Transportation Alternatives Testifies to City Council Transportation Committee in Opposition of Intro. 412

Testimony Submitted by Paul Steely White
City Council Transportation Committee Hearing of September 26, 2011
On Int. 412 (Requires the department of transportation to hold hearings with
affected community boards three months before a bike lane is constructed.)

There is no not-for-profit organization more dedicated to Community Boards’ success than Transportation Alternatives. We encourage hundreds of ordinary New Yorkers to attend their board’s meetings. We have authored and distributed dozens of primers over the past thirty years detailing how Community Boards function. We are the ony not-for-profit organization in this City that puts significant effort into encouraging New Yorkers to become Community Board members. We do this work because we understand that community input is a necessary element of all successful large-scale streetscape redesign.

Transportation Alternatives opposes Intro. 412 because it is less devoted to encouraging community input than it is to singling out bicycle lanes and slowing their implementation at the expense of New Yorkers’ safety.

This bill prescribes mandatory hearings – and months of delay - for the City's most minor, routine and boring bike lanes. If enacted, Community Boards will have to host extra hearings for “share the road” sharrows on the edge of roadways, for bike lanes that leaves space for cars unchanged, and for space for bikes within parks. This delay will not accomplish the legislation's stated aims, but will instead keep New Yorkers less safe.

Current Law
Less than two years ago, this Council enacted a bill which improves the process by which street improvements are made in this City. We supported Local Law 90 of 2009 because it struck the appropriate balance between “major transportation projects” and the routine work DOT does as part of its street management function.

According to Local Law 90, if a proposed project is longer than an avenue block, and also redistributes space previously devoted to vehicle traffic or parking, DOT is required to provide notice to the Community Board and Council Members, consult with them, and respond to their input. These steps are appropriate when the City is conducting a major transportation project.

DOT is not required to wait months whenever they install a crosswalk, or create more space for vehicle traffic, or paint sharrows on the road. In truth, even though it is not mandated DOT does consult with the Community Board even on these minor projects.

This is the appropriate balance. Neither Community Boards nor DOT have the capacity – nor the interest- in complying with the notice and comment process for every routine and “minor” transportation project. Such dialogue should be encouraged, but not required, or else there will the pace of street safety improvements in the City will slow, and New Yorkers will be less safe.

The Effect of Intro. 412
To be clear, Intro. 412 does not require DOT to have a hearing on all “minor” transportation projects. The bill would not require a hearing before DOT narrows sidewalks in order to widen travel lanes, or before DOT installs crosswalks to reduce pedestrian fatalities. Only minor, routine bicycle lanes need to be delayed and studied. And to what end? Why vote to enact this

This bill does not advance community outreach goals:
Transportation Alternatives hopes this Council does more to promote community insight and outreach. Community Boards need more funding, and they need to do more to attract a more representative sample of New Yorkers to sit on the Board and to participate in their meetings. Intro. 412 instead guarantees more mundane, routine hearings to discuss literally the most boring bike lanes in our City.

This bill does not advance motorist's goals:
This bill only addresses those bicycle lanes which do not reduce the amount of space devoted to cars and trucks. Indeed, most of the bicycle lanes around our City do not take space from cars- DOT instead narrows the width of too-wide vehicle travel lanes, which discourages illegally speeding, keeps aggressive drivers from dangerous “leap-frogging,” and helps traffic flow better. Bike lanes have consistently improved traffic around the City.

This bill will not allay your constituent’s concerns about bicycling in your neighborhoods:
Bicycle lanes have been shown to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists alike all over our City. Simply keeping everyone on the road out of each other’s way keeps them out of harm’s way. For instance, a bicycle lane encourages bicyclists to stay off sidewalks, which protects pedestrians.

There is no question that biking is more popular in some neighborhoods than others. But New Yorkers in every neighborhood bike- about 10% of New Yorkers ride their bike several times a month or more. Those New Yorkers who complain about changes to their neighborhood have a neighbor who would prefer to bike in safety. This bill will keep New Yorkers less safe.

The most comprehensive study on bike lanes in our City examined the 225 cyclist deaths that occurred between 1996 and 2005. Of those 225 deaths, only one occurred in a bike lane. In fact, because bicycle lanes help make traffic more predictable and orderly, streets with bike lanes have about 40 percent fewer crashes ending in death or serious injury; and that's for all street users,
drivers and pedestrians included. For example, after a bike lane was installed on Manhattan's Ninth Avenue, all traffic-related injuries dropped 50 percent. Injuries to pedestrians dropped 29 percent and injuries to cyclists dropped 57 percent.

For these reasons, Transportation Alternatives respectfully opposes this bill.