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Council to Mayor: Put a Lot More Money into the Streets Master Plan!

More please, says the Council. File photo: Dave Colon

The City Council is demanding that Mayor Adams put some real money where his mouth is on street safety and transit.

In its annual (and charter-mandated) "response" to the mayor's proposed budget [PDF], the Council demanded that the mayor add another $3.1 billion to double the target goals of the Streets Master Plan, which passed in 2019 and was signed by then-Mayor de Blasio only after it was changed so that it would take affect after he left City Hall.

That five-year blueprint calls for the installation of at least 250 protected bike lanes and 150 dedicated bus lanes — with 30 miles of bike lanes and 20 miles of bus lanes in the first year. The mayor's proposed $98.5-billion Fiscal Year 2023 preliminary budget — which is $2 billion less than the previous year's budget — did not put significant funds specifically into implementing the plan, though DOT's budget was more or less spared the budget axe.

The goal of the $3-billion ask, said Transportation Committee Chair Selvena Brooks-Powers is to make “our thoroughfares to be safer and more accessible, while increasing New York's pedestrian plazas footprint.”

This, the Queens Council member said, “will bring communities together, encourage outdoor activities, and keep motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians safe and [create] a more equitable city for all."

Both bike and bus advocates hailed the Council proposal.

"Bus riders urge Mayor Adams to embrace the City Council's bold vision for better buses and safer streets," said Riders Alliance Senior Organizer Jolyse Race. "Expanded funding for faster and more reliable bus service and better access to neighborhoods without subways will make New York work better for everyone who lives, works, and visits here. The Council's response to the mayor's preliminary budget shows unprecedented support for better buses and streets that work for everyone."

Jon Orcutt of Bike New York hailed the Council and, specifically Speaker Adrienne Adams, for "standing up for progress on a protected, connected bike network at a time when city streets are becoming more dangerous and hostile to people."

He added that safety isn't just going to happen "without government action and new resources.”

How Streetsblog covered the DOT's weak promise.
How Streetsblog covered the DOT's weak promise.
How Streetsblog covered the DOT's weak promise.

The Council move to bolster its own Streets Master Plan has been building for months, ever since the DOT released a plan late last year that claimed the agency did not have the money to implement it. And even after Adams succeeded then-Mayor de Blasio, advocates remained concern that they had met the new boss and he was the same as the old boss. Pointing out that 2021 was one of the deadliest years since the advent of Vision Zero, advocates put down a marker last month for at least $850 million to bolster street safety.

At a Council budget hearing last month, DOT's Deputy Commissioner Eric Beaton said the city would meet its benchmarks for the first year, but he was not convinced it could continue doing so in the out years.

“We are still assessing what funding needs there are for NYC Streets plan, and will be working within the administration to address funding through the budget process,” a spokesperson for DOT told Streetsblog at the time.

Now, apparently, City Hall has a willing partner in the Council, which wants more funding to create "at least 500 lane miles of new protected bus-only lanes, so that every New Yorker lives within a quarter mile of a protected bus lane." (Currently, only a small fraction of New Yorkers live so close to a dedicated bus lane.)

Forty of those bus lane miles would be car-free busways like 14th Street in Manhattan, the Council said. Currently, there are no final busway plans on the DOT's Current Project page, though the agency is discussing a partial busway on Fordham Road with neighborhood stakeholders.

The proposed cash infusion from the Council would come with a string, requiring the Adams administration to build "at least 500 lane miles of protected bike lanes ... so that every New Yorker lives within a quarter mile of a protected bike lane." Again, only a tiny fraction of New Yorker currently enjoy that privilege.

The Council plan would also require the conversion of 38 million square feet into pedestrian plazas, which would be a significant increase from the existing Streets Master Plan, which required 1 million square feet of pedestrian space in the first year [PDF].

It's unclear why the mayor has not taken an aggressive funding stance regarding the Streets Master Plan, given that he has consistently championed street safety initiatives. During the campaign, he called for more open streets, taking public space away from drivers and giving it to cyclists, bus riders and pedestrians, and building bike "superhighways." Since becoming mayor, he has called for the redesign of 1,000 dangerous intersections, and equated the fight for safe streets to the fight against crime.

A City Hall spokesperson offered the following statement:

“Mayor Adams has put forward an aggressive plan to improve street safety and provide greater access citywide to reliable transportation options, including an unprecedented effort to add 150 additional miles of bus lanes in the next four years. We are reviewing the Council’s proposal and look forward to engaging with them through the budget process to identify the proper level of funding for our shared transit goals.”

The statement included a reiteration of Adams's promises so far, including 150 miles of new bus lanes in his first term, the aforementioned intersection redesigns, and the ongoing effort to harden half of the city's protected but porous bike lanes by the end of 2023 (which was originally a "first 100 days" promise).

In a press conference on Monday morning, hours after this story first appeared, Adams told reporters that he would not negotiate in the press.

"We don't want to negotiate the budget here," he said in a City Hall gaggle. "I'm a biker, but we don't want to negotiate the budget here."

Beyond street safety, the Council’s demands also include:

    • Seeking $1 million to construct a new composting facility to allow the city to expand organic recycling. The Adams budget would cut the expansion of composting.
    • Adding $250 million in capital funding to build park bathrooms in all five boroughs.
    • Expanding the ferry system in the outer boroughs. The response document did not put a dollar figure on that.
    • Creating a plan for addressing "transit deserts." The Council is asking the administration to "commission a study and create a comprehensive plan ... so that the city can move towards a system that is fair and equitable to all New Yorkers." Again, no dollar figure was announced.
    • Restoring $935,000 for the waste containerization pilot, which Streetsblog recently revealed has been delayed and truncated.
    • Setting aside $1 million to study a so-called Pay-As-You-Throw sanitation plan which would charge New Yorkers for excess garbage. The city did study this a few years ago, but then-Council Speaker Corey Johnson trashed it as "insane."

After initial publication of this story, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Danny Harris issued a statement thanking Speaker Adams and Council Member Brooks-Powers "for their vital leadership in committing $3.1 billion."

“We are particularly excited that this funding will go toward ensuring that all New Yorkers live within a quarter-mile of a protected bike lane and a quarter-mile of a dedicated bus lane — goals shared in our NYC 25x25 vision," he added. "Investing in these projects will particularly support under-resourced communities that for too long have been left behind when it comes to building safe, accessible, and healthy streets. For the sake of our climate and so much more, New Yorkers need the benefits of the Streets Plan to have reliable and affordable options that allow them to shift their trips currently completed in cars.”

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