Hearing of New York State Advisory Panel on Transportation Policy for 2025 Region 11, New York City Testimony of Noah Budnick Projects Director Transportation Alternatives
July 22, 2004
Good morning, my name is Noah Budnick. I am Projects Director for Transportation Alternatives. We are the largest local pedestrian and bicyclist advocacy group in the United States and represent New York City’s millions of walkers and bicyclists. I am pleased to speak before the newly created New York State Advisory Panel on Transportation Policy for 2025 about improving pedestrian and bicyclist safety.
A safe street environment for pedestrians and bicyclists is critical to reduce automobile-related crashes, injuries and deaths. Safe, calm streets are also keys to improved quality of life, economic growth and reduced crime in New York City. New York is a city of neighborhoods where thriving street life defines day-to-day social and economic life and depends on an environment where anyone, young or old, can stroll or bike down the street and not worry that they will be struck by a driver. Encouraging walking and biking also creates "eyes-on-the-street," which makes residents feel safe at home, work and in between.
New York City is and should continue to be a walking, biking and transit-oriented city. New York has the lowest car ownership rate of any city in the country. Fifty-four percent of households here do not own cars. Fifty-three percent of New York City residents take public transit to work and 11% walk or bike there. The New York City region has the largest public transit mode share of any city in the United States. Seventy-two percent (4.8 million) of people who enter Manhattan’s Central Business District each workday take public transit, and nearly all transit riders make a walking or biking trip on the New York City ends of their journeys.
Transportation Alternatives compliments the City, State and NYMTC on the increase in pedestrian and bicyclist safety spending in the 2004 to 2006 Transportation Improvement Program. Walking and biking safety funding is set at 15% in the upcoming program, compared to 5% in both the 1990 to 1994 and 1998 to 2002 programs. This increase is a move in the right direction, and we urge the City and State Governments to continue to increase spending on pedestrian and bicyclist safety. The New York City Transportation Coordinating Council should create new guidelines that allocate funds from TEA-21 and its successor in a manner that is proportional to the number of deaths and injuries by mode of travel. Here’s why.
In 2003, 13,807 New Yorkers on foot were struck and 178 killed by motorists. That same year, 3,210 bicyclists were struck and 13 killed. These tragic deaths and injuries accounted for 55% of New York City’s total traffic deaths and injuries, but in the coming years only 15% of the City’s traffic safety funds will be spent on pedestrian and bicyclist safety.
Though 2003 set an all time low for pedestrian fatalities in New York City, walkers and bikers still account for an unacceptably high proportion of traffic crashes, injuries and deaths and, despite funding increases, these most vulnerable modes still receive a disproportionately low share of safety funding. The trend in reduced pedestrian fatalities will only continue if the State corrects this funding inequity through 2025 and beyond.
We also urge the State DOT to create a new program to support local bike safety programs and other local bicycle projects. In light of New York City’s all time low pedestrian fatality rate in 2003, bicyclist fatalities have hovered in the mid- to high-teens each year for a decade. During that time the City greatly expanded its network of on-street bike lanes and off-street greenway and bridge paths, but neither New York City government nor advocates have the resources to conduct an in-depth analysis of bicyclist safety and execute recommendations to improve safety. The State should also support local efforts to identify and overcome everyday barriers to cycling and encourage more New Yorkers to bike. There needs to be more straightforward processes for local government bicycle programs to access the State’s share of Federal transportation funding and use it to attract top bicycle planners and engineers to incorporate best practices for bike infrastructure design, bike parking and encouragement and education programs.
Regionally, Transportation Alternatives urges the State DOT’s New York City office (Region 11) to collaborate with the New York City Department of Transportation to fix pedestrian and bicyclist crash hot spots on city streets near highways. Both the State and City DOTs maintain detailed databases and maps of traffic crashes. The two agencies should make it a priority to identify at least 10 hotspots a year to make safety improvements that put people walking and bicycling first. Motorists speeding on and off of state highways and on to local streets pose a tremendous threat to New York City’s walking and bicycling majority. Targeting these hot spots will help significantly reduce the city’s traffic victim numbers.
The State should fund the City DOT's Safe Routes to School program to make pedestrian and bicyclist safety improvements near state highways. According to the New York City DOT, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of preventable death for New York City children between the ages of 5 and 14 years old. In addition, more than 2,200 children in this age group were injured as pedestrians on New York City streets in 2003. This spring, in response to these alarming facts, and intense pressure from communities across the city, the City DOT launched a much anticipated Safe Routes to School program that will slow down drivers and traffic calm around a small number of city schools this fall, and will eventually expand to include more schools citywide. The State DOT should provide annual support for this worthy project. By helping the City DOT expand the Safe Schools program to include areas in the State DOT’s jurisdiction, it will significantly reduce the number of children struck, injured and killed by motorists.
The State DOT should seize the opportunity to promote more walking and bicycling in New York State by including these four items in the agency’s master plan.
1. Increase spending on pedestrian and bicyclist safety and allocate Federal transportation funds in a manner that is proportional to the number of deaths and injuries by mode of travel. 2. Create a new program to support local bike safety programs and other local bicycle projects. 3. Collaborate with the New York City Department of Transportation to fix pedestrian and bicyclist crash hot spots on city streets near highways. 4. Fund the City DOT's Safe Routes to School program to make pedestrian and bicyclist safety improvements near state highways.
New York City’s walking majority and burgeoning bicycling population have long suffered from transportation planning that has favored the city’s minority of motorists.
What New York City and New York State should not do is blame the pedestrian or bicyclist victim by cutting off access to sidewalks, parks, greenway and other walking and bicycling facilities or adopting safety programs only educate the victim and ignore the behavior of reckless and killer drivers. New York City is based on public transit and walking, and transit riders, walkers and bikers should come first in all transportation-related decision making. The State Department of Transportation should encourage and reward New York’s walking majority and growing bicyclist population by including the above recommendations items in its transportation master plan.