StreetsPAC's Testimony to City Council on the NYC Streets Plan

We submitted testimony earlier this week to the New York City Council's Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure for the Committee's oversight hearing regarding an update on the New York City Streets Plan, expressing our concern over the pace of implementation of protected bus lanes and bike lanes required by the plan. We also offered support for three bills on the hearing agenda. Our full testimony follows below.

More than 20 months into the initial NYC Streets Plan, the city is coming up woefully short.

While the Department of Transportation has made admirable progress in some areas, notably in redesigning intersections and implementing transit-signal priority and accessible pedestrian signals, and, much to its credit, establishing large-scale Open Streets and Open Dining efforts unanticipated in the pre-pandemic Streets Plan, the City has nevertheless failed to deliver on the Plan’s most high-profile benchmarks: the creation of 150 miles of separated or camera-enforced bus lanes and 250 miles of protected bike lanes.

As of the end of 2022, only 4.4 miles of protected bus lanes and 26.3 miles of protected bike lanes were complete. More than eight months into 2023, just 2.4 additional bus-lane miles have been added to the total, according to tracking by Riders Alliance, along with just 10.7 miles of protected bike lanes, according to monitoring by Transportation Alternatives. Even allowing for quibbling over measurement methodology, it’s clear that the city isn’t close to meeting Local Law 195’s benchmarks.

While some of the shortfall can be attributed to the pandemic, and to resulting staffing and budget challenges, much of it can be chalked up to failures of political will. The lion’s share of this falls on City Hall – the backtracking and re-backtracking on the redesign of Brooklyn’s dangerous McGuiness Boulevard is one glaring example – but the City Council and civic leaders are not without blame, embodied by the lack of progress on the Fordham Road busway.

The failure to deliver on the Streets Plan’s bus- and bike-lane benchmarks will be underscored when congestion pricing is implemented next year, as Motherboard’s Aaron Gordon explains in a thoughtful piece published yesterday. The rollout of congestion pricing in London and Stockholm came in tandem with significant transit and micro-mobility upgrades, the carrots to tolling’s stick. Big improvements in bus service and more safe cycling options could greatly ease the transition for people who opt to leave their cars at home to avoid new congestion charges, and it’s a policy failure that we’re not much farther along in offering up those alternatives. It’s especially important to make meaningful transit investments in neighborhoods served most poorly by the existing system.

Political interference with DOT’s work will also undoubtedly exacerbate staffing and morale challenges within the agency. There are many hardworking, deeply dedicated people at DOT committed to making commutes faster and safer, but if they see years of planning and design and outreach undermined with regularity, it’s inevitable that they will find other places to do that work.

As we’ve testified before, the Streets Plan can also go a long way toward addressing inequity in the City’s transportation networks. New Yorkers of color, especially African Americans and residents of low-income neighborhoods, are disproportionately victimized by traffic violence and subjected to long commutes. That’s a crucial reason why it’s incumbent on the Council, and we in the advocacy world, to make certain that City Hall and DOT meet the benchmarks laid out in the Streets Plan and ensure that it is fully funded.

The city can also do much better in helping to facilitate activity in our streets, by fixing the Byzantine process of securing permits. SAPO requires months of lead time for simple street-closing permits, issues approved permits just days before long-planned events, and often rejects permits arbitrarily. The NYPD permit process is somehow even worse, requiring paper checks and in-person payment. In 2023, there’s no reason this process shouldn’t be electronic, which would make life easier for both applicants and police.

Int. 0261-2022 – Support

We support Int. 0261-2022, which would require the city to identify intersections that pose the greatest danger to pedestrians based on crash data, and to implement curb extensions prohibiting parking within 15 feet of a crosswalk in at least five such intersections in each borough per year. While we know the Department of Transportation is generally uncomfortable with mandates, it’s very likely already doing what’s required by this bill. But we strongly urge the City Council, and the Adams administration, to aim higher and abandon the City’s exception to the state law that prohibits parking adjacent to intersections. Yes, parking can be challenging – the city is dense. But that density is precisely why all our street corners should prioritize pedestrian visibility over driver convenience.

Int. 0738-2022 – Support

We also support Int. 0738-2022, which would require DOT to specifically consider placement of traffic enforcement agents in certain areas in developing suggestions as part of the interagency roadway safety plan mandated by Local Law 12 of 2011. While street design is the most important aspect of roadway safety, there is a role for TEAs to play, and DOT is best suited to advise on their deployment.

T2023-4007 – Support

Finally, we also support T2023-4007, which would require DOT to include an investment roadmap as a component of the Streets Plan. The proposed investment roadmap would measure existing levels of investment in safety-related street infrastructure in community districts, and provide a plan for how the Streets Plan would offer redress for historical underinvestment in certain communities and environmental justice areas. This is also something that the Streets Plan is likely addressing already, so we encourage DOT and the and the bill sponsors to negotiate a mutually satisfactory outcome. And while we strongly support efforts to achieve equity in street design, any investment roadmap should be nuanced enough to account for instances in which Community Boards and Council Members act as obstacles to, rather than facilitators of, street-safety projects.

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published this page in News 2023-09-14 16:55:41 -0400
StreetsPAC supports candidates for public office who will champion Safe, Complete and Livable Streets.