to start thinking about we have these streets that people want to access, but we’re giving everyone equal access to it. And all you have to do is just drive around in circles ’til you can park there. Well, no. Actually, maybe we could say what we want to do is we want to change what kinds of vehicles have access to this area, because we value the air quality, and we want to push people towards more sustainable modes of transportation. And hey, we could pick up some money for our transportation agency at the same time. So I think that’s like the potential here is giving cities the opportunity to start to differentiate between, like, what kinds of vehicles they want to allow into their most kind of prized real estate, and then thinking about, like, how this could then in turn support the infrastructure that they really need funding for.
Doug: I was thinking, zooming out a little bit, that this also eliminates or reduces the sunk cost fallacy of car ownership. And that is a huge, huge thing. You know, bus riders and subway riders have to think about how much they’re spending every week on commuting, and especially for lower-income people who might have reached the end of their budget, where 20, 30 bucks a week or more is a lot of money for them, that extra $2.75 that they’re gonna spend, they might think, “I can’t do that because that’s a significant portion of my hourly wage.” Now drivers will have to think, “Man, you know, this costs—this trip is gonna cost me $9 or $15 or $23 on top of parking, on top of the time it takes.” And so they might reevaluate that. And I think that’s a huge opportunity, not just for New York, but for everywhere, because drivers just don’t think about it. Once they’ve paid their monthly, you know, car payments or the down payment, they just stop thinking about how much it costs to operate their car for the most part.
Aaron: In a way, it’s like a real paradigm shift. It’s a total rethink of the way that we use cars. You know, the idea of the car has always been you have this total freedom. Like, I have my car so I can go wherever I want, whenever I want. And I think that’s, to me, the biggest deal of congestion pricing is we’re saying, “Well, actually, no. We’re, like, keeping track of all of the cars that are coming into this area. And we’re—like, we’re putting a price on them. We’re like—you know, and we’re also maybe even, like, looking at the type of car you’re using and whether or not it’s appropriate here.” I just feel like that’s—that’s a very radical and different way of thinking about the car for Americans, at least.
Diana Lind: I think it’s also a paradigm shift for city leaders to actually not prioritize the car. So if let’s just say the congestion pricing is really successful, and it is rolled out just years after the city was brought to its knees by COVID, and people are really questioning whether people are gonna return to the city, but it’s successful and people love it. And that part of the city that’s part of the congestion zone becomes even more desirable, I think that has a potential to be a really big paradigm shift for how city leaders think about cars in their cities.
Diana Lind: Because in so many other parts of the country after COVID, the first thing was just like, let’s get people back downtown no matter what it costs. Free parking for everybody, you know? Figure out ways to get people downtown. There were many different ways in which free parking was really, like, trotted out, whether even to get people onto transit again, and so forth. And so this is like a really big shift to say, “Actually, no. We’re gonna chart a different future where we’re gonna get people back downtown, but it’s not gonna be about you driving your car there. It’s going to be about kind of prioritizing this experience of living in the city in a way that’s going to make this like a healthy, greener and more pleasant experience for people who are even just, you know, tourists or day visitors.” So I think that’s another kind of paradigm shift.
Sarah: I wonder about how effectively you think that elected officials and others are conveying these positive messages to people, because frankly, I am not seeing a whole lot of effective communication. And so when we talk about all these great positive effects that might happen, and other people that might see this as a model, I don’t know that I’m seeing the communication aspect handled in a way that is making me hopeful about that happening. So are you seeing good communication, good—good kind of PR on this?
Diana Lind: That’s a good question. So I can’t say that I’m as tuned in. I’m a native New Yorker, but I don’t live there anymore, so I’m not as tuned into how local New York officials are kind of embracing this and saying this is something that we support and want to see happen. I’ve seen much more of that really on the advocacy side. And I also think that, you know, one of the things that’s really different about, say, how we think about where we are in climate change in the US versus let’s just say Europe, which has embraced, you know, many more of these low-emission zones and more stringent focus on, you know, keeping cars out of their downtown areas is, you know, there’s just a different approach to climate change in the US. Like, much—many fewer elected officials who even have that as part of their platform, not as strong of a kind of Green Party that say, you know, is running Paris right now.
Diana Lind: So it’s kind of hard to find the elected officials in the US who are really kind of leading with the message of environmental issues, about, you know, quality-of-life issues, things like that, as much as you could find a lot of elected officials who are just kind of at this point really preoccupied by things like, you know, crime and safety and picking up the litter and stuff like that. So I think you’re hitting on a really important point, which is that there’s a lot of buy in that needs to happen, both in terms of the public and in terms of elected officials who are gonna kind of support this, because otherwise—you know, and certainly there was a lot of controversy over congestion charging in London, but otherwise you could have in New York, like, this really be a disastrous rollout.
Doug: It’s probably worth mentioning that right before Stockholm implemented their congestion pricing fee support was below 40 percent. And then within weeks of it being implemented, support went up to, like, 52 percent, and then years later it was 70 percent. So there’s this what they call the political valley of death, which I know Streetsblog and others have covered, that, you know, nobody really wants to go out on a limb and support this. Our own mayor, I think if it weren’t already law, he would be against it 100 percent.
Doug: He’s been very reluctant to say wholly positive things about it. He keeps saying he has concerns. Governor Hochul has been pretty—pretty strong in her defense, saying congestion pricing is going to happen, sort of in not so many words like, “Suck it New Jersey, it’s gonna happen.”
Aaron: Well, and she was—we should maybe play the clip of her at the announcement. I mean, she did a great rollout.
Doug: She’s been pretty good, yeah.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Kathy Hochul: I walk the streets of the city almost every day, and I see it. And I know the anxiety people have when you’re at the intersection and cars are flying through and you can really—and the delivery trucks are jammed up. They can’t make their deliveries and they’re getting frustrated, and the cars behind them are all beeping because they can’t get through. It is chaos. It is chaos. And think about the pedestrians just trying to get around, the bicyclists, the delivery people. It is dangerous for them. But all of this concentrated activity, the vehicles sitting there idling because they cannot move and our buses that are not moving, it’s also creating all this exhaust and emissions that our people are breathing. As I mentioned at the outset, we’re more cognizant of what’s going into our lungs these days, and we’re experiencing the effects of the wildfires in Canada. What about the wildfires that are happening on our own streets right here coming out of the exhaust pipes from all these vehicles?]
Doug: Well, I mean, I think it’s—you know, I think it’s like everything that we see, and I can relate this to, like, Citi Bike, the freak out as, you know, right now they’re putting the tolling gantries up and the infrastructure is getting put in place. And it reminds me very much of when the first docking stations went out for Citi Bike and people freaked the hell out. “This is going to ruin the city. How are people gonna make deliveries? No one’s gonna be able to access the curb. What about little old ladies who need to get to medical appointments?” And you’re seeing exactly the same thing happen with congestion pricing. It’s a complete misread on how people get around New York City especially.
Aaron: And nobody can see any benefits yet. So it’s like you just see the sort of this looming policy change, right? But that’s what the “valley of death” is. It’s like you don’t see any benefits yet, and so it’s like this moment where the opponents can kind of just scare the hell out of everyone.
Doug: It’s like cars in Central Park. If you went right now to Central Park and said, “Hey, did you know that just like three, four years ago we used to let cars come through here? Should we let them back?” People would look at you like you were crazy.
Sarah: Speaking of that, you had an interesting test case of an implementation that was done not intentionally, when you had part of the—part of the freeway system in your part of the world failed spectacularly, and there were some interesting sort of non-repercussions from that. Is that right? I’d love to hear your perspective on that.
Diana Lind: Sure, yeah. Well, so when the fuel tanker burst into flames and shut down I-95 and collapsed part of I-95 outside of Philadelphia, you know, everyone was really kind of convinced that this was going to be just terrible, that, first of all, it’s going to take months and months and months to be repaired, that this was going to be a true burden on people both getting in and out of Philadelphia, but also, you know, I-95 is a massive, you know, major highway along the East Coast, so it would mean causing great delays, particularly, like, commerce traveling up and down the highway.
Diana Lind: Yeah, that didn’t end up really happening. And I think that certainly SEPTA, our transit agency, really stepped up. But there’s so much redundancy to I-95 in terms of other ways that you can get around by not taking I-95 that really, you know, some of those detours worked out okay. The main thing, though, is that they solved that problem really quickly. I think it was something like two weeks that they were able to rebuild that section. So that was kind of an infrastructure miracle.
Diana Lind: But I thought that you were gonna say that Philadelphia had some experience with testing out, not congestion charging, but we did do a test case of pedestrianizing one of our streets, a commercial corridor, Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. And that was a real failure. And I think that was sort of one of the things that has made it really hard to kind of revisit this idea of pedestrianizing downtown Philadelphia, which is, you know, built on a very old grid. It has a lot of, you know, buildings from the 19th century. It could easily work without cars, but there’s a lot of fear of pedestrianizing parts of the city ever again, because when we did try it, it failed. And certainly in a lot of other cities around the country, those kind of pedestrian malls in their downtowns were not successful.
Aaron: One more thing about the Philly I-95 collapse, I mean, you know, it wasn’t so much a miracle, but Josh Shapiro, the governor, basically issued an emergency declaration that suspended all of the different rules and regulations that might make that project slow. So, you know, it’s an interesting contrast to, like, this congestion pricing policy that’s been, like, wending its way through 16 years of, like, processes, some of which are processes that we theoretically like, like environmental review. But with I-95, we just said, “You know what? This is important. This is an emergency. We need to go get it done. If you have some, you know, local rule or environmental regulation that’s in the way, sorry, like, it’s an emergency, we’re doing it.”
Aaron: There’s something there that we can take away is, like, you know, we are in a variety of emergencies. We have an affordable housing emergency, we have a climate emergency. Like, name your emergency. We have a traffic congestion emergency. You know, there’s something to be said for letting your elected representatives, as Doug was saying earlier, like, just do their jobs. Go implement the thing that’s going to solve the emergency, for Christ’s sake.
Doug: And not to get completely political, but all of this stuff is completely political, there is this idea with, like, good on Josh Shapiro, like a Democrat getting shit done.
Aaron: Yes! Show that the government can do things.
Doug: Government can do stuff and solve problems. And it does—you know, it doesn’t just have to be railing about, like, you know, personal health care decisions for trans children or, like, your books in your public school are too woke. Like, it can actually solve problems that affect people’s lives and not deal with this culture war bullshit that the Republicans are always railing on.
Aaron: It’s just too bad the thing that we consider the emergency that really needs to get doneis just building a redundant highway through Philadelphia.
Doug: [laughs] Yeah, basically.
Aaron: Through Philly, you know? Like, we have the wrong …
Doug: Same emergency, but tear down the rest of the highways.
Sarah: Yeah, right.
Diana Lind: Yeah. I mean, I think that that is—that’s a part of the issue is that this is what we consider an emergency is a highway, you know? That—it is an emergency when the highway goes out because so many Americans would never have another way to get where they need to go. And we’re so reliant on highways. So I think that’s—that’s kind of qualifies as it.
Diana Lind: And I think in a certain way, everyone sort of cheered for the highway. It’s like almost this universal experience for Americans, whereas I think congestion pricing really starts to pit people’s values against one another, you know? And I think it sort of also can, you know, potentially pit—certainly pits, you know, commuters against residents, and it can potentially pit some Manhattan residents against others or, you know, people who are in the boroughs against Manhattanites. So I think that it’s also sort of a problem if it’s not pitched in a way as sort of like this is great for our city and our region overall.
Sarah: Yeah, I just keep thinking about, like, maybe we should suggest that Phil Murphy should market his state as a high-emission zone and, you know …
Diana Lind: [laughs]
Sarah: And, like, he could be like, “This is a high—like, I want—you know, we’re trying to, like, encourage congestion and emissions in New Jersey. And so we just want you to know just, like, drive as much as you want and, like, we won’t ever price it.” And, like, if we could get him to stand up there and say that, maybe, maybe …
Doug: I mean, he’s essentially trying to do that because he’s trying to widen a highway through Jersey City.
Doug: So, you know, all of these claims that he has about the lawsuit, that it’ll have negative environmental consequences for people in Bergen County and other counties in New Jersey, you can sort of say, “I think you’re not being truthful here because you are widening a highway that’s going to have terrible effects on the people of Jersey City and other areas close by.” Which I think speaks to the political problem here, which is that drivers complain a lot, and the people who don’t know what they have to gain are not easy to organize, you know? It’s hard to organize the tenants of an affordable housing project that hasn’t been built yet. And that’s sort of what’s going on with congestion pricing, I think right now.
Aaron: Diana, in your piece, you specifically mention a 20-year timeline. Like, you think this will be the beginning of a 20-year process. And that actually got me—I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, like, and how long advocacy and changes take. Where might we be in, like, 10 or 15 years if this works? What could the vision look like?
Diana Lind: So my future is both optimistic and a little bit dystopian because, you know, you have to go there.
Diana Lind: I think that in the future we’re gonna have—I think we’re gonna have self-driving cars. I think we’re gonna have a lot more AI. I think we’re gonna have a lot more electric cars. And I think we’re also going to have cities as playing this, like, very unique role of places of personal connection. I think that as the world becomes more AI-centric, the importance of personal connection and verifying truth and people and in-person experiences are gonna become that much more valued. And cars, private cars are gonna have less and less of a space for that. I also think that in a weird way, we’re sort of—there’s going to be more of this kind of day tourism into cities, so as remote work kind of expands further and people perhaps live further from the city, they also then come more into the city for those personal connections, and they’re not gonna be bringing their private vehicle in for that.
Diana Lind: So I see that as being sort of that 20-year horizon. I see, you know, a lot of different kinds of targets that we’ve set for things, like the end of, you know, gas-powered cars in 2035, 2040. I see 20 years from now us being in a very different landscape, both in terms of how people are thinking about mobility, and then also just in terms of how people are thinking about, like, what the role of cities are, and cities being a place where, you know, you want to be surrounded by people, be in places where you can kind of live that best in-person life. And cars have a very limited role in that.
Doug: I’ll give you an optimistic version of this. The 60th Street and below cordon that we’re doing now was what was possible politically, right? Like, ideally, I think we would all love to see all of Manhattan become a congestion pricing zone. You know, Brooklyn is the fourth-largest city in America. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t have to pay to move your car through downtown Brooklyn. So I think in my most optimistic version of this, we start with the 60th and below, it works really well, and then the city says, “You know what? We can expand it.” And then you have a little more ammunition because all the doom and gloom predictions of businesses are gonna go under and, you know, granny’s not gonna be able to get to the hospital, none of that has come to fruition. And so it makes the political fight to expand it just a little easier, if not a lot easier. So that’s sort of my optimistic where are we in 15, 20 years vision.
Sarah: Can I do another optimistic thing, which is that I think that this could really stabilize the MTA financially, and it could become very obvious that—you know, that this kind of funding source makes a lot of sense, and then that making the MTA into the, you know, truly, truly world class organization that it deserves to be, providing really superb public transit service, the likes of which you see in other countries. That if we get that going, 10 years from now, the climate impacts are gonna be so extreme and so obvious to everybody all the time that it’s gonna be a wonderful relief to be able to say, “Hey, we’ve got this world-class public transportation system in New York City,” and other places are gonna be looking and clamoring for ways to have that where they are, even places that don’t imagine it. Now that’s my fantasy, optimistic vision.
Doug: Good one.
Aaron: Well, Diana Lind, thanks so much for joining us here at The War on Cars. It’s been great to have you.
Diana Lind: It’s been really fun to talk with you.
Aaron: That’s it for this episode of The War on Cars. Thanks again to Diana Lind for joining us. We will put a link to Diana’s newsletter, “First and Foremost” in the show notes.
Sarah: If you like what we do on the podcast, join The War on Cars on Patreon. Go to TheWaronCars.org, click “Support Us” and enlist today. Membership starts at just $3 a month. You’ll get access to exclusive bonus episodes, ad-free versions of regular episodes, and we’ll even send you stickers.
Doug: Speaking of which, we have a new top Patreon sponsor. We want to thank Parking Reform Network for joining the war on cars. Go check out ParkingReformNetwork.org. They are working to educate the public about the impacts of parking policy on climate change, equity in housing, traffic, you name it, with an aim of accelerating the adoption of critical parking reforms through research, coalition building and advocacy. They’re really doing the hard work, and we appreciate it.
Aaron: Thanks also to our other top Patreon sponsors: Charley Gee Of Human Powered Law in Portland, Oregon, the law office of Vaccaro and White in New York City, Virginia Baker, Martin Mignot and Mark Hedlund.
Sarah: Thanks to our friends at Cleverhood for sponsoring this episode.
Doug: This episode was recorded by Josh Wilcox at the Brooklyn Podcasting Studio. Our theme music is by Nathaniel Goodyear. I’m Doug Gordon.
Sarah: I’m Sarah Goodyear.
Aaron: I’m Aaron Naparstek, and this is The War on Cars.
[NEWS CLIP: Now the MTA called the suit baseless, pointing out that there was a 4,000-page environmental assessment that included input from New Jersey residents and officials. The Federal Highway Administration says it does not comment on pending litigation.]
[NEWS CLIP: Marcia, thank you.]
[NEWS CLIP: Thanks, Marcia.]
[NEWS CLIP: This is a first alert weather special report. Good afternoon. I’m meteorologist Vanessa Murdock, bringing you up to speed on a red alert in effect today and tomorrow. But today there’s a little bit more to the mix. Dangerous heat persists today and tomorrow. Feels like 100 to 105-plus out there. Brookfield’s like 107 right now. This is the spot, though, that just moments ago was at 109. Sparta, Edison, both feel like 99, as is White Plains. The heat index right now in the city at 98. And even looking at Long Island, if you recall …]