“Flying at Light Speed” on Planet Albany

Sen. Martin Dilan stands with advocates and others to announce Senate support for complete streets and smart growth legislation yesterday.

With the New York legislative session scheduled to end next week, there has been a flurry of activity in Albany on the legislative front. Debate over bills is minimal to non-existent, kill-the-bill tactics are in full evidence, and the powers-that-be are pulling strings that even longtime insiders can’t see. As one seasoned Albany staffer stated on Thursday, “Legislation is flying at light speed—while I used to be able to predict what would happen around here, this year everything is crazy.” Some good transportation bills are moving fast; others seem to be stuck in the black hole of state politics.

Vulnerable Users, Smart Growth: Full Speed Ahead

Yesterday, “Hayley and Diego’s Law” passed the full Senate, 39 to 22, and is now awaiting the governor’s signature. The bill would require anyone who drives “without due care” and seriously injures or kills a “vulnerable road user” (including pedestrians, cyclists, and roadway workers) to complete traffic safety courses and community service. While the penalties may seem light, the bill would create 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.

Also passing the Senate today was the Public Infrastructure Policy Act (S5560/A8011), which passed the Assembly last week. It would instruct state agencies involved in infrastructure to align their planning, financing, and construction activities with smart growth principles such as a “fix-it-first” approach; protecting natural and historic resources; fostering compact, affordable, mixed use development; and community-based planning.

Bus Camera Enforcement: Caught in a Tractor Beam?

On Tuesday, the bill to allow camera enforcement of bus-only lanes passed in what Streetsblog called “four seconds of glory,” with no debate in the Assembly Transportation Committee. The next step was thought to be a vote by the Codes Committee, scheduled for Monday the 21st. But by mid-day yesterday, two different sources confirmed to TSTC that, although Codes Committee Chair Assm. Joseph Lentol is supportive of the legislation, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office had concerns that could hold the bill up. It was not clear what those concerns were.

Today, however, the Wall Street Journal and others reported that Albany leaders may have agreed to move the bus lane camera bill in exchange for the MTA continuing to foot the biggest part of the bill for the free student MetroCard program. Time will tell.

[Update 6/21: Streetsblog reports today that the State Assembly has inserted language into its version of the state budget that allows camera enforcement of bus lanes — but only on six Select Bus Service routes, such as the Bx12 on Fordham Road in the Bronx.]

Complete Streets: Mixed Signals

The good news for the Complete Streets bill is that it passed the Senate yesterday 58-3, winning praise for bill sponsor Sen. Martin Dilan from advocates. The bad news is that on Tuesday, it passed out of the Assembly Transportation Committee with several amendments and no “same-as” equivalent in the Senate. At a press conference yesterday, Sen. Dilan said the two houses would have to iron out the differences.

But the differences are quite stark. The Assembly bill would affect only state roads (the Senate affects state, county, and local roads receiving state or federal funds), add unnecessary exemptions, and generally weaken the legislation so it is more a requirement to study complete streets measures instead of actually implementing them. In a press release, Kyle Wiswall, TSTC’s general counsel, warned that the Assembly had “watered down its complete streets bill to the point that it will do little to fix dangerous roads.” In fact, of the 21 most dangerous roads for pedestrians in New York, as listed in TSTC’s Most Dangerous Roads for Walking report, only six are under state jurisdiction.

Photo: Nadine Lemmon/TSTC.

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