New NYS DOT Commish on Smart Growth: “We Need to Go Further”

State DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald had positive words for progressive transportation planning at today's NYMTC annual meeting. Photo: NYMTC.

Coming two days after her confirmation as the new commissioner of the state DOT, Joan McDonald’s keynote speech at today’s annual meeting of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council offered her the chance to lay out her agenda for statewide transportation policy. McDonald’s remarks should provide cause for optimism among New Yorkers hoping for a more progressive transportation system: She strongly endorsed smart growth principles and indicated to Streetsblog after her speech that she welcomes the planning process that could advance the Sheridan Expressway teardown.

“I am a very strong proponent and advocate for those smart growth principles,” McDonald announced in her keynote, citing the fact that transportation accounts for nearly 40 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

She said that the state DOT has the responsibility to ensure that last year’s smart growth law is implemented and that she believes there is a real movement within the department to embrace it. “It’s going to take a little bit to get to the practical side of it,” she said after the event, “but I am committed to pushing that envelope as much as we can.”

In particular, McDonald highlighted the department’s nationally-recognized GreenLITES certification system as a model around which to build. “We are expanding it to all areas within the department,” she said. “We know that we need to go further.”

Substantively, McDonald said making NYS DOT a smart growth agency is “pedestrian improvements, it’s bike improvements, it’s always looking and making safety our top priority.” During her speech, McDonald also singled out high-speed rail as a necessary investment for the state.

Though she cautioned that she hasn’t reached any conclusions on the fate of the Sheridan, her comments suggest that her administration will be more in tune with neighborhood activists seeking to replace the under-used highway with new housing, jobs, and open space.

“I’m thrilled that the city of New York is undertaking a land use study,” said McDonald, adding that conversations have begun about the Sheridan between the state DOT, the city DOT, and the city Department of City Planning.

The land use study, which was funded by a federal TIGER grant, is the key to an honest accounting of the costs and benefits of a Sheridan teardown. Last year, state DOT officials said that they could only compare the current Sheridan to a shuttered but still standing highway, because no officially sanctioned plan existed for what would replace it. If McDonald is excited about working with the city on the plan, she would seem to be open to the idea that replacing the Sheridan with a new mix of uses would add more value to the community than the highway does.

There was one worrisome contradiction in McDonald’s remarks, however. While she said that “we need to address our aging infrastructure through fix-it-first strategies,” implying that repairs would take precedence over making more room for cars at the cash-strapped agency, McDonald also expressed support for three road capacity increases in the downstate area: on the Staten Island Expressway, on the Gowanus and BQE, and on the Tappan Zee corridor. “I think society demands it,” she explained after the event.

  • J

    Wow. This is a huge win for the state of New York. Amazing!

  • We need to show her that not all of society demands highway widenings.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Eight Ways State DOT Chief Joan McDonald Can Make New York Better

|
“By building more and more roads, we have made it almost impossible to solve our transportation problems” – Allen Biehler, Secretary, Pennsylvania DOT and Chair, AASHTO Standing Committee on Highways Every state Department of Transportation (DOT) is led by a chief executive. In some states, they’re called the “secretary.” In others, the “director.” In New […]

Enviros Lay Out Smart Growth Agenda For Cuomo Administration

|
A coalition of environmental groups has lined up behind a smart growth agenda for New York State. Released by 12 organizations, the new memo lays out how Governor Cuomo and the state legislature can help New York use scarce public dollars more efficiently and sustainably when it comes to development. The coalition’s smart growth recommendations […]

What’s Next for New York State DOT?

|
State DOT Commissioner Astrid Glynn On Monday, state DOT Commissioner Astrid Glynn tendered her resignation, leaving the agency’s top job during a critical period for statewide transportation policy. Governor Paterson engineered Glynn’s departure, according to the Daily News, following her three-week vacation to Borneo that came while DOT is still deciding how to spend its […]

Cuomo’s Green Agenda Comes Out Swinging for Smart Growth

|
Last Friday, Andrew Cuomo released his green agenda, the final installment in a series of policy papers his campaign published over the last few months. In it, Cuomo strongly endorses smart growth and suggests the creation of a competitive grant program to encourage better planning. He also expresses his support for high speed rail, public […]

Streetfilms: NYSDOT Commish on Smart Growth and Stimulus

|
One thing we’ve learned from the stimulus saga is that many state DOTs still haven’t kicked the highway habit. New York’s state DOT is one of the exceptions: Expansion projects are mercifully absent from its stimulus wish list, according to a recent analysis by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. Under Commissioner Astrid Glynn, the agency is […]