De Blasio DOT Budget Fails to Meet de Blasio Vision Zero Timetable [Updated]

Update below

Mayor de Blasio’s proposed DOT budget again falls well short of what’s needed to implement life-saving street redesigns within the time frame prescribed by Vision Zero.

The mayor’s preliminary FY 2017 budget allocates $115 million for Vision Zero capital projects, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told City Council members at a hearing yesterday. That figure includes $59 million for 37 Safe Routes to Schools projects, $30 million for street improvements in Long Island City, and $26 million for other projects, including improvements to Tillary Street in Brooklyn, Baruch Plaza and Allen Street in Manhattan, and Mott Avenue in Queens, Trottenberg said.

To reduce injuries and fatalities on the streets where motorists are doing the most harm, the city will have to invest substantially more than the mayor has in mind. In a statement, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul White noted that the $115 million in capital spending proposed for FY 17 would be allocated over four years, and that redesigning the city’s widest, most dangerous streets would require that amount many times over:

In fact, New York City needs $250 million dollars annually — $1 billion over four years — to fix all of its most dangerous arterial streets within a decent period of time.

DOT can also redesign streets with “operational” projects that use low-cost materials like paint and flexible posts to calm traffic — a process that consumes considerably less time than capital projects, which often take years to build out. Last year’s final budget included funding for 50 operational projects, a rate that TA says should double:

We recommend the city fund 98 operational projects to fix intersections and corridors the DOT highlighted in its Pedestrian Safety Action Plans. In order to increase staffing and budget for resurfacing, road marking, signaling, and outreach, the DOT will need an increase in the operating budget, not stagnation or a potential decrease.

At yesterday’s City Council hearing, transportation committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez asked Trottenberg how much funding DOT needs to reconstruct the city’s most dangerous intersections to achieve the city’s safety goals by 2024. Trottenberg replied that such projects cost tens to hundreds of millions dollars each, and said it would take “many billions of dollars” to redesign every crossing targeted in the DOT’s borough-specific pedestrian safety action plans.

Still, she said, “We very much feel we have the resources we need.” But if the goal remains to eliminate traffic deaths within in the next eight years, it’s clear the city’s Vision Zero budget commitment is not where it needs to be.

Despite making headway against traffic deaths, at the current pace of improvement it would take 40 years to reach zero. And if anything, progress seems to be slowing. Through February 28 this year, 21 pedestrians were hit and killed by motorists, compared to 20 in the same period last year, according to the Daily News.

One bright spot in DOT’s budget is the allocation for street re-striping. Council Member Carlos Menchaca asked about bike lane markings that have not reappeared after street resurfacings. Trottenberg said a number of lane stripings were funded with federal dollars, and that DOT couldn’t afford to keep up when it came time to repaint. However, she said, the city has since budgeted $10 million for re-striping contracts.

Other news from the hearing:

  • DOT has completed 137 Vision Zero-related projects at a cost of $200,000 to $500,000 each, Trottenberg told council members, including 76 in 2015.
  • “DOT will also bolster the speed camera program at currently authorized school speed zones by the start of next school year,” Trottenberg said in her opening remarks. DOT has already deployed speed cameras by the maximum number of school zones permitted by Albany, but apparently it can deploy multiple cameras at the same locations. According to the Independent Budget Office, DOT will purchase 100 speed cameras to pair with its existing cameras, to capture violators traveling in the other direction.
  • The city is spending $8.5 million on Vision Zero public service announcements, Trottenberg told Rodriguez, who said he wants the city’s Vision Zero education component to be as pervasive as its anti-smoking campaign.

Update: DOT sent us the following statement:

The $115 million figure in DOT’s testimony refers only to the funding that was added to the January Capital Plan for Vision Zero street reconstruction projects. This is by no means the entire existing commitment by the City for Vision Zero as I assume you are aware. In fact there is actually over $1.04 billion in funds in the five-year capital plan for safety improvements (safety projects and street reconstruction, as well as signals, cameras, markings, lighting), which includes $308 million for Great Streets. There is also extra expense funds covering our SIPS, which falls outside the capital funds.