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Three Places Where Congestion Pricing Could Work in Houston

Could one way to avoid gridlock in certain areas at peak times be charging a toll? New York is considering it.
Could one way to avoid gridlock in certain areas at peak times be charging a toll? New York is considering it.
Photo by David Rogers via Flickr

Normally, Houston don't spend too much time worrying about the politics in New York City. In many ways, our two cities couldn't be more different in how we approach our lives and, of course, the layouts of the two metropolises are essentially the polar opposite of one another.

But a proposed law that now has the support of both New York City's mayor and the state governor bears watching for cities across the country in Houston.

The proposal involves adding a toll for drivers who drive in lower Manhattan during peak hours, referred to as "congestion pricing" in cities like London and Singapore, which already employ such fees. During particularly congested times of day, vehicles would be charged to enter areas below 60th Street in NYC, where it gets most crowded. Think of it like surge pricing during peak hours for Uber and Lyft but excluding a few vehicles like emergency services and the disabled.

New York has struggled over the last few years to prop up its aging subway system and the proliferation of ride share services is creating massive traffic jams in already crowded parts of the city. They hope the revenues from the policy would help to fund billion-dollar upgrades to the transit system and decrease vehicular traffic on Manhattan Island in general. In fact, in London, it decreased traffic by 30 percent moving it to alternate forms of transportation.

But, could it work here?

Toll roads have risen in popularity throughout Texas. Even after the roads are paid for, toll road authorities continue to collect revenues to help fund construction and infrastructure projects, which take the burden off taxing authorities. But a tax just to enter a general area? Seems crazy, but when you consider the revenue that could be raised and put back into what must be one of the most paltry transit systems in any big city in the world, maybe a few spots wouldn't be so bad.

The Galleria

Imagine putting a blanket around an area from Highland Village (east) to Westpark (south) to Chimney Rock (west) to Post Oak (north) during rush hour. Maybe even add in a toll for the holidays just for the Galleria. They are already completely overhauling the 69/610 interchange because of the brutal traffic and they are adding rapid bus service throughout the area. Of course, we would need alternative modes of transportation to get in. No one is walking from The Woodlands to their job on Westheimer and Sage.

Downtown

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We have advocated in this space before for closing Main Street downtown to all traffic. Why not add in some surge pricing during rush hour? This seems like the most logical place to start given the light rail and walkability of most of the streets there. Keeping cars out of the city center is always a good thing.

The Texas Medical Center

Nevermind the awful congestion along Fannin and Main, but limiting traffic in the area would undoubtedly be better for emergency vehicles trying to get in and out of the area. The METROrail runs right through the heart of the TMC and as long as it was done only during rush hour or peak times, it would avoid blocking access to patients.

The truth is, it is very unlikely something this radical would ever be adopted in a car-happy city like Houston. But when you consider our rapid growth and the expanded needs for public transit in a city our physical size, we should consider just about anything at this point.

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