October/November 1999, p.14

A Shining Star of Public Input Goes to Black Hole

Until this year, the Transportation Enhancements program in NYC was a heartening exception to the secrecy that determines the spending of billions in transportation dollars. While federal Enhancement funding totals a paltry $6.5 million a year in the NYC area (less than $1 in every $200 spent regionally) it funds many bicycle and pedestrian improvements and other innovative projects.

From 1993 to 1998, the selection of projects for Federal Enhancement funds in NYC was a model of public participation. T.A., civic groups and the borough presidents sent representatives to committees that examined proposals from city and state agencies. By hearing the public as well as transportation agencies, the process resulted fresh perspectives and an excellent roster of projects. The process also owed its success to superb staff work by the NYC office of the State DOT.

Thus, T.A. and environmental and civic groups were bitterly disappointed to see the Governor and upstate interests destroy this model process with the collusion of the NYC Department of City Planning. T.A., other public interest groups and the downstate offices of the State DOT all attempted to preserve the process. However, our efforts failed, undercut by an absence of help from federal watchdogs and the efforts of NYC bureaucrats to shut out the public.

We're back to square one. T.A. and the Borough Presidents now have no voice on which projects are picked. Pouring salt into this wound, the new process permits the public to comment only after the state has made its choices. If that is not enough, project rankings will be unavailable until a public hearing- making the public comment on rankings they've barely seen. In the category of giant steps back in public inclusion in transportation planning, NY's Transportation Enhancements gets the grand prize.

Write and demand that the Federal Government do something about this abysmal retreat from the spirit of strong public participation required by transportation law.

Kenneth R. Wykle
Federal Highways Administration
400 Seventh Street SW
Washington D.C. 20590

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