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New York Pols Back Gounardes’s Bill to Cut Driving by 20%

From Buffalo to Brooklyn, lawmakers want less driving.

Photo: Josh Katz|

The state should no longer design roads where pedestrians are just an afterthought, like this entrance to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.

Lawmakers must pass a law this session to cut the number of vehicle miles traveled by one-fifth by 2050, to reduce highway expansions, pollution, and traffic violence, local politicians from across the state urged Albany leaders in a letter on Wednesday.

“As a diverse coalition of local legislators from across the state, we have seen the devastating physical, fiscal, and environmental impacts of continued investment in car-centric infrastructure,” reads the letter to State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie signed by more than a dozen local elected officials from Brooklyn to Buffalo. 

The state Legislature should pass the law before the end of this session in June, which could pivot transportation funding toward more beneficial uses like mass transit and biking and walking infrastructure, reads the missive by Local Progress, an organization of progressive local electeds.

The proposed law (A4120/S1981) would establish a goal of 20-percent fewer vehicle miles traveled, or VMT, over the next 25 years, following the lead of other states like Minnesota and Colorado, which has helped agencies in both states out west free up more of their transportation dollars for transit projects, and bike and pedestrian spaces, the letter notes. 

“In real terms, this means both departments factor in miles traveled by cars into infrastructure decisions and prioritize investments that reduce single occupancy vehicle mileage,” reads the letter. “This means projects that expanded cycling infrastructure, pedestrian walkways, and public transit were prioritized over outdated highway expansions and lane widening.”

The proposal is crucial if New York is going to hit its climate goals, because it could eliminate nearly 230 million metric tons of carbon emissions over 25 years, save households close to $4,000 a year in gas and vehicle costs on average, and save almost 5,000 lives, according to a recent report

State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, who sponsors the bill in the state Senate, previously told Streetsblog that his legislation could finally shift planners' perspective away from metrics like "level of service," a motorist-focused measure of how much congestion a given project will create.

Under Gov. Hochul, New York spent more than 90 percent of the money from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law on roadway projects while transit got less than 1 percent of the Biden bucks, New York Focus reported earlier this year.

The state policy change could also help undo the ills of highways from the South Bronx to Syracuse that have for decades divided communities and furthered racist segregation, according to the letter.

"While federal infrastructure spending will help our state address racial inequities in our transit system, A4120/S1981 will ensure state DOT does not exacerbate them nor recreate them in other municipalities," the letter reads.

That offers a fresh chance for planners to look at the street grid in a way that doesn't focus on cars, said Alex Marion, one of the letter's signatories and the city auditor of Syracuse, where officials plan to raze the I-81 viaduct that has cut through the city for decades.

"If we can reduce the vehicle miles traveled, we can look at the space of streets differently," Marion told Streetsblog. "We can look at how we share our roads that has a lesser mandate on how much space we need to have for cars on streets."

"How do we get the most flexibility to ensure we have a functioning and integrated street grid that works for the transportation system we need today," the upstate pol noted.

Stewart-Cousins's and Heastie's offices declined to comment.

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