NYS Passes Complete Streets Law, Then Slashes Funding for Pedestrian and Bicycle Infrastructure

Vehicles have been colliding with pedestrians and bicyclists at an alarming rate in upstate New York. According to data from the New York State Department of Transportation Accident Files, there have been 11,803 collisions in five of the most populous upstate counties (AlbanyErieMonroeOnondaga and Westchester) in the last four years, which amounts to about eight people struck by vehicles each day.

So it comes as no surprise that in 2012, New York received the dubious distinction of ranking number one in the nation with the highest percentage of traffic fatalities for pedestrians and bicyclists: 27 percent of the people who died on New York’s roads were walking or biking to their destinations.

What is surprising is that despite these alarming numbers — and the fact that the State’s Complete Streets law went into effect in 2012 — the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) is planning to spend less on infrastructure and amenities that improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

According to Tri-State’s analysis of NYSDOT’s “2013 Draft Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP)”, the blueprint for transportation funding in the state, New York will be spending 40 percent less of its overall transportation dollars in the next four years on measures, such as sidewalks, crosswalks, bicycle lanes or pedestrian islands, that make it safer and more inviting for people to walk and bike. According to the draft 2014-2017 STIP, New York plans to spend only 0.98 percent of its transportation dollars, representing a reduction of more than $100 million across the state on pedestrian and bicycling safety projects, as compared to 2011-2014’s spending planFor those larger road and bridge projects that contain some component of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, NYSDOT is also planning to spend 63 percent less of its overall transportation dollars than it did in the previous STIP.

[Unfortunately, NYSDOT does not separate the costs of the various components on these larger projects, so it is impossible to tell how much is being spent on just pedestrian and bicycling improvements. The 63 percent figure excludes the $5 billion being spent on three major bridge projects that include pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure — the Tappan Zee, Kosciuszko, and Bayonne bridges — so as not to skew the numbers.]

As Tri-State’s Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool stated in a press release today: “New York should be topping the charts on investments to make its streets safe to walk and bike, not working to zero it out.”

Cuts in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure spending in this draft STIP are not evenly distributed across the state. Some regions, like Region 1 in the Albany area, showed a marked increase in the amount of money they’ll be investing: 4.14 percent of their total transportation allocation will be spent on bicycle and pedestrian projects and an additional 2.38 percent on road and bridge projects that include a bicycle and/or pedestrian component. Region 1 is unique among NYSDOT’s 11 regions because it is the only region to set aside a dedicated pot of money for these investments, something that advocates have been asking NYSDOT statewide to do ever since the passage of the Complete Streets law.

In contrast, other regions have seen substantial decreases in the percentage of transportation dollars to be spent on walking and biking. In Region 10 on Long Island, where NYSDOT has made a point to highlight pedestrian safety improvements to Hempstead Turnpike, planned spending over the next four years as a percent of total transportation dollars will decrease 24 percent for pedestrian and bicycle projects. The result: a paltry 0.57 percent of the regional allocation of transportation dollars will be spent on bicycle and pedestrian projects. To put that number in perspective, NYMTC’s Plan 2040 estimates that 50 percent of the people killed in downstate crashes are pedestrians and bicyclists. [A map showing the comparison of regional spending between the two STIPs was also released].

In order to set the State on a course that more equitably invests in safe street infrastructure, Governor Cuomo must establish a dedicated fund for pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure, as well as revise the state’s preservation first policy, which categorically excludes new pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure in over 80 percent of the transportation spending across the state. Without immediate action, the 2012 NYS Complete Streets law is in danger of becoming a meaningless piece of paper on a shelf.

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