In Sly Fashion, Cuomo Skirts Requests for Bike-Ped Funding

Last week, nearly three dozen advocates from across the state went to Albany to meet with legislators, asking for dedicated bike-pedestrian funding from the state. But some timely announcements by Governor Cuomo put a damper on their request.

The most recent federal transportation bill cut dedicated bike-pedestrian funding to New York state by 30 percent, or $12 million each year. Elected officials and advocates are asking the governor to make up the shortfall and then some by adding a dedicated bike-pedestrian item in the state budget. So far, the governor hasn’t included the fund in his budget, and it’s increasingly likely it will be up to the state legislature to press the issue.

Instead of committing state funds, the governor has made a series of announcements about giving existing federal money to bike-pedestrian projects. To the public, it looks like the governor is giving lots of new money to active transportation, but one advocate says it’s a sly budgeting maneuver designed to “cut us off at the knees.”

On January 14, advocates organized by the New Yorkers for Active Transportation coalition held a press conference in Albany calling on Cuomo to add bike-pedestrian funds to the state budget. The next day, Cuomo announced that the state would be awarding $67 million in federal money to these projects. It was a welcome boost for projects like the Pulaski Bridge bike lane, but it caught advocates off-guard because the state hasn’t allocated bike-pedestrian funds in four years, and last month’s announcement was significantly larger than the amount they were expecting.

“That’s money that the state’s been sitting on,” said Josh Wilson, executive director of the New York Bicycling Coalition. “Our entire campaign has been made more difficult by the very timely announcement of federal funding awards.”

This month, Cuomo and advocates engaged in a second round of maneuvering. Last Wednesday, advocates held their lobby day in Albany. Two days before, the governor announced that the state is accepting applications from projects looking to get a piece of $50 million in federal bike-pedestrian funds. If this sounds like a lot, it’s because it covers two years of federal funding, not one.

“We didn’t expect that announcement to be made until April, and all of a sudden it’s made before our advocacy day,” Wilson said. ”It’s clear that they’re responding to our advocacy efforts, even if the point is to cut us off at the knees.”

Cuomo’s announcements give the appearance of a funding bonanza for bike and pedestrian projects, even as the actual amount available stays the same. New York’s share of federal bike-ped funding, already reduced 30 percent by Congress, runs out in two years (lawmakers are currently formulating a still-uncertain national transportation bill that may or may not extend that funding). Meanwhile, there is no line item in the state budget. “What we really need is a consistent source of funding that communities can rely on that they know is there year after year,” Wilson said.