by Steven M. O'Neill

(Background: Following the September 11 attacks, then-Mayor Giuliani imposed a ban on single-occupant vehicles (SOVs) entering certain parts of Manhattan at certain times. A few months later, Manhattan garage owners commissioned a "study" purporting to demonstrate far-reaching economic damage resulting from this ban.)

Progress is always bad for somebody. This time it's the garage owners. They're out in force, cracking their buggy whips and crying economic foul over the ban on single-occupant cars in Midtown.

These guys don't need a weathervane. They see the direction that New York transportation is moving -- at long last! -- and they don't like it one bit. They even commissioned "Gridlock Sam" Schwartz to produce a brief condemning the ban, which was imposed by former Mayor Giuliani after the terrorist attacks, and covers parts of Manhattan during the morning rush.

Schwartz's "study" claims that 137,000 fewer cars are entering Manhattan each day, causing 190,000 fewer consumers to spend their stimulating dollars in our faltering economy.

The arithmetic is ridiculous on its face: before September solo drivers accounted for only 67,000 of the 6-10 a.m. daily influx of people into Manhattan. You can't get 190,000 people into 67,000 cars if each car has only one occupant.

It's not even believable that every last one of those 67,000 people is suddenly able to stay home. Surely some of these drivers are still going to Manhattan. Some must go in before six o'clock, or after ten. And some in carpools or in subways, on ferries or by bicycle. Anybody who is staying home is missing out on a treat. Manhattan is a much nicer place as a result of the ban.

Observe the exit of the Queens-Midtown Tunnel at 9:00 a.m. Instead of the blank or crazed stares of previously harried drivers, fresh from the harrowing toll-booth back up and the slow crawl through the lung-blistering haze of the tunnel, you'll see cars with 2 people -- 3 even, grinning and chatting as they travel to work on open and tranquil streets.

Catch the M101 bus on its unhindered cruise up Third Avenue, and watch a sample of carless New Yorkers (who are a considerable majority of the city's population) enjoying a much quicker trip than in pre-ban days.

With the single-occupant ban, New York City has scored its greatest single transportation victory since subways replaced horsecars.

Delivery vans and other commercial vehicles, exempt from the car-pool rule, move more freely and are gaining back some of the four billion dollars they used to lose each year stuck in traffic.

Residents are seeing less pollution, noise and violence (cars kill some 200 New York pedestrians each year, and nearly as many passengers and drivers).

Fewer cars equals better quality of life. I call that progress. We need to keep making progress, rather than turning back to the disastrous errors of the past. Let's adopt congestion pricing and East River tolls to raise revenue for the overburdened transit system. Let's expand the single-occupant car ban. And let's get the garage owners out of their dark, exhaust-poisoned holes and into a more healthy business.

Essays and reflections -- contents