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This Congestion Pricing Freak Out Reminds Us of Something Big and Blue

Remember when Citi Bike was going to destroy public life as we knew it?

4:07 PM EDT on August 12, 2022

A crowded and congested street at 3rd Ave. south from 59th St.

3rd Ave. south from 59th St. (Marc A. Hermann / MTA)

If you caught some of the local news coverage of the MTA's congestion pricing review this week, you might be convinced that Gozer will soon be infiltrating your EZ-Pass, leaving you penniless and forever ruining your ability to attend your kid's T-ball game in Montclair.

"Heads started spinning" at the revelation that yes, charging people to pilot a hulking, pollution-spewing automobile into the most densely populated (and transit-rich!) patch of land in North America would in fact reduce congestion, improve air quality, and fund improved mass transit. (Also: make it easier for you to drive and make it to Timmy Jr.'s T-ball game! Traffic is projected to drop by as much as 20 percent in Manhattan below 60th Street.)

"That's insane," one incensed driver told Fox 5 about the (remote) potential of a $23 congestion pricing toll, which is amusing, because the reason they were even able to give this interview was that traffic is so bad, their vehicle was at a complete standstill.

"There's still time," was one CBS anchor's rueful sign off. Time for what? To make peace with your god before congestion pricing kills the American Dream forever? 

One 1010 WINS reporter warned the public that New York will be a "ghost town" once these tolls hit, just like, uh, London?

All of this hyperbole took us back to the Spring of 2013, back when people still knew what "Gangnam Style" was, and Hale & Hearty was keeping the teeming masses of Midtown office drones fed. 

Also, Citi Bike was going to destroy public life in New York City as we knew it.

Every sensible and sharp public intellectual knew that bike share systems (and bike lanes—ugh!) were just so not New York. Community board members compared the Bloomberg administration to the Taliban! A Pulitzer-prize winning Wall Street Journal columnist authored a column called "Death by Bicycle"! ("Do not ask me to enter the minds of the totalitarians running this city.") West Village NIMBYs sued! Delia Ephron was pissed at the color blue in the New York Times! Youngish bloggers carved out entire careers making fun of this bikelash!

Today, Citi Bike literally cannot expand fast enough. The system is far from perfect, but it's inarguably wildly popular and a boon to public health. Supporting bike share is no longer a political liability—our current mayor has promised to publicly subsidize it (though that has not yet happened). New York City caught up to the rest of the world, and hey, it worked!

We know, change is hard. And while we’re aware many of our local news compatriots see the city from behind a windshield, we invite them to smell the exhaust-filled air of lower Manhattan, and light-headedly imagine a better world. 

Isn’t that a pretty good story? 

(Also, maybe take the PATH train every once in awhile?)

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