Two and a half years after he signed the state’s complete streets bill into law, Governor Cuomo has again declined to write dedicated funds for pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure — and, therefore, pedestrian and cyclist safety — into the executive budget.
A coalition of over 50 advocacy groups and locals governments under the banner New Yorkers for Active Transportation asked Cuomo earlier this month to allocate $20 million in the next state budget to pedestrian and cycling projects, and to continue or exceed that commitment for the next five years. New York State has never had a dedicated line in the budget for bike-ped infrastructure, says Nadine Lemmon of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. In the years since the complete streets law took effect, TSTC found, the state is planning to spend $100 million less on pedestrian and cyclist safety than it spent in the four years prior to the law’s adoption. Cuomo’s recent allocation of $67 million in federal funds for walking and biking projects statewide does not commit any state funds.
“The complete streets law says, very clearly, they have to consider it,” says Lemmon, “but that doesn’t mean they have to build it.”
Lemmon says advocates want Cuomo to make up for the shortfall in federal dollars between MAP-21, the current federal transportation bill, and SAFETEA-LU, the previous authorization. And a bike-ped fund would have a recent precedent: A memorandum of understanding between the state legislature and the state DOT last year resulted in a reserve fund for upstate transit capital projects. “It established a policy,” says Lemmon. “We were essentially asking for the same thing.”
Another issue is the state DOT doesn’t track exactly what it spends on pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure. A TSTC analysis of the last Statewide Transportation Improvement Program found the state was spending a little over $400 million on bike-ped projects over four years, but there is no accurate accounting for road and bridge projects that include some bike-ped components. For example, Lemmon says, the Tappan Zee Bridge includes elements of pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure, but the public doesn’t know how the numbers break down.
“We know how many roads are being paved, we know how many bridges are being fixed,” says Lemmon. “We have no idea how many miles of new sidewalks are being installed.”
NYS DOT has pledged to address the problem, according to Lemmon, but TSTC wants the state to take action soon. “The governor could speed that process up,” says Lemmon, “or the legislature could pass legislation.”
One option would be for the state to initiate a dedicated bike-ped fund, which Lemmon says could be a way to assure more funds are devoted to pedestrian and cyclist safety, and would also allow the public to know how much is being spent.
“One year of good funding is not necessarily going to fix a long-term problem,” says Lemmon, referring to the $67 million in federal funds. “Which is why we’re looking for some kind of established policy that is funding bike-ped.”