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Ambitious bill to overhaul NYC streets would require billions in funding, DOT says

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The legislation could spur a “significantly reconfigured” DOT, says the agency

A cyclist riding on a bike lane in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Max Touhey

A bill that seeks to create a five-year “master plan” to overhaul the city’s streets would require billions in extra funding and a “significantly reconfigured” Department of Transportation (DOT), according to the agency’s commissioner.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson introduced legislation in May that calls for a “roadmap to breaking the car culture” through an ambitious five-year plan that would prioritize pedestrian and cyclist safety, access to mass transit, and slash traffic congestion and planet-warming emissions. The plan would take a “comprehensive, holistic” look at the city’s streets to improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers, said Johnson.

“When we put people instead of cars first, great things can happen,” Johnson said at a Wednesday City Council hearing. “It’s not just about congestion and traffic safety, it’s about building the kind of city we want to live in, and it’s about all of us.”

Under the bill, DOT would be required to create a five-year plan by October that spells out priorities and proposals for street redesigns, protected bus and bike lanes, pedestrian spaces, and more. Johnson outlined a bold vision for the first five-year plan, including at least 250 miles of protected bike lanes, some 150 miles of protected bus lanes, and to outfit 1,000 intersections along bus routes with transit signal priority technology annually.

While supportive of the bill’s mission, DOT officials warned that the legislation would require “tremendous managerial and operational bandwidth” that could be a tall order for the agency as it juggles several major initiatives such as continuing to implement Vision Zero, expanding speed cameras to new school zones, making the city’s approximately 320,000 pedestrian ramps accessible, and tripling the city’s number of Citi Bikes to some 40,000.

“At DOT we 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,” said DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. “The bill’s vast operational requirements would necessitate significant additional funding from the city budget.”

Trottenberg noted that such an ambitious undertaking would likely require a “potentially pared down level of community engagement” and urged the City Council to consider “reducing and streamlining” council mandates and waiting period requirements on DOT actions.

“Executing the work required on the scale and timeline and vision in this bill would necessarily mean a very different relationship with the council and community boards,” said Trottenberg.

But transportation advocates pushed back on DOT’s reservations and came out in force Wednesday to support Johnson’s legislation, urging DOT to embrace the “life saving” measure.

“The data is overwhelmingly clear,” said Marco Conner, the interim executive director at nonprofit Transportation Alternatives. “The measure and benchmarks proposed in this legislation are proven to save lives, improve bus transit service, promote the healthiest and most environmentally friendly transportation modes, including biking, and to make our streets more accessible. These are improvements that all New Yorkers deserve.”