Committee on Transportation Hearing Preliminary Budget, Fiscal Year 2017

Thank you, Chair Rodriguez and the members of the Committee on Transportation, for convening this hearing on the preliminary budget. I am Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives. We are a 43-year old non-profit with more than 150,000 activists in our network, dedicated to improving the safety of New York City’s streets.

As an organization at the forefront of Vision Zero, we are proud to see that it is working. The year 2015 was a historic one, with the lowest number of traffic fatalities in New York City history. This is a cause for celebration, but also a cause for concentration on what comes next. While fatalities are declining, they are not doing so fast enough. In order to reach his goal of zero deaths by 2024, we need to decrease fatality numbers by 45% each year. Were we to continue at the 10% decrease we saw between 2014 and 2015, zero would not be reached until 2055 - more than three decades late. The key to accelerating our progress is to speed up the process of redesigning New York City’s most dangerous streets. This is an investment in safety that, once in place, will change driver behavior for the long term. However, we are very concerned that the capital budget for the Department of Transportation has increased only slightly, and the operating budget has stagnated. At a time when more resources need to be dedicated toward the crucial operations areas of planning, resurfacing, road marking, signaling and outreach, we need to be seeing additions to the budget, and certainly not potential subtractions. The city must think bigger, quicken the pace of street transformation, and increase the resources available to the Department of Transportation in order to make adequate annual progress towards Vision Zero goals.

In addition, in order to attain the Mayor’s goal of doubling cycling by 2020, more resources need to be dedicated toward expanding the bicycle lane network, completing major projects, and working with Motivate, the operators of Citi Bike, to ensure that bike share expands quickly and equitably throughout the city. With all of this in mind, we have prepared the following recommendations for Fiscal Year 2017.

First, we must reiterate that Vision Zero will not be achieved without the redesign of every arterial road in New York City, and those reconstructions must be appropriately funded. The most dangerous streets and intersections must be addressed first. The Department of Transportation released Pedestrian Safety Action Plans for each borough detailing priority corridors, intersections, and areas where half of deaths and serious injuries in traffic occur. These Plans made a clear, compelling case for why New York City needs to redesign its most dangerous roads, and a year ago Transportation Alternatives released a report, The Vision Zero Investment, detailing the necessary financial commitment. Unfortunately, progress on redesign has been slow. Of the 154 Priority Corridors identified, only three can be considered completely redesigned, and the Department has not made benchmarks or timelines available for monitoring progress towards the completion of these Plans.

Street reconstruction is a two-phase process: first, early action treatment financed by the operating budget and second, permanent reconstruction, financed by the capital budget. A number like 154 corridors can look like a daunting task. However, improvements can be made through the operating budget using tools like paint, signage, and street markings. We suggest the following goals for the DOT in Fiscal Year 2017:

  • The Street Improvement Programs (SIPs), through which approximately 80 small projects were completed last year, should be expanded to at least 98 projects this year, targeted to previously identified priority locations.
  • Immediately, the DOT should address the 28 Priority Intersections that are not located along Priority Corridors.
  • Of the approximately 120 Priority Corridors which have not yet received a significant intervention over more than a few intersections or blocks, half should undergo a SIP in fiscal year 2017.
  • Finally, at least two additional SIPs in each borough should be undertaken within the neighborhoods designated as Priority Areas in the Pedestrian Safety Action Plans.

This schedule will help put the DOT on track to fulfill its commitments to Vision Zero by the deadline of 2024. No single SIP can completely transform a corridor, but they are a good start, and they can have a real impact on some of the most dangerous streets and intersections in our city.

Transportation Alternatives understands that these projects are only completed through the hard work of DOT employees, both planning in offices and building on the streets. Increasing the number of projects requires an appropriately expanded budget, but all indications are that the operating budget has not increased. Assuming that state and federal funding levels from fiscal year 2016 can be maintained, we are recommending an additional $52.4 million in operations funding for the DOT in order to facilitate the expansion of the Street Improvement Program.

  • This funding should be directed not only towards hiring additional personnel for planning, but also to the crucial areas where it is needed most: resurfacing, road marking, signaling, and outreach.
  • The DOT should also integrate safety improvements into its resurfacing program – an efficient way to further Vision Zero goals.

In January, Mayor de Blasio announced $115 million in new capital funds to build on Vision Zero progress. The Independent Budget Office has indicated that this amount will be spread over four years. This is an extremely inadequate amount of funding for reconstructing New York City’s most dangerous streets, and it must be increased in order to make adequate movement forward on this goal. Going by the most recent numbers in the Mayor’s Management Report, street reconstruction is proceeding at too slow a pace – slower than before Vision Zero began. This is unacceptable, and it cannot improve meaningfully with only $115 million over four years. Without a large increase in the capital budget, New York City will be swimming against the tide, and the price of delay will be lives lost.

  • Therefore, we recommend $240 million in new capital funding for Fiscal Year 2017 dedicated to arterial street transformation around the principles of “Complete Streets,” which ensure that city roads are safe for and usable by people walking, cycling, using public transit, and driving, and are suitable for all ages and abilities.
  • This keeps New York City on track to redesign every arterial street within 50 years - an industry standard that ensures one arterial will not fall into disrepair before the others around it can be reconstructed. We set this goal last year in our report, The Vision Zero Investment.

No discussion of Vision Zero can be complete without special attention paid to the cycle network. We applaud the DOT for construction 12.4 miles of protected bike lanes in 2015, its highest annual total ever. We are pleased to see this progress and dedication to improving cycling infrastructure. But, just like street redesign, this construction must go further, faster, in order to create a truly connected, comprehensive, and safe bike network.

  • We would like the Department to commit to 15 miles of protected bike lanes in fiscal year 2017.
  • According to the most recent bike map, approximately 75 miles of Priority Corridors citywide are designated as potential future sites of bike lanes, or are currently only marked with sharrows, which offer no protection to cyclists.
  • These locations have already been identified by the DOT as needing safety improvements, and thus they are primed for transformation.
  • With 15 miles of protected lanes as the new standards, all these Priority Corridors could have the gold standard of bicycle infrastructure in five years.

In addition, in order to meet the Mayor’s goal of doubling bicycling by 2020, the city must plan for large-scale bike projects in addition to expansion of the on-street bike lane network.

  • In Fiscal Year 2017, DOT and DDC should release a timeline for the full construction of the East Midtown Waterfront Greenway between East 38th and East 60th Streets, as well as the 14 constituent projects of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, ensuring they are all fully funded.
  • These agencies should also explore the possibility of transforming the Queensboro Bridge south outer roadway to a pedestrian-only lane and creating an exclusive bikeway in the north outer roadway.
  • Finally, we request that DOT and DDC evaluate the possibility of uniting all projects and studies affecting the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade into a single project to substantially expand and improve both bicycle and pedestrian access.
  • Reports on the state of these projects should be released in time for fiscal year 2018.

Finally, we would like to draw attention to the need for greater city investment in the CitiBike program. Around the world, successful bike share programs have required partnership between city government and private operators. Here in New York, investment from the city can ensure that the expansion of CitiBike proceeds rapidly and equitably, thus helping meet the cycling goals and ensuring that as many New Yorkers as possible can take advantage of this transportation option.

  • The next step should be for the City Council, cycling advocates, and Motivate meet to discuss the appropriate and necessary level of funding from the city to be used for network expansion and membership subsidy.
  • It is imperative that this occur as soon as possible, because if this subsidy is not integrated into the FY17 budget, bike share will not reach neighborhoods that desperately need it.

Thank you for your time today. We look forward to further progress towards Vision Zero and truly liveable streets in Fiscal Year 2017 and beyond.

Secondary Title
Testimony by Paul Steely White, March 2nd, 2016