Transportation Policy: A Change?

It's been about a month since the ban on single occupancy vehicles, or SOV's, took effect during the morning rush hour for East River crossings below 63rd Street. City transit officials say it has reduced traffic at those crossings by 23 percent compared to last year. Many drivers -- such as these in Brooklyn lined up to cross the Manhattan Bridge -- support keeping it around.

Driver:I appreciate it for the fact that they are trying to make everything be secure for the driving public, those pedestrians, and citizens as a whole. Driver: It doesn't bother me too much because I have the construction truck. We get up there with no problem.Amy: Have you been finding it easier to get around Manhattan?Driver: Yeah, a lot easier.Amy: Would you be in favor of keeping it long term?Driver: Yeah, I don't see why not. Driver #4: I think it's a big inconvenience, but we need it.Amy: Would you be in favor of keeping it long term to ease traffic in Manhattan?Driver: No. Not at all.

Recently, City Department of Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall scaled back the ban by one hour. Now it runs from 6 AM to 10 AM, instead of 11. Mayor Giuliani praised the reduced ban as yet another sign that the city was getting back to normal. But "normal" traffic has often meant congested traffic. The Mayor and the Commissioner Weinshall was asked if the department ever considered keeping the single occupancy vehicle ban in place. Their reaction told of a political landscape before September 11th that had made such a ban all but impossible.

8/Iris Weinshall: It's an intriguing question. Have we ever thought about it? Yes. Has the situation ever presented itself to put it into effect? No. Quite frankly, you would need state legislation in order to do this.

She said the mayor's declaration of a state of emergency has allowed the city to do now what had previously been politically complicated. Gene Russianoff with the Straphangers Campaign, would like the city to capitalize on this momentum, and keep the S-O-V ban preserved in some way. He suggested creating tolls on the Brooklyn Bridge and other East River crossings for single occupancy vehicles.

16/Gene Russianoff, Straphangers Campaign: The conventional wisdom in New York is that things like car pool requirements and tolls on the East River bridges is unpopular and difficult for a mayor, governor and state legislature to move on, but if there's any time at which we really need to look at how to help New York to keep moving, how to make it liveable, now is the time.

The city had tried to impose a single occupancy vehicle ban on East River bridges under Mayor Ed Koch. But garage owners and the Automobile Club of New York sued, arguing successfully that environmental reviews were needed, and that only Albany could create such a law. The Automobile Club has told Mayor Giuliani it supports the current ban. But Marta Genovese, the Club's director of government affairs, says it's not a long-term solution.

Marta Genovese: I think right now you're seeing many people who still need to use their cars, alone, to come into Manhattan, either because of their profession, their route not being served by mass transit, or disabilities, are just getting up earlier. So whether that kind of cooperation will continue on a permanent basis, I'm not as optimistic as some of the other transportation advocates might be.

But state senators and assemblymembers from Queens, Brooklyn, and Long Island -- representing drivers most affected by the ban -- say they haven't heard any grumbling from constituents…yet. And they say there's now a willingness to revisit the issue. Democratic State Senator Seymour Lachman represents Bay Ridge, and is on the Senate's Transportation Committee.

State Senator Seymour Lachman, Transportation Committee: I think everything has changed, as of September 11th. Everything is being reconsidered. Not only do we have to provide temporary resolution of this problem, but we have to provide long term resolution.

He and other state lawmakers say any long-term resolution will need to consider the needs of businesses, the quality of life of neighborhoods near bridges and tunnels, and toll revenues. For WNYC, I'm Amy Eddings.