NYC Council Committee on Economic Development and Committee on Transportation: Oversight Hearing

Testimony by Marco Conner, Legislative and Legal Manager
Monday, November 3, 2014

Chairs Garodnick and Rodriguez and members of the Economic Development and Transportation committees, thank you for the opportunity to testify at this important oversight hearing.

I am here on behalf of Transportation Alternatives, a non-profit advocacy organization that has worked for 40 years to make New York City’s streets safer and more equitable for all New Yorkers.

Vision Zero represents a culture shift. The vision’s bold and urgently necessary goal of reducing traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero depends on comprehensive changes to nearly every part of our City’s traffic infrastructure.

The City’s current infrastructure design sadly contributes to the nearly 300 traffic fatalities and several thousand serious traffic-related injuries every year. Most of our street designs are based on 1950s-era Interstate highway policies. In addition to the tragic human costs, these antiquated designs, as signified by our City's major arterial streets, stifle our economy, creating barriers between affordable housing and good-paying work, holding back job creation, economic development and pathways out of poverty.

T.A.’s solution addresses the enormous human and financial costs and allows us to take advantage of latent opportunities: We urge that by 2017 Mayor de Blasio and the City Council begin work on a plan to redesign and rebuild all 1,000 miles of arterial streets in New York City. This work can be funded in the Mayor's Ten Year Capital Strategy, which is currently under development by City Hall. Ten years is a modest time horizon to transform these deadly roads. In fact, T.A. believes the City can complete this lifesaving work well before 2025.

The City's most recent Ten Year Capital Strategy budgeted over $3 billion for street and sidewalk resurfacing and reconstruction and other traffic upgrades. This cost over ten years -— or $300 million a year -— pales in comparison to the more than $4 billion every year that traffic crashes alone cost New York City. We believe transforming the City's arterial streets can be done for a fraction of this amount and would fit well within the framework for the capital strategy.

The economic costs of inaction are significant: According to the New York City Office of Management and Budget, traffic crashes cost the City’s economy $4.29 billion annually, about 1% of the Gross City Product.1 Traffic crashes just involving pedestrians cost the city $1.38 billion a year.2 Other studies have documented the costs of traffic congestion as $2 billion in wasted fuel and vehicle operating costs, $4 billion in lost economic output and a loss of 37,000-52,000 jobs.3 On top of this, the City of New York pays out nearly $100 million every year in legal settlements due to collisions with vehicles in its fleet.4 These are significant costs, and they are inextricably linked to traffic safety and quality of life policies.

Our city's arterial streets —- the major, multi-lane roads that cut through communities -— are not only outdated suburban-style roadways that create a frustrating and chaotic environment for drivers, bus riders, bicyclists and pedestrians, they are also deadly: While only 15% of New York’s streets are arterials, they account for nearly 60% of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities and serious injuries. Roads like Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue, Queens Boulevard, the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, Hylan Boulevard on Staten Island, and Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Manhattan have not changed since Dwight Eisenhower was president, while the communities around them are living in the 21st Century.

At Transportation Alternatives, we believe that the City must undertake a comprehensive redesign of these streets based on best practices that we know work, proven designs from right here in the Big Apple. This will both save lives and be a catalyst for spurring job growth and the local economy.

Arterials around New York City that have been transformed in recent years have seen injury crashes decrease an average of 20 precent (with some reductions as high as 48 percent fewer injury crashes.5 Streets redesigned with traffic calming improvements have a positive impact on retail commerce as well. Streets transformed to be safer for everyone, whether they arrive by foot, bike, car, bus or subway, have seen annual retail sales increase by from 4- to 120 percent.6

From a neighborhood economic perspective: walkers shop, cars do not! Our cars do not shop at the deli on Atlantic Avenue. And cars do not spend money shopping for clothes on Fifth Avenue or make an impulse purchase at the grocery store on Queens Boulevard; people as pedestrians do. According to the New York City Department of Transportation, “shoppers often indicate that they would visit more often if additional enhancements were made to the street environment, such as reducing the volume of traffic or calming traffic speeds, expanding space for pedestrians or adding bicycling infrastructure."7 In addition, “people who arrive on foot or by bike generally visit the area more often than those who use other methods of transportation, and cumulatively spend more per capita at local businesses."8

However, the economics of our failing streets go far beyond the delicatessens and green grocers that make New York New York. No one can put a dollar value on a human life, yet we lose close to 300 lives every single year.

The majority of New Yorkers do not own cars, and fewer of us use them every day to get around. When riding our bikes, walking, or getting on and off the subway or bus, we are not protected by a ton of steel. Even after we park our cars, we are all pedestrians. In the Vision Zero era, we’ve accepted the fact that traffic injuries and deaths are preventable and unacceptable. It’s about time the streets reflect this reality and safeguard life and limb.

The economic impact can be lessened and, more importantly, the heartache and pain can be as well, if we commit now to investing in rebuilding New York’s big dangerous arterial streets to Vision Zero standards.

Thank you.

Notes:

1. New York City Pedestrian Safety and Study Plan, NYC Department of Transportation, 2010, based on Monthly Report on Current Economic Conditions, New York, the City of New York Office of Management and Budget, 2007
2. Ibid 1
3. Growth or Gridlock? The Economic Case for Traffic Relief and Transit Improvement for a Greater New York, Partnership for New York City, 2006
4. NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services, 2014
5. Protected Bike Lanes in NYC, NYC Department of Transportation, 2014
6. The Economic Benefits of Sustainable Streets, Bennett Midland for the NYC Department of Transportation, 2013
7. Ibid 4
8. Ibid 4

Secondary Title
Assessing the Economic Impact of New York's Failing Infrastructure