State legislators voted in favor of allowing New York City to lower its default speed limit to 25 miles per hour in the 2014 legislative session. | Photo: AP via legislativegazette.com
It was an action-packed end-of-session for transportation advocates in Albany, with some squeaker wins as well as some disappointing losses which will no doubt be on next year’s sustainable transportation wish list.
A key victory this year came when the State Senate laid politics aside and granted New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio a key component of his Vision Zero plan: the authority to lower the default speed limit to 25 mph throughout the five boroughs.
Assemblymember Danny O’Donnell was an early and effective champion in the Assembly, but in the Senate, passage was less certain when election year politics entered into the negotiations.
After a concerted campaign from Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets, the first positive sign of forward progress for the bill came with three days left in the legislative session when Senator Jeffrey Klein introduced an amended bill (S.7892) that included input from community boards. Passage was certainly not assured especially as it became clear that Senator Dean Skelos was prepared to block the bill for personal reasons, and when Senator Andrew Lanza also indicated he was not inclined to support the legislation. Ultimately, consensus was reached and the bill is expected to be signed by Governor Cuomo. The City has already begun to discuss how to implement its new local control.
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A 10-month-old was killed at this location when she and her pregnant mother, who was pushing her stroller, were struck by a vehicle while crossing Route 110. | Photo: Steve Pfost/Newsday
Governor Cuomo announced $75.6 million for 33 transportation projects across the state this week. The funding comes from the federal Highways Safety Improvement Program (HSIP), and projects were selected on a competitive basis. Over 60 percent of the projects announced will include some bicycle and pedestrian safety components, and all 13 projects selected in Long Island and New York City are focused on pedestrian and bicycling safety. Some projects that stand out:
- $2 million to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety along 4.3 miles of Ocean Parkway, one of Brooklyn’s most dangerous roads, by installing new traffic signals and pedestrian countdown signals, installing pedestrian refuge islands, prohibiting left turns at some intersections, upgrading curb ramps, signage and pavement markings.
- $3.2 million to make operational and pedestrian safety improvements on one of the region’s most dangerous roads, Route 110 in the Village of Amityville and the towns of Babylon and Huntington in Suffolk County. It includes widening existing crosswalks and adding 25 ADA-compliant new crosswalks, along with pedestrian countdown timers, new traffic signals and pedestrian refuges.
- $2 million to improve pedestrian crossings at 235 locations in the Hudson Valley, installing pedestrian countdown timers at traffic signals that have crosswalks and/or pedestrian crossing phases.
This announcement represents a big win for New Yorkers for Active Transportation, a statewide coalition that has advocated for a “fair share for safety” over the last couple of years. While the Federal Transportation Law, MAP-21, slashed dedicated funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects by 30 percent (a $12 million reduction for New York), it did almost double the apportionment of HSIP funding—a potentially key source of funding for pedestrian and cycling safety infrastructure.
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A recent screen shot from a drivers education course shows the tendency to blame vulnerable users.
Do you drive a motor vehicle in New York State? Have you ever wondered:
- How to safely negotiate bike lanes while driving?
- How to pass a bike on a rural road with a double-yellow line and oncoming traffic?
- What the “Due Care” law actually means?
Well, if you’re curious, you won’t find the answers in New York State’s Driver’s Education Manual. In fact, the 100+ page document only devotes two pages to “Sharing the Road” with bicyclists — a whopping 544 words, and 66 percent of those words are devoted to how bicyclists are supposed to act on the road, not drivers.
Contrast that with the fact that in 2012, over 60 percent of vehicle crashes with bicyclists in New York State were attributed to unsafe motorist behavior, and that pedestrians were involved in 25 percent of fatal motor vehicle crashes in the same year, more than twice the national average (11 percent). And while New York State does require a five-hour pre-licensing course and test before a new driver gets a license, the course curriculum and test are not required to address how vehicles can better navigate roads that are increasingly populated by vulnerable road users.
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Lawmakers in Albany have the opportunity to change a law that prevents community-wide speed limits below 30 miles per hour. | Photo: Burlington Free Press
Leaders across New York united in an appeal to Governor Cuomo this week to correct a loophole in the Vehicle and Traffic Law that circumvents New York’s home rule principles, and prohibits municipal leaders from making their streets safer. Over 50 mayors and supervisors representing communities in over half of New York’s counties, along with the Association of Towns and the New York Conference of Mayors, have spoken with one voice to the Governor: give municipal leaders the ability to lower the speed limit in their communities.
The home rule concept allows local leaders to make local decisions about the health, safety and welfare of their communities. It is a bottom-up philosophy, embedded in the belief that local leaders know their communities best and that self-governance leads to better solutions. Unfortunately, when it comes to local roads, communities have to open their pocketbooks to pay for them, yet they do not have the authority to govern basic rules of them—like the speed limit.
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The New York State Department of Transportation released a report last week detailing how the Department has gone about implementing New York’s 2011 Complete Streets Act. The report, which NYSDOT is required by law to produce, elaborates on best practices and demonstrates the degree to which complete streets have been institutionalized and incorporated into all phases of transportation projects across the state.
Perhaps the best news coming out of the report is the forthcoming Complete Streets Checklist, a potentially useful tool for institutionalizing complete streets design into the decision-making process. Its success will depend, however, on how pervasively it is used. At a minimum, to be compliant with the state complete streets law, all projects receiving state and federal funding would need to use the checklist, a fact not mentioned in the report.
The report does state, however, that “many Complete Streets improvements, such as lane striping, are relatively inexpensive but effective” techniques to improve accessibility for all users of the roadways. If NYSDOT mandates these basic improvements, which would reflect NYSDOT going above and beyond what the law requires, the checklist would then be required for all projects, including resurfacing, restoring and rehabilitation projects —which could easily incorporate complete streets elements with almost no additional costs. If NYSDOT opts out of this strategy, a bill on the table in Albany would require them to do so by amending the complete streets law to require inclusion of “complete street design features in resurfacing, maintenance and pavement recycling projects and further enable safe access to public roads for all users.”
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