The city and its transportation partners are about to spend close to a million dollars to beg drivers to stop doing the very thing that is already costing the city billions in lost productivity: driving. Oh, and motorists will get lots of perks if they agree.
DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced on Tuesday that she will create six new “Gridlock Alert” days to the existing 10 — and spend $500,000 in taxpayer money to tell drivers about them. The new days coincide with the six busiest weekdays of the United Nations General Assembly, Sept. 24-Oct. 1 — which DOT stats indicate create more congestion than the existing gridlock alert days during the winter holidays. Roughly 720,000 drivers enter Midtown on the average day.
The message of that $500,000 ad buy is expressed in the cutline, “Your trip in Manhattan will be up to three times longer.”
“Drivers have a big role to play here,” Trottenberg added. “If you are in traffic, you are the traffic.”
In addition to the taxpayer-funded ads and the cost of additional NYPD overtime on Gridlock Alert days, Citi Bike will sell three-day passes for $12, or half the normal price, and Via will cut fares by 50% for each additional passengers on any pooled taxi ride. (Use the promo code GRIDLOCK to get a cheaper ride into the, um, gridlock.)
Trottenberg also said the city would offer $5 parking at CitiField in Queens to get drivers to leave their cars there and take the 7 train into Manhattan. (One problem: That all-day parking deal already exists, but very few drivers are taking advantage of it, a DOT official said.)
Taken together, it’s an ad buy and perks that drivers — who mostly enter Manhattan alone in a car — won’t use or aren’t already using.
Trottenberg defended the public expenditures, saying it never hurts to remind drivers that there are other, better ways to get around:
In the grand scheme of a city budget of $90 billion, it’s not a huge sum, but it’s a fair point. But this is a time to really get the message out. When I was at the U.S. DOT, gas prices hit $5. That was considered in transportation circles as an inflection point when people seriously start to leave their car at home and move to other transportation methods, to public transit, cycling, etc. Gas prices went back down, but there were a certain number of people who stuck with those other modes. The United Nations General Assembly gives us a focused opportunity to get that message out, so we’re hoping this campaign will have some benefits that will encourage some people who haven’t tried mass transit, Citi Bike or shared rides to maybe stick with them.
No matter how much congestion there is, mass numbers of drivers aren’t abandoning their cars or their Uber rides for the stumbling subway or Citi Bike. So after she announced the wheeling and dealing, Trottenberg was obviously asked about congestion pricing, which many believe could not only fix the Manhattan snarl, but also create a funding stream for the subway. You couldn’t help feeling bad for Trottenberg, who works for a car-loving mayor who hasn’t fired this particular silver bullet at Albany, leaving Trottenberg with a carrot-and-stick act that is all carrot, no stick. (Tellingly, the NYPD, which fails to adequately crack down on congestion-causing double-parking or parking in bus lanes did not send a representative to Trottenberg’s presser.)
Clearly, the $500,000 would be better spent on educating voters, not just drivers, of the real villains: the outer-borough and upstate hacks who continue to oppose congestion pricing.
Gersh Kuntzman is Editor-in-Chief of Streetsblog. When he gets really angry, he writes the Cycle of Rage column. They’re archived here.
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