A few days ago, The New York Times had a light-hearted story about how Bronx residents like to saunter down to the Cross Bronx Expressway, or stare at it contemplatively from their windows, as a source of entertainment or an inspired, quiet reverie. They used a study showing that the highway has three of the four worst traffic bottlenecks in the country as a jumping-off point.
While the Times likes to publish, and people like to read, stories about the surprising ways New Yorkers manage city life, those stories are usually relegated to the Style section. And they’re usually about inconsequential things like, “How much will rich people pay for a parking space?” or “How much will rich people pay to have their garages organized?” But the story of the Cross Bronx has sociological underpinnings, and consequences. Children in New York City as a whole are twice as likely to be hospitalized for asthma as children in the rest of the country, and the Bronx leads the city in asthma hospitalizations and deaths. Moreoever, that thing that happened when the Cross Bronx tore up neighborhoods? That still has effects; it’s not just some old-timey tale. The South Bronx is consistently one of the five poorest congressional districts in the U.S., and that is the source of real problems.
So, Felix Salmon argues that putting tolls on key parts of the Cross Bronx would help alleviate some of the traffic and, hopefully, some of the problems experienced by those who live in the Bronx. That’s especially important because getting from the Cross Bronx to the West Side highway is one of the few toll-free ways to get into Manhattan (the others are the bridges between Manhattan and Brooklyn.)
When Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed congestion pricing for getting into certain parts of Manhattan, state legislators from the north and the east objected, arguing the extra charges would hurt workers who had to commute in by car. But the truth is, the number of people who really have no other choices but driving is small and they could seek relief elsewhere. I think it’s clear by now, if it wasn’t before, that the more room we make for cars, the more room they take. The best way to encourage use of New York City’s already expansive public transportation system is to discourage drivers.