Preliminary Budget – Fiscal Year 2018: Testimony to the City Council Committee on Transportation

Julia Kite, Policy and Research Manager, Transportation Alternatives

March 28th, 2017

Council Member Rodriguez and members of the Committee on Transportation, thank you for calling this hearing on the Fiscal Year 2018 Preliminary Budget. My name is Julia Kite, and I am the Policy and Research Manager for Transportation Alternatives, New York City’s 44-year-old membership organization dedicated to walking, biking, and safer streets. Our 10,000 members, and the nearly 150,000 people in our network, rely on your leadership to help protect their right to the streets. We would also like to express our gratitude to the Department of Transportation for their record-breaking 18.5 miles of protected bike lanes and 105 safety engineering projects implemented in 2016. We would also like to thank the New York Police Department for their renewed emphasis on enforcing laws against the dangerous driving behaviors that kill and injure pedestrians and cyclists. Together, we move New York City towards our Vision Zero goals.

We would like to offer our profound gratitude to Mayor de Blasio for the increase in funding for Vision Zero projects set forth in the Fiscal Year 2018 Preliminary Budget. This $400 million investment over five years is essential to moving New York City closer to zero deaths and injuries because it will allow for the redesign and reconstruction of some of New York City’s most dangerous streets. As we have observed through the success of Queens Boulevard’s Vision Zero Great Streets transformation, this funding is not only the difference between life and death, but it also changes arterial roads from barriers into opportunities to reclaim public space for New Yorkers to live their fullest lives.

We are mindful that Vision Zero projects will only save lives if they create high-quality complete streets that put pedestrian and cyclist safety above driver convenience. We have been critical of certain street redesigns in the past because we felt that, without the inclusion of protected bike lanes, widened sidewalks, signal-protected pedestrian crossings, dedicated transit facilities, and public amenities - which have more than halved injuries on some streets where they have been implemented - their redesigns are missed opportunities rather than blueprints for great streets. Vision Zero is too important to be done by half-measures, or to be just “good enough.”

  • As demonstrated in Transportation Alternatives’ Vision Zero Street Design Standard, published in December 2016, New York City has the opportunity to create world-class safe streets using tools already available in the DOT’s Street Design Manual.
  • The opportunity we have now, with this investment, is too great to not do the job properly. To reach Vision Zero, a new approach is needed - not business as usual.
  • Twenty-one City Council Members have signed our letter to the Mayor urging that this funding must be used for comprehensive, best-practice street redesign.

Capital projects, though absolutely essential, can take several years to complete and realize their ability to reduce injuries and deaths. Fortunately, there are steps the City can take to integrate street safety improvements through its routine resurfacing program.

  • The budget for street resurfacing has been increased to allow for a historic high of 1300 lane-miles. It would be a missed opportunity to not incorporate the kind of street safety fixes that can be made with paint and bollards into the process of repaving.
  • At all Priority Intersections, and along all Priority Corridors that undergo resurfacing, the City must add curb extensions, hardened centerlines, high-visibility crosswalks, or other tools for traffic calming that do not require the drawn-out processes of the Capital Program.

The December 2016 Court of Appeals ruling in Tuturro v. City of New York, which found the City partially liable for nearly $10 million for a crash on a dangerous street that did not receive traffic calming, adds urgency and a fiscal responsibility argument to the need to redesign streets sooner, not later. Through our advocacy work across the five boroughs, we have seen that the DOT is willing and able to create safer streets, but we urge the Department to swiftly overrule the objections of obstructionist community boards that prioritize parking and maintaining the status quo over safety improvements.

  • The City has a Vision Zero mandate to do whatever it takes to redesign blatantly dangerous streets.
  • Small bodies of unelected representatives must not be able to derail or delay that process for their own self-interest.
  • The City should always be pro-active when it comes to safety. It should not take a tragedy to spur improvement.
  • New Yorkers overwhelmingly support street safety measures, even at the expense of a few car parking spots.

The first quarter of calendar year 2017 has been an auspicious one: road fatalities in New York City are down approximately 15 percent year to date compared to the same period in 2016. We have no doubt that the City of New York is willing to rise to the Vision Zero challenge. The injection of additional funding in the FY18 budget is essential for saving lives and reducing injuries, but the street redesigns this money funds must be bold, forward-looking, and complete.

We would also like to lend our support for direct funding of Citi Bike. Bike share has been an undeniable success in the neighborhoods where stations are located, encouraging New Yorkers to pursue active transportation.

  • New York City’s bike share program is the only one in the country without direct investment from the city government, and of course, we are impressed by how much success Citi Bike has achieved without public funding. But our concern now turns to equity in cycling opportunities.
  • We need a five-borough bike share, and without public funding, it will be difficult for residents of many parts of New York, including the Bronx, Eastern Queens, and Staten Island, to ever take advantage of this transportation option.
  • This cost-effective option is crucial to helping the City achieve its 80 x 50 emissions goals, specifically a 10% cycling mode share.
  • New Yorkers overwhelmingly support this. A recent poll commissioned by TransAlt and conducted by Penn Schoen Berland shows that about 7 in 10 New Yorkers support expanding Citi Bike to all five boroughs.