Golden talks congestion pricing, speed cameras
As state budget negotiations intensified in Albany ahead of an April 1 deadline, an influential Brooklyn state senator said he is in favor, at least in principle, of a proposal to institute a congestion pricing plan to get vehicles off clogged Midtown Manhattan streets and another idea that would double the number of speed cameras outside of New York City schools.
But state Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-Southwest Brooklyn), the only Republican state senator representing a Brooklyn district, said his support is contingent on getting certain provisions into both bills.
Mayor Bill de Blasio is leading an effort to convince the state Legislature to allow the city to install speed cameras in more school zones around the five boroughs to catch potentially dangerous motorists who drive at high rates of speed on city streets located near schools.
One proposal that appears to be gaining momentum would allow the city to double the number of speed cameras outside schools from the current total, 140, to 280.
Golden said he likes the plan, but only if the speed cameras would be installed as a safety measure, not to generate revenue for the city. “Safety first,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle during an interview in his Bay Ridge office Friday afternoon. “I’ve been in favor of speed cameras, but there has to be a reason.”
Golden rejected an earlier proposal that would have allowed the city to install more than 700 speed cameras. It’s not that he is against such a large number of speed cameras, he said, but he would rather see the cameras phased in over time and not installed in one fell swoop.
Under current state law, speed cameras can only be activated during school hours and Golden said he favors keeping it that way.
In addition to speed cameras outside schools, the state Legislature should consider adding more flashing yellow lights and signage to warn motorists that they are driving in a school zone, Golden said.
“We should also have more speed bumps,” he said.
Golden is seen by many political observers as a pivotal voice in the debates over speed cameras and congestion pricing because he is one of the few Republicans from New York City in the state Senate and therefore is one of the few in the majority conference in that legislative chamber.
By contrast, the state Assembly is dominated by Democrats.
While Golden doesn’t want speed cameras to be used as a cash cow for the city, he does favor congestion pricing as a means to raise money, but only if it provides revenue that would allow MTA to fix New York City’s sorry subway system.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a congestion pricing bill in the executive budget he issued earlier this year that was based on recommendations made by Fix NYC, a panel he put together to come up with ways to improve the city’s transportation system.
Golden said he generally likes the idea of charging motorists a fee for entering Manhattan below 60th Street to raise much-needed funding for MTA.
“We all know something has to be done. It’s important that we get funding for the MTA,” Golden told the Eagle.
Before signing up to fully support congestion pricing, however, Golden said he would like to see certain proposals put into the bill.
For one thing, Golden wants tolls on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, currently $17, to be lowered for Brooklyn residents so that they can benefit from the same discount as Staten Island residents.
Staten Island residents receive a discount on the bridge toll that allows them to pay less than half of the $17 toll.
“They deserve the discount. They can’t get off the island,” Golden said, referring to Staten Islanders who have to use either the bridge or ride the Staten Island Ferry to travel to the other boroughs.
But Golden quickly added that thousands of Brooklyn residents have family members living on Staten Island or go to work or school in that borough and have to pay an astronomical bridge toll to get there.
The governor’s executive budget does not include any Verrazano-Narrows Bridge toll relief for Brooklyn residents, Golden said.
Golden also wants any final version of the bill to codify the fees that commercial vehicles and ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft would pay to drive in Midtown Manhattan. “They are largely responsible for the congestion in Manhattan. They should help pay for it,” he told the Eagle.
He did not specify the amount they should pay.
Golden said he is opposed to any congestion pricing plan that includes a provision to charge drivers who get stuck at a busy intersection a fee for blocking the intersection, a problem known as blocking the box.
“The streets are clogged with traffic. A lot of times, it’s not the driver’s fault that they’re blocking the box,” he said.