NYC’s New Budget Fails to Fund More Low-Cost Vision Zero Street Redesigns

It’s July, which means the city’s new fiscal year 2016 budget is in effect. This spring, the de Blasio administration touted early funding for street repaving and reconstruction of four arterial streets under the “Vision Zero Great Streets” program. But the final budget the mayor’s office negotiated with the City Council fails to beef up the city’s efforts to quickly reduce deaths and injuries on its most dangerous streets.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announces the fiscal year 2016 budget deal with the City Council. Photo: NYC Council/Flickr
Mayor Bill de Blasio announces the fiscal year 2016 budget deal with the City Council. Photo: NYC Council/Flickr

The most promising way to get fast results from street redesigns is through “operational” projects that use paint and other low-cost changes to calm traffic, rather than waiting years for the city to design and build an expensive capital project. But the final budget sets aside funding for just 50 of these operational projects, DOT said, which does not represent an increase in the city’s commitment.

The $5.2 million pot of money for those 50 projects, which can be as small as a single intersection, also covers safety education, signal retiming, and replacement of faded pavement markings.

To put that amount in perspective, the de Blasio administration set aside an extra $242 million this year to ramp up its street repaving efforts. Devoting similar resources to expanding the city’s program for quick and effect street redesigns could save dozens of lives each year. Without that commitment, it’s hard to see how New York will come close to achieving de Blasio’s goal of eliminating traffic deaths by 2024.

There is some good news in the final budget, but it came in small packages:

  • There’s the first-ever round of plaza maintenance funding, providing $5.6 million over four years for upkeep of public spaces in low-income neighborhoods.
  • The Vision Zero Great Streets initiative is receiving $1.14 million in operating funds over four years. This money will be used to maintain trees and plantings in the medians of redesigned arterial streets in consultation with the Parks Department, said Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.
  • The budget for this year also includes an additional $2.5 million in Vision Zero education funding sought by Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez.

The budget also includes a total of $79 million between fiscal years 2016 and 2019 for what DOT is calling “Vision Zero street reconstruction.” And it funds the Vision Zero Great Streets program, which includes the DOT redesign of Queens Boulevard, Atlantic Avenue, Grand Concourse, and Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue. The Great Streets program will receive a total $298 million between fiscal years 2016 and 2018, a sum that includes federal funds and other sources in addition to the $250 million announced earlier this year.

Those are important projects that will save lives, but it will take at least a few years to build them out. In the meantime, there are many more dangerous arterial streets in need of attention.

NYC DOT knows how to make those streets safer. And in the scheme of the city budget, all it would take is a relatively small allocation of resources from the de Blasio administration to overhaul many more streets with low-cost redesigns. So far, City Hall isn’t delivering.

  • Joe R.

    It does bear mention that the accelerated street repaving schedule in effect does further Vision Zero goals, at least for cyclists. I’ve already seen several streets in my area repaved which were sorely in need of it. They’ve cut the roadbed on the LIE service road between Bell Blvd. and Francis Lewis Blvd. in preparation for repaving. Great as it was in horrible shape. In truth repaving is needed at least down to Utopia Parkway, better yet all the way to Main St. Hopefully they’ll get to Union Turnpike soon as well. That’s mostly in horrible shape from 164th Street to city limits. Nice to see some stuff being done by me for a change, even if there are no street redesigns. I’d rather have smooth streets than bike lanes if I had to pick one or the other. Of course, both would be better. 🙂

  • Jesse

    I have a new scar on my right knee that can attest to your point.

  • SSkate

    My skates are in agreement with Joe’s point. They’ve recently milled a chunk of Amsterdam on the UWS and I am so looking forward to when the fresh asphalt gets laid down, bike lane or no.

  • Simon Phearson

    Yeah, I do my routing as much around rough roads as I do dangerously unpredictable intersections. Given the “operational” projects I’ve seen around town, I agree that I’d much rather see repaving than more tan bulbouts filled with grit and glass, abandoned by all humanity but for a few lonely plastic bollards.

  • AnoNYC

    Have all of the arterial redesigns been revealed?

  • Joe R.

    You bring up an interesting point. I too take road condition into account when doing my PM recreational rides. Amazing how quickly cyclists adapt to changing road conditions. For example, the aforementioned segment of the LIE service road which is currently in a milled state (hence unusable for cycling) is part of one of my regular routes (I have several which I change from time to time as I get bored). Last few rides I’ve been using an effective alternate route which I made up on the fly once I saw the condition of that segment.

    Incidentally, glass hasn’t been an issue for me since late 2008 when I went with airless tires. Prior to that, I was flatting once a week on average.

  • $2.5 million on education? Sigh. DOT has done a great job with education so far, but at a certain point there’s more “education” to be gained from redesigning a street than from asking everyone to play nice. How many protected bike lanes or pedestrian islands could $2.5 million build?

  • multimodal

    You know what I love? Being cut off in the bike lane by a cab with one of those “Your decisions matter” Vision Zero bumper stickers. I wonder how much of the $2.5 mil goes for those.

  • I just saw a cab double-parked with no one in it….with one of those lovely bumper stickers.

  • stairbob

    We should make up some stickers to apply under/next to those.


  • Joseph Cutrufo


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