Declaring that New York is on a “collision course with the environment,” Mayor Bloomberg yesterday unveiled an ambitious attack on global warming as the city’s population swells by as much as a million in the coming decades.
Going green won’t be cheap. Drivers would have to pay to enter the busiest part of Manhattan, the city would tack $30 a year onto electric bills – and overall, the plan could cost an estimated $32 billion by 2030.
But in the Earth Day speech that recalled grand achievements from the city’s past, Bloomberg urged New Yorkers to leave a cleaner city for their children.
With the city’s population projected to swell to more than 9 million by 2030, the mayor said the five boroughs would become paralyzed – traffic-choked streets, packed subways, dirtier air and more polluted water – without immediate action.
“I’d like to suggest that we face up to those challenges, not tomorrow, not in the future, not when it’s too late, but right now,” Bloomberg said at the American Museum of Natural History.
“I will not spend my last 984 days in office pretending that all is fine and leaving these challenges to the next mayor,” Bloomberg vowed.
Bloomberg rolled out 127 proposals that include cleaning up brownfields, turning schoolyards into public playgrounds, creating a public plaza in every community, eliminating the city sales tax on hybrid vehicles and retrofitting city buildings to improve their energy efficiency.
The most controversial proposal is the mayor’s endorsement of a three-year pilot plan to charge cars $8 and trucks $21 to enter Manhattan below 86th St. during peak hours – a bold move that requires approval of the state Legislature and comes just a few months after Bloomberg himself called the initiative a political “nonstarter.”
According to the 155-page report “PlaNYC,” the initiatives will cost city taxpayers nearly $250 million in the next budget year and another $1.6 billion in capital funds during the next 10 years.
Aides put the estimated total price tag at $32 billion.
“This plan is the kind of bold thinking leaders across the country need to embrace if we hope to win the battle against traffic congestion,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said in a statement.
At the event, Bloomberg was introduced via video by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and received a video tribute from British Prime Minister Tony Blair. London has congestion pricing that served as the model for the New York proposal.
“Well done and good luck with it,” Blair said. “It’s a great act of leadership.”
Despite the kudos, many of the proposals – especially the plan to charge vehicles in Manhattan – will face fierce opposition.
“I don’t see how anyone from Brooklyn or Queens could support it,” said Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Queens), who, along with others, predicted the congestion proposal will fail.
Bloomberg said he was undeterred by critics. “We can return this city to our children,” he said. “And it will be stronger, healthier, cleaner – and greener and greater than ever.”
Grand idea would cost a pretty penny
Taking on a major political battle, the mayor officially endorsed a three-year pilot program to charge motorists a fee for entering the busiest sections of Manhattan — hands down the most controversial proposal.
The initiative must get the green light from the state Legislature, and several lawmakers have already predicted it’s dead on arrival.
Under the plan, passenger vehicles entering Manhattan below 86th St. from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays would pay an $8 daily fee. Trucks would pay $21.
Taxis, livery cabs, emergency vehicles, city buses and vehicles with handicapped plates would be exempt.
Charges for vehicles that use E-ZPass would be offset by the amount of their round-trip tolls that day.
For those drivers without E-ZPass, their license plates would be recorded by cameras mounted on traffic light polls. They would be required to pay the charge within 48 hours via the telephone, Internet or at stores.
Officials estimate it would take 18 months to begin the pilot program and that it could start as early as spring 2009. The startup cost is estimated at $225 million, and city officials said they’re hopeful the federal government will pick up the tab.
Robert Sinclair, spokesman for AAA New York, said, “It would really be punitive on people who are struggling to make ends meet and trying to lead a middle-class lifestyle on an income that really does not support it.”
Gene Russianoff, one of the city’s leading transit advocates, lauded the mayor and called the initiative the “Holy Grail” of transportation proposals. Supporters plan their first lobbying trip to Albany this week.
An amendment to the City Charter would require the city to spend 10% of its energy bill to retrofit city buildings to improve efficiency, the largest single energy conservation effort ever initiated.
Who’s going to pay for the conservation measure? You.
Mayor Bloomberg is proposing a new surcharge on electricity bills, estimated to be $2.50 a month.
The mayor argued that after the first four years, lower utility rates and reduced power usage would start saving ratepayers $240 a year.
The mayor pledged to reduce the city government’s energy consumption by 30% over the next 10 years, and he challenged the private sector to do the same.
Nearly 2 million New Yorkers live more than 10 minutes from parks and playing fields. Bloomberg pledged to fix that.
The mayor called for opening up hundreds of schoolyards as public playgrounds, allowing access after school, on weekends and during the summer.
The administration also proposed converting at least two dozen asphalt fields to synthetic turf, making the fields more inviting to a greater range of games. The city plans to add lights to dozens of playing fields.
Bloomberg also called for speeding up the cleanup of all 7,600 acres of brownfields in the city, and for a new public plaza in every neighborhood.
The mayor offered one energy-saving tip that all New Yorkers could embrace immediately.
Bloomberg encouraged New Yorkers to get rid of conventional light bulbs in their homes and replace them with more energy-efficient, long-lasting compact fluorescent light bulbs.
“I’ve already started to replace the bulbs in my house and your City Hall,” he said. “None of us can afford to waste money.”
With New York’s population expected to grow by almost a million by 2030, a series of initiatives would make more land available for new housing. The mayor’s report calls for creating new land by constructing decks over transportation infrastructure, such as railyards, rail lines and highways. The mayor also seeks to adapt unused schools, hospitals and other municipal sites as possible venues for new housing.
The mayor unveiled 127 proposals to prepare the city for a projected population increase of 1 million people by 2030. Here are some of the highlights:
- Reducing global warming emissions by 30%.
- Reclaiming 500 acres of underdeveloped parkland at eight sites across the city – at least one in every borough.
- Improving and expanding bus service by creating rapid transit routes and dedicating lanes on the East River bridges for buses and high-occupancy vehicles.
- Expanding ferry service and better integrating that service with the city’s mass transit system.
- Retrofitting school buses and lowering their required retirement age to decrease emissions.
- Planting 1 million trees in the next decade.
- Reducing energy demand among the city’s biggest energy users with mandates and incentives.
- Increasing the use of solar energy in city buildings.
- Promoting bicycling by completing the city’s 1,800-mile bike master plan.
- Providing more reliable power sources and upgrading existing power plants.
- Eliminating roughly 40% of locally produced soot.
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