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New York City has a long history of ambitious, big-ticket projects that often get shelved or delayed, such as a subway to Staten Island, an AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport, and a new Port Authority Bus Terminal. Despite being a place known for constant change, the city can sometimes be challenging to get things done in due to opposition from residents who resist change, a car culture that values street parking, political deference to motorists, and high construction costs. However, successful projects do happen, such as the Bloomberg administration’s bike lanes and pedestrian plazas, the de Blasio administration’s citywide ferry system, and former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s redevelopment of Midtown and airport terminals.

To successfully implement large projects in New York City, former officials like Dan Doctoroff and Janette Sadik-Khan emphasize the need for strong leadership, a clear governing philosophy, a strategy, and firm execution. Despite the challenges, there have been success stories, like the redevelopment of Hudson Yards and the creation of Brooklyn Bridge Park. Speed of delivery and allowing time for New Yorkers to come around to new ideas are also key factors in successful implementation. Data from congestion pricing in other cities suggests that New Yorkers could benefit from reduced traffic and increased investments in public transportation.

Congestion pricing was planned to reduce traffic, fund the subway, and cut air pollution, following successful models in cities like London and Stockholm. However, Gov. Kathy Hochul recently halted the congestion pricing plan indefinitely, citing concerns about the fragile post-pandemic economy and the opposition from New York City residents who worried about the financial impact. Despite the potential benefits, the triumph of politics over substance has temporarily derailed the plan.

Successful projects in New York City often require empowered shepherds and strong leadership from elected officials. Projects like building affordable housing could benefit from common-sense reforms, such as eliminating the tradition of City Council deferring to local members on development projects. Politicians should seize golden moments early in their tenure to tackle big plans when they have sufficient political capital, as Franklin D. Roosevelt did with his first 100 days in office.

Democratic governors often prioritize suburban votes over urban votes, which can impact the outcome of projects like congestion pricing. Supporters hope that someone challenges Gov. Hochul in the Democratic primary on an urbanist platform focused on housing, congestion pricing, and transit. Despite mixed support from Mayor Eric Adams for bold proposals, such as building more homes and moving curbside trash into shared containers, critics question his reluctance to build more bus and bike lanes and his scaling back of outdoor dining programs. Ultimately, implementing congestion pricing would have required New Yorkers to accept change and adjust their habits, but life would go on if the plan were implemented in the future.

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