A street improvement bill from Speaker Corey Johnson would require billions in extra funding, DOT says

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson's legislation would emphasize pedestrian and cyclist safety.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s legislation would emphasize pedestrian and cyclist safety. Photo Credit: Cemile Kavountzis

A new bill that calls for five-year “master plans” for the city’s streets would require billions of dollars in additional funding and a “significantly reconfigured” Department of Transportation, the head of the agency said.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson last month introduced legislation that would “prioritize and promote” pedestrian and cyclist safety, increase access to and use of mass transit, cut down on traffic congestion and emissions and improve streets, sidewalks and public transit for people with reduced mobility, as well as hearing or visual impairment.

As part of the proposed legislation, the DOT would release a master plan with specific bench marks for projects including protected bus and bike lanes and street redesigns every five years, starting this October.

The city would also install at least 50 miles of protected bike lanes and at least 30 miles of protected bus lanes each year.

Speaker Corey Johnson advocates for more LGBTQ representation in the City Council on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday.
Speaker Corey Johnson advocates for more LGBTQ representation in the City Council on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday. Photo Credit: Todd Maisel

“Cars cannot continue to rule the road. It is not safe, and it is not sustainable,” Johnson said at a City Council hearing on Wednesday. “When we give space back to people — when we put people instead of cars first — great things can happen.”

The plans would look at the city in a “comprehensive, holistic way” rather than taking it one street or neighborhood at a time, he explained.

Representatives from the DOT who attended the hearing, however, pushed back on the proposal.

“We at DOT are proud and passionate about our work and always strive to accomplish more, but achieving the targets in the bill as drafted would require a significantly reconfigured agency,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said during testimony.

“The bill’s vast new operational requirements would necessitate significant additional funding from the city budget which we estimate to be several billion dollars, new head count, new facilities and equipment,” she added.

The department is already focused on a number of new and existing initiatives, including making the city’s approximately 320,000 pedestrian ramps accessible; expanding speed cameras to additional school zones; tripling the number of Citi Bikes around the city to 40,000; and continuing to carry out Vision Zero, its “top transportation priority,” Trottenberg noted.

Nevertheless, Johnson said he believed the proposed legislation would help make New York “a safer, more livable and more equitable city.”

“I love New York City — it’s the best city to live and work in in the world,” he said. “But we can do better.”