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Congestion Pricing Is New York’s Green New Deal

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While the Green New Deal basks in the national spotlight, a different but parallel policy idea is advancing in New York: Governor Andrew Cuomo’s congestion-pricing plan, which would charge motorists to drive in the most car-jammed (and transit-rich) part of the city, Manhattan south of 60th Street.

At first glance, the two initiatives appear more distinct than related. The Green New Deal is national; congestion pricing is New York–specific. One is expansive, a solar- and wind-energy-based revitalization of our society and economy. The other seems punitive, making drivers pay for what is now free.

But we believe the two have a great deal in common, both practically and philosophically. So we invite Green New Deal adherents—from Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to the legions of determined climate-justice activists who have put the Green New Deal on the political map—to make congestion pricing in New York a stepping stone in the national fight. The New York legislature must pass a state budget by March 31; at issue is whether that budget will include the initial appropriations needed to put congestion pricing into practice.

The first commonality between the Green New Deal and congestion pricing is the fact that any program to save the earth’s climate depends on having cities thrive. Urban residents use only a fraction as much fossil fuel as suburbanites or rural dwellers, not because they are virtuous but because cities, due to their compactness, are inherently lower-carbon. City residents drive less both because they can take public transit and because destinations are close by. Density also enables homes and offices to use less power and heat. For cities to thrive and grow, automobile traffic must be tamed and restrained, which congestion pricing does with marvelous efficiency.

Congestion pricing shares DNA with the 20th-century New Deal through emphasis on public investment. Federal spending in the 1930s strung electric wire and conserved the soil, and federally driven investment going forward can decarbonize our economy. In the same way, the congestion-toll revenues in New York can pay to modernize the city’s buses and subways—as happened after London adopted congestion pricing in 2003. Thanks to massive transit investment and reappropriation of street space there, nearly 25 percent more people now enter the center of London daily, mostly on trains, buses, and bikes, while car-travel speeds have remained stable.

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