Momentum Building for Dedicated Walking and Bicycling Infrastructure in New York

Image: LADOT Bike Blog/Flickr

It’s an idea whose time has come: a dedicated fund for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. More than 45 New York State legislators and 60 organizations have put their names behind it, and are now eagerly awaiting the release of the Assembly and Senate one-house budgets which, with any luck, will both include a $20 million line item for pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure.

We’re fast approaching the five-year anniversary of Governor Cuomo signing the New York State Complete Streets Law, but implementation of the law has been spotty, largely due to inadequate financial resources. Communities across the state have been hamstrung, unable to move forward with efforts to make streets safer for pedestrians and people on bikes, and unable to build the sidewalks, trails and bike lanes that residents want.

Some communities are fighting back. On January 13, the Planning Committee for the Capital District Transportation Committee (CDTC) approved their largest set-aside ever dedicated to bike-ped infrastructure. According to CDTC, this decision guarantees that at least $5 million in bicycle and pedestrian projects will be programmed into the area’s Transportation Improvement Program this year. That’s one quarter of the amount that is being requested in the state budget, for the entire state.

And not all state departments are dragging their feet. The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) has stepped up in a big way. Over the next five years, through the department’s “Creating Healthy Schools and Communities” grant program, they will invest $6.7 million “to improve access to nutritious foods as well as increase opportunities for daily physical activity” [emphasis added]. Grantees will encourage local communities to adopt their own complete streets policies, and to plan for future infrastructure improvements. This will build demand for safer streets, but the kicker, however, is that NYSDOH money can’t pay for infrastructure — only New York Department of Transportation funds can do that.

The $20 million annual line item represents only a tiny fraction of New York’s overall transportation spending. Compared to the $22.1 billion proposed by the governor for the NYSDOT five-year capital plan, it amounts to only 0.45 percent. And if you add up the NYSDOT and MTA capital plans ($54.1 billion total), $20 million represents just 0.18 percent. And imagine how small a drop in the bucket it would be if we were to add in all of the local tax dollars included in village, town, and county transportation budgets. Now, compare those percentages to the fact that 29 percent of the fatalities on New York roads are either a pedestrian or a bicyclist—the worst record in the nation.

The ask is small, but a designating funds to walking and biking is an important — and symbolic — move that NYSDOT and Governor Cuomo have refused to make to date. Add your organization’s name to the cause; it’s time to fight for a fair share.

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