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Albany Roundup: Some Victories as Congestion Pricing Drama Dominated

State pols did a good bit better than last year, but there's still plenty of room to grow.

The state Capitol is so beautiful this time of year.

Transportation became The Big Story in Albany this year, thanks to Gov. Hochul's outie 5000 on congestion pricing, throwing millions of New Yorkers under the bus and lawmakers into a chaotic fray forced to regroup as the legislative session wrapped up last week.

State legislators boldly refused to go along with Hochul's last-ditch effort to find billions of dollars in revenue that was supposed to flow from first-in-the-nation toll, and did a better job at passing transportation policies compared to last year.

Still, dozens of bills still failed to get through the murky morass of the statehouse, which wasn't helped by the hubbub around congestion pricing, advocates said, but they praised the pols for holding the line against the Gridlock Guv.

"There are some good victories here but it’s also obvious that the congestion pricing circus took a big toll on the legislators’ ability to get things done this year," said Sara Lind, co-executive Director at Open Plans (which shares a parent organization with Streetsblog). "That said, we’re very grateful to all the state lawmakers who held the line against her attempts at replacement funding plans last week; if they hadn’t, the situation would be a lot more grim."

The NYS Safe Streets Coalition pushed for a package of bills this year, with the top line item being the multi-year effort to allow the city to lower its speed limit for the first time in a decade, also known as Sammy's Law.

The much-needed measure passed via the state's $273-billion state budget in April — though it exempted three-lane roads in the outer boroughs from the slower speeds, bowing to some car-loving pols in those areas.

"The inclusion of Sammy’s Law in the budget was a huge victory that advocates have fought for a decade, and it was great to finally see that effort come to fruition," said Eric McClure, executive director at StreetsPAC.

The city will also be able to expand its red light camera program, and moped sellers will have to register mopeds at the point of sale.

Here's a recap of some of the pieces of legislation transportation and livable cities boosters were watching.

What passed

The state reauthorized the city's 30-year-old red-light camera program and expanded the number of intersections with the scofflaw-catching cams from just 150 to 600, a four-fold increase, but far less than the 1,325 crossings, or 10 percent of the city, that the bill had originally aimed for.

The lower number came from the City Council, which had to send a "home rule" resolution for the state law, and sources previously told Streetsblog that some of the city lawmakers couldn't stomach more than 500-600 cameras.

"We would have preferred to see the original 10 percent of intersections go forward, but going from 150 to 600 is a pretty big deal," said McClure. "We hope it will be continued proof of concept, and that the legislature can take another look at expanding that program before it has to renew it again."

Another piece of incoming law that passed seeks to stem the influx of illegal mopeds closer to the source, by requiring sellers of the illicit vehicles register them.

Relatedly, another bill creates a lithium-ion battery rebate and exchange program through the state's Research and Development Authority, while a piece of legislation bans the sale of those power packs for mobility devices that don't meet certain safety standards.

McClure hoped the seller registration and the easier availability of affordable and safe batteries could push more riders to reconsider e-bikes, which are safer, lighter, and more environmentally-friendly than gas-guzzling mopeds.

"We hope that will push a lot of people that have switched from e-bikes to mopeds back to e-bikes," he said.

Passed one house but not the other

There were several other promising pieces of legislation that got through one chamber only to fail in the other.

A bill to equip city Sanitation sweepers with parking enforcement cameras passed the state Senate, but the Assembly did not take it up — despite the Council also sending a home rule message in support of the program, which already exists on buses.

For that reason, the city pol who pushed the measure called "super disappointing."

Another bill to allow the so-called Idaho Stop — where cyclists can treat stop lights as stop signs, and stop signs as yields — passed the Assembly, but didn't come up for a vote in the upper chamber.

The Senate did greenlight requiring transportation departments to consider complete street designs for road projects, such as better access for pedestrians, cyclists, people with disabilities, and public transportation. The Assembly didn't bring it up for a vote on the floor, despite passing two committees.

Nowhere fast

A bill to install speed governors for recidivist reckless drivers did not come up for a vote in either house.

Neither did a promising proposal to enable some federal highway grant bucks to go toward greenways.

A late-but-notable addition this year was a bill that would have prohibited New York City from exempting itself from the state's law banning parking near intersections, also known as daylighting. There was not enough time to hold hearings on it.

McClure noted that lawmakers deal with a huge amount of bills that lawmakers need to flag to keep them front of mind, but the Empire State pols still have a long way to go to legislate better for transportation and livable streets.

"There’s so much more the legislature could be doing to address public transit and street safety that is unfortunately not getting the push it deserves," McClure said.

Final grade: B-

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