New York’s legislative session shows little sign of cooling down, with four potentially impactful bills introduced into the State Assembly and Senate Transportation Committees last month. The bills would mandate complete streets, create a regional bus authority, introduce new penalties for careless driving, and require the MTA and Thruway Authority to implement high-speed tolling at their toll plazas.
Assembly Transportation Committee Chair David Gantt and Senate Transportation Committee Chair Martin Dilan have sponsored complete streets bills in their respective houses (A8587/S5711). The legislation would require that “bicycle and pedestrian ways and safe access to existing and planned public transportation” be provided whenever a public road is built or reconstructed. The justification section of the bill memo cites federal statistics, an AARP poll, and a 2008 Tri-State Transportation Campaign report which found that older residents in the region were at higher risk of being killed as a pedestrian when compared to their younger neighbors and older residents in other parts of the country. AARP and the New York Bicycling Coalition have advocated strongly for the bill.
The bill contains standard exceptions: projects do not have to include this access where it is prohibited by law (i.e. an expressway), carries a cost that is “excessively disproportionate” to the need, or if there is an absence of future need. Somewhat weaker language allows projects to be exempted from the requirements when “establishment of such accommodations would be contrary to public safety,” a clause that raises questions of how “public safety” will be defined. Unlike Connecticut’s proposed complete streets bill, this bill does not come with a spending requirement (CT’s bill requires the state to dedicate 1% of transportation funding to projects that improve access for nonmotorized users). Historically, however, New York has spent more money on bike and pedestrian projects than Connecticut.
The original Ravitch Plan, which identified new funding sources for the MTA, included the creation of a full-fledged regional bus authority that could subsume existing suburban bus agencies resulting in better coordinated and improved service. But the transit rescue package that eventually passed the State Legislature did not include this provision, even though it would have benefited suburban bus riders and outer-borough residents commuting to suburban jobs.
Recognizing this, a large contingent of suburban legislators have signed on to Assm. Robert Sweeney’s A8520, which would create a regional bus authority and allow it to take over municipal bus agencies if the local legislature passes a home-rule message. Sen. Craig Johnson is carrying the Senate equivalent, S5702.
One question is whether there is money to fund improved suburban bus service without cutting service elsewhere. Because it included tolls on the East and Harlem River bridges, the Ravitch Plan would have raised hundreds of millions of dollars more than the rescue package that ultimately passed, and would have used this money for improved bus service both in NYC and the surrounding suburbs.
Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assm. Brian Kavanagh have introduced a bill (A7917A/S5292A) that would require that anyone who drives “without due care” and seriously injures or kills a “vulnerable road user” (including pedestrians, cyclists, and roadway workers) complete traffic safety courses and community service. Failure to complete the safety course would result in license suspension and a fine of up to $10,000.
The bill is valuable because it creates an offense that is easier for prosecutors to pursue than criminal negligence, which is a hard bar to meet and is very rarely filed against drivers. As Transportation Alternatives staff attorney Peter Goldwasser told Streetsblog, “the consequences attached with the law are more than just a gesture, despite not being penal in nature… Time and time again, [victim families] say that requiring defendants to personally appear in court is very important to them. The other penalties associated with the law, driver safety education and specific community service related to safer driving techniques, also have an important part to play in raising the consciousness among potentially dangerous drivers.”
Sen. Andrew Lanza and Assm. Matthew Titone of Staten Island have introduced a bill (S5095/A8322) that requires the MTA and Thruway Authority to build at least one high-speed E-ZPass toll lane at every toll plaza. Transportation agencies should certainly be providing motorists with this convenient and safe tolling technology. The MTA and Thruway Authority are already making progress, however. An MTA study of high-speed tolling is scheduled for release in spring 2010 (it was originally supposed to wrap up by fall of this year; according to an MTA spokesperson, the study was initially delayed but is now moving forward). The Thruway Authority opened its first high-speed tolling facility in 2007 and is building another.