StreetsPAC's Testimony to City Council on Greenway Master Plan, Public Restrooms

We testified at yesterday's New York City Council Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure oversight hearing on managing public space, in support of bills that would require a Greenway Master Plan, foster creation of more public restrooms, and make it easier for schools and other institutions to use adjacent open spaces. Our full testimony follows below.

StreetsPAC is strongly supportive of this committee’s assessing of the large and crucial task of managing the city’s public space. Welcoming, dynamic, easily accessed, and equitable public space is critical to the health of New York City and its citizens, and we believe the creation of a high-level entity within city government to coordinate and manage the city’s public spaces is urgently necessary.

The pandemic has underscored just how important access to open space is to New Yorkers, and just how immensely popular – and good for business – welcoming, strollable, and sittable areas are across diverse communities. We urge this committee and the full Council to prioritize improvement in the city’s management of public space.

As to the three bills before the committee today, we support all of them.

Int. 0291, which would require creation of a citywide Greenway Master Plan, is long overdue. The last Greenway plan was done in 1993, and while some advances have been made toward creating a connected network of paths crisscrossing all five boroughs, it hardly resembles a robust network. Large gaps persist, many existing segments have been poorly maintained, and the environmental-justice communities that need these greenway segments most have seen the least progress.

As New York City’s population grows, more and more people seek opportunities for active recreation, and the number of people commuting by bicycle booms, demand for greenway access will continue to rise. An updated Master Plan will build public support and provide a roadmap for the significant amount of federal funds now available for these types of projects.

We support Bike New York’s suggested amendments to the bill, including the need to address the use of electric-assist bikes and other small electric vehicles, highlighting agency jurisdictions, and including specific detour provisions when construction or maintenance necessitates temporary closure of a greenway segment.

We, along with our many partners in the NYC Greenways Coalition, urge passage of Int. 0291 out of committee, and to a quick, supportive vote by the full Council.

We also support Int. 0258, which would facilitate the creation of more public restroom facilities across the city. New York City trails far behind most peer cities in providing ready access to clean, safe public restrooms, and this bill will require identification of suitable restroom locations in every neighborhood. Access to bathrooms is an equity, health, and sanitation issue, and it’s inexcusable that we haven’t done at least what other leading cities have in providing such facilities.

At the same time, we strongly urge the MTA to reopen all closed restroom facilities in the transit system.

Lastly, we support Int. 0293, which would require the Department of Transportation to allow community centers, schools, arts and cultural institutions, and religious facilities to make use of adjacent outdoor spaces.

As Streetsblog reported today, the city’s School Streets program is withering, and predictably, the few schools still taking advantage of it are predominantly in wealthier, whiter communities. Creating a framework that makes it easier for schools and other institutions to use neighboring spaces for programming might pump some oxygen into the effort, as would allowing more entities to participate.

We would, however, urge that the bill be amended to allow use of a full street rather than just the curb lane, in the interest of greater separation from traffic for the sake of safety.

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published this page in News 2022-06-29 17:06:07 -0400
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