City Council Proposes Slashing Funds for Bike Network

quinn_large.jpgCity Council Speaker Christine Quinn and her city-owned Chevy Suburban. Photo copyright Steven Hirsch.

New bike infrastructure in New York City could be on the chopping block as the City Council and Mayor Bloomberg revise spending projections downward. On Sunday, Speaker Christine Quinn and the City Council released $495 million in proposed budget cuts over the next two years, including an item that would slash spending on bike network expansion in half. DOT’s bike network funds would drop from $9.6 million to $4.8 million in 2009, and from $11 million to $5.5 million in 2010. Download this PDF and scroll down to the first item numbered 841, "Reduce Bike Network Development Funding."

A spokesman for Speaker Quinn’s office did not specify why the bike network was targeted for spending cuts, saying only that painful steps were necessary to close the city’s budget gap. In an interview on WNYC earlier this week, Quinn said that the council’s financial staff were charged with identifying programs that are "not necessarily the core function" of city agencies.

The proposals now enter the ongoing budget negotiation process between the council and the mayor’s office. In November, Bloomberg released a separate list of budget fixes, which did not include cuts to bike network funding. (Interestingly, the mayor’s proposals did include a measure to raise more revenue from parking meters below 60th Street [PDF, page 24].) Yesterday Bloomberg ordered city agencies to identify additional spending reductions by December 22.

If you believe a safer bike network is a core function of DOT, contact information for Speaker Quinn’s office and your council member can be found on the City Council website.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I think those of you not following the economy closely are under-estimating the enormity of what is just beginning to arrive in New York.

    I am a bit offended by the Quinn statement that the $400 handout to already tax-priviledged homeowners (including me) is a “core function.” Other core functions include pensions for the early retired, debt service, and political appointees.

    We’ll be lucky if everything else isn’t also cut in half, and capital spending isn’t ended altogeher.

    Remember, New York only embarks on capital expenditures when economic conditions are conductive to vastly overpaying. By running up massive debts during those times, we are protected by our leaders from investing when construction workers are unemployed.

  • Penny wise, pound foolish.

  • Larry Littlefield

    You are giving them too much credit for being penny-wise.

    The good news is that as long as the bridges are open to bicycles (something I do not take for granted) it will be possible to get around, bike lanes or no.

    And to the extent that bicycle infrastructure is just plans, posted notices followed by paint, as on Grand Street, it could be implemented by teens in the federally-funded summer-youth employment project, led by college kids in he NYC intership program.

  • I really, really wanted to like Christine Quinn–she seemed to have a progressive agenda, and it’s important to have openly gay people and women in leadership positions.

    However, she has more recently proved herself to be a corrupt politician like the rest of them and no friend to bicyclists–witness her attempts to require parade permits for groups over 50 (in a direct attempt to target Critical Mass), slash the number of pedicab drivers permitted on the street, and now this!

  • Ace

    Didn’t the mighty Quinn siphon/stash/steal more than that into her speaker’s discretion/slush fund?

  • Not all bridges are open to bicyclists, Larry — take the Carlton Avenue Bridge between Prospect Heights and Fort Greene, for example. Its partial demolition by Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner has been funded by the taxpayers, and despite the fact that all work on that boondoggle has now been halted, there hasn’t been a peep from Quinn or Bloomberg or Paterson about shutting off the pipeline from the public coffers, through which have already flowed $300 million-plus in direct cash subsidies.

    And we have so much to show for that “investment.” Until wasteful, ill-conceived projects like Atlantic Yards are cut from city and state budgets, I’d like my $400, thanks. It’s not “shared sacrifice” if billionaire real estate developers don’t have to share, too.

  • I think we need to take a page out of the Portland Bike Community and fight this hard. Knowing Portland and being a frequent reader of BikePortland there are many tales of cyclists rising up and getting issues out there to make pols change their minds or to get coverage of issues that make electeds not want to go against the cycling community. The questions is: what to do?

  • For one thing, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. I support cutting back on the budget for cycling infrastructure in the city so that more money can be put towards critical infrastructure and services that most people use – like the police department and the MTA.

    That said, money leftover should be used on maintaining the amazing infrastructure that’s been put in place by the DOT over the past few years.

    I personally do not support Quinn and given the chance I wouldn’t vote for her, but this is a sensible move considering the economy and I hope that the progress made with cycling infrastructure can be preserved over the next several years.

  • JK

    Isn’t the city bike network money a match for federal funds? Can Sblog get someone at DOT to explain what this cut actually means? Is the city council intending to cut matching money that will cost it federal funds? Anyone?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “I am a bit offended by the Quinn statement that the $400 handout to already tax-priviledged homeowners (including me) is a “core function.”

    Evidently I have not yet begun to be offended.

    Facing disaster a fiscal, Comptroller Thompson has told senior citizens that senior citizens are his top priority, and should not face any cutbacks (or taxes I guess) at all.

    Of course for Mayor Bloomberg stadia and an age 55 retirement age for teachers are the top priorities.

    Weiner’s priority is probably Weiner.

    Expect the school and transit systems, parks and public safety, to experience a 1970s-type collapse as fares and taxes on those who work (even the poor) soar.

  • Moser

    Streetsblog, I think you need to help put numbers like the bike program funding in context (of a $4 billion+ or whatever budget gap, not even looking at the transit problem – “money leftover”??) or you will get more comments like Liam’s here. A fully funded bike network is a drop in the bucket of the city and MTA fiscal problems, it is largely federally funded and its bang for the buck in terms of shifting people out of crowded transit and off of clogged highway and bridge lanes is paying off big time with big increases in cycling in recent years.

  • I’ve used this example a number of times:

    When the City of Berlin was facing massive, unaffordable expenditures to modernize the eastern half of the city in the 1990’s it realized that it could not afford to build and expand the subway into the east like it had done in the west over the 40 years since the city was divided. Instead it kept the streetcars and trolleys that were already there, modernized them and then spent a great deal of money building a bicycle network.

    Why did they greatly increase there spending on bike facilities in tight financial times??

    Because the city planners of Berlin knew that they could create the same level of accessibility and mobility in the city spending on bicycles for a fraction of the money they would need to spend on the subway. Literally 2 or 3 pennies for every dollar.

    The result is that Berlin has seen a marked increase in bicycling mode share, at least 10% by 2001, in a city known for its sprawling nature (at least by European standards).

  • I would say to sell off the brush guards we apparently purchased for her SUV, but I’m sure the market for that symbol of peak truck culture has tanked. Here’s an idea though: remove $1000 aspirational wilderness accessory from city vehicle, sink its mount points in concrete buckets, then use to protect the vulnerable ends of parking-protected bicycle lanes. Sometimes cars like to plop their butts right in that spot, on Grand St’s zero-million-dollar protected lane, so we’ll need an equally cheap way to keep them out. If enough city vehicles are guarding themselves from herds of cattle, etc., with these macho/yuppie bolted-on steel bars, we could convert every bicycle lane to a fully protected lane for next to nothing!

  • Mark

    I liked the piece in the Times business section yesterday about the F22 fighter jet. $65 billion has been spent so far and it doesn’t really have a purpose now that the cold war is over, yet it might get many more billions in funding. Yes, that is not a typo. $65 billion. How many miles of bike lanes can you buy for 65 billion? God help us.

  • Doc, brilliant idea! I think you could lock about eight bicycles to that thing, too. If the city has to cut funding for the new circular bike racks, we could repurpose some city-SUV push-bars instead.

  • Also, those bars may be able to hold up a small awning? We really have to think creatively after blowing our collective wealth on chromed-up farming equipment to transport city politicians.

  • I submit this vehicle as a more cost effective means to transport Speaker Quinn—but I don’t volunteer to carry an end.

  • Who knows if it will make any difference (apart from keeping the USPS afloat with a personalized form-letter response mailed to me), but I posted the following to Councilmember Quinn (as I am in her council district):

    I was dismayed to learn that among the proposed cuts being considered to reduce the budget deficit for 2009 and 2010, is item 841, “Reduce Bike Network Development Funding.” In your interview on WNYC, you stated that your staff was charged with identifying programs that are “not necessarily the core function” of city agencies.

    When the amount of money involved is so small compared to the much larger expenditures on infrastructure for cars (which a majority of the constituents in your district do no even own), I fail to see why something as crucial to the future of NYC (and critical to the Mayor’s vision of PlaNYC 2030) as the development of a viable and widely used bike network for New York City falls outside the “core functions” of the NYCDOT.

    Especially when subway and bus fares are sure to rise in the coming year, it is more important than ever to provide safe and acceptable alternatives to driving for NYC commuters who may also be suffering from the ongoing economic crisis.

    As a Chelseaite, I have been elated about the new protected bike lanes on 9th and now 8th Avenues, but I would be heartbroken to learn that no other parts of the city will be able to enjoy similar improvements to their bike networks because the funding for them has been cut.

    “Green” infrastructure development like bike lanes is not a luxury that only deserves funding during economic boom times – it is a sensible and rational investment that makes sense for our city both at the top and the bottom of the economic cycle.

    I sincerely hope that you will reconsider this ill-advised proposal and ensure that the development of the bike network remains fully funded.

  • Alex, you’ll probably get a nice form letter about how we voters will be able to vote her out of a third term if we so choose. And I heartily encourage you folks who live in her district to so choose.

  • gecko

    This cartoonish picture of Speaker Quinn is like some evil gnome next a monstrous SUV attacking bicycle transportation systems that make the best economic, environmental, and practical sense.

    It is also like when the big three auto execs traveled to Washington on their personal jets to give meaningless testimony in the midst of a dire economic crisis.

  • gecko

    Quinn isn’t evil as well as those who tend to limit expansive cycling developments. They are just technologically naive and should stay out of the way.

    Luckily, as a prior Senior Vice President of Parsons Brinckerhoff, a leading international engineering firm, Commissioner Sadik-Khan, does get it.

  • gecko

    At $1.2 million per subway car eight of them equate to DoT’s allocation of $9.6 million for annual bike network funds with no money left over for maintenance, infrastructure, etc; and, they would move no more than 1,500 people at any given time.

    Imagine the wait for those eight subway cars!