Transportation Bill Puts Funding for NYC Cycling and Pedestrian Projects at Risk

| March 8, 2012 4:00 AM

The 9th Avenue Bike Lane was partially paid for with federal funds awarded through the Transportation Enhancements program. Flickr/ K_Gradinger

The money has to come from somewhere. And in the case of many city biking and pedestrian safety programs, it comes from a certain program in the federal transportation bill.

It’s called Transportation Enhancements, and it has paid for a number of bike and pedestrian projects in New York City, as well as across the country. But dedicated funding for the program is in question as both the House and the Senate debate the contentious transportation bill.

And with the bill currently at a standstill in Washington, the future of these dedicated funds for non-motorized transportation is unclear.

With pedestrians and cyclists accounting for more than 50 percent of traffic fatalities in New York City, advocacy groups say that the city cannot afford to lose dedicated funding for biking and pedestrian projects.

“These federal transportation dollars go into almost every project,” said Noah Budnick, deputy director of the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. “[That includes] the planning and striping of bike lanes on roads, bike racks, installation and pedestrian safety improvements.”

Steve Higashide, Federal Advocate at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, agrees.

“New York City has done so much to make its streets safer in recent years, and losing these funding streams would make that harder to continue that progress,” said Higashide.

Here are just a few of the projects that have received federal funds through Transportation Enhancements in the past:

  • Shoelace Park, the Bronx: Built a gateway to Shoelace Park from 222nd Street, creating a clear and safe connection to the Bronx River Greenway. (2006)
  • Willoughby Street Plaza, Brooklyn: Willoughby Street from Pearl Street to the Adams Street service road was transformed into a pedestrian plaza by closing the road to vehicles, 2006
  • Randall’s Island Connector, Manhattan: Added handicap access to the island and improved bicycle and pedestrian pathways, 2006
  • Hunter’s Point South Bikeway and Streetscape Improvement, Queens: Bike lanes were added at 50th Avenue, 52st Street, 2nd Street and Center Boulevard, 2009
  • West Street Greenway, Brooklyn: Bike lane constructed on West Street in Greenpoint, connecting the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway with the neighborhood, 2009
  • 9th Avenue Sidewalk Enhancement and Bike Lane, Manhattan: A protected bike lane from 15th Street to 23rd Street was added as well as new sidewalks and landscaping, 2009
  • Harlem River Park Bikeway, Manhattan: Constructed bike paths along the Harlem River, cleared and paved paths and added landscaping, 2002

The Brooklyn Greenway, pictured here at Flushing Avenue, is concerned the transportation bill will not include dedicated funding for biking and pedestrian programs. Flickr/ nycstreets

View the full list of projects on the Transportation Enhancements website.

The Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, which has since 1998 been working to build a protected bikeway from Greenpoint to Sunset Park, was also counting on funding from the transportation bill.

Last month, realizing the dedicated biking and pedestrian funds were potentially at risk, the Greenway sent an email to supporters urging them to back an amendment to the Senate’s version of the transportation bill that gives municipalities greater control over bike and pedestrian funding.

Greenway co-founder Milton Puryear said dedicated funding is necessary for projects like the Greenway.

“If we don’t get the funding, it’ll take longer to do it or it might not get done,” he said.

Senator Harry Reid, D-Nevada, included the amendment — called the Cardin-Cochran Amendment – in his version of the transportation bill, which was voted down on Tuesday.

Of course, bike and pedestrian projects are not the only transportation developments at risk. NYC Department of Transportation spokesperson Seth Solomonow said the proposed cuts to pedestrian and bike funding were “concerning,” but added that the amount was a “small fraction of the hundreds of millions that could be cut from bridge investment, potentially jeopardizing major projects such as those on the Belt Parkway bridges over Mill Basin and Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn.”

In testimony to the City Council transportation committee on Tuesday, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan stressed this point.

“Federal support for transit, roads and bridges is crucial because it provides a steady stream of funding…even when we are forced by economic pressures to trim budgets at the city,” she said.

Both the Senate and the House remain in heated debate over the bill, making it increasingly unlikely that the March 31 deadline will be met. An extension will likely be granted, thus avoiding a shutdown, which would mean an end to transit-related work across the country and 1.8 million people without a job to go to, according to Streetsblog.

Advocates like Budnick says the funds are needed in New York City. Without them, he said, the city will be “a much more dangerous place.”

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