New Law Encourages DOT to Set Traffic Reduction Targets

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Yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg signed into law Intro 199, a bill requiring New York City's Department of Transportation to collect and monitor data specifically aimed at helping the city "to reduce automobile traffic and encourage more sustainable means of transportation vital to combating congestion, pollution and improving the City’s long term economic health." The new law could signal a significant change for a city agency that has typically measured its own performance based on how many potholes it fills, street lamps it fixes and how well it keeps motor vehicle traffic flowing through the city's over-burdened street grid. 

"You measure what you care about," said Transportation Alternatives executive director Paul Steely White, an architect of the new legislation. "Traditionally DOT has not cared enough about bus riders, cyclists, and pedestrians. The bill is really seeking to understand more about how much bicycling there is now, how much walking activity, and to look at bus ridership and bus speeds. Armed with this information, DOT can set targets for improving those modes."

Passed by the City Council in a 48-0 vote on May 15, Intro 199 creates a framework for DOT to set goals for traffic reduction and the growth of cycling and bus ridership. A version of the bill was first proposed in 2006, but was quashed early last year in the waning days of DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall's administration. It was revived with the support of Council Member Gale Brewer, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and Transportation Alternatives.

Though the new legislation is light on detail and lays out no specific transportation policy goals, it codifies the emphasis on alternative modes of transportation seen in DOT's strategic plan, Sustainable Streets. "The new DOT regime has recognized that the bill is really an opportunity to lock in a lot of the change that they've been making happen," said White. "This is part and parcel to Commissioner Sadik-Khan's stated intent to change the DNA of the agency."

In a written statement, the mayor said:

Introductory Number 199-A advances the goals of PlaNYC by requiring the City's Department of Transportation to take a macro-view of traffic in our City. The Department will collect and make available performance indicators that are relevant to reducing traffic and promoting higher performance traffic modes. Such indicators will include, for example, information on bicycle usage, ferry ridership and vehicle speed data.

Streetsblog has a request in to DOT to find out if the new metrics will be incorporated into the Mayor's Management Report, the document released each year that tracks the performance of city agencies. In the past, the MMR has focused on output measures like fixing traffic signals and potholes. Metrics like pedestrian and cyclist fatalities are tracked in the report, but no targets are set. White believes that might change: "If you look at what's in 199 and Sustainable Streets, there are a lot of really good metrics in both documents that should be incorporated into the MMR."

In referring to "higher-performance traffic modes," the bill sets another precedent. "For the first time," said White, "the city is recognizing that biking and walking are not just good for the city's air quality, but make the most efficient use of our scarce street space." By acknowledging that there is a "spatial dividend" to these modes, he added, the city is setting the stage for quality-of-life improvements that result from a re-allocation of space, like wider sidewalks, which would help make PlaNYC and other green initiatives more palpable for New Yorkers.