Albany Update: Will Any Transpo Bills Make It Out Alive?

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver could make a slew of transportation bills move through his chamber or let them languish as in years past. Photo: Daily News

This year’s legislative session is rapidly coming to a close in Albany. With the state legislature wrapping up its regularly scheduled official business on June 20, the Capitol is entering a period of intense activity as legislators and lobbyists make a final push for their priorities.

Albany has some big items on its agenda this month: rent regulations, a property tax cap, ethics reform, and gay marriage. Somewhat below the radar, the push is on for a number of street safety and sustainable transportation priorities as well. Time is of the essence, as advocacy momentum built up over the year dissipates after the session ends. Bills that falter this time around will have to start over again after the legislature reconvenes in January.

If support gels for any of the following bills, the legislature can act extremely quickly to turn them into law. That’s especially true in the Assembly, where Speaker Sheldon Silver controls a large majority and where most of this legislation is currently stalled or has died in past sessions.

Complete Streets

Complete streets legislation would require planners to consider the needs of all road users when designing a road receiving state and federal funding. Last year, it passed the State Senate but stalled out in the Assembly.

After talking with the legislation’s opponents, complete streets supporters made some revisions to the language, and an updated version of the bill is headed to the Senate Transportation Committee today, said Nadine Lemmon, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Albany legislative advocate. As now written, the complete streets bill would cover the large set of projects that already need to conduct extensive reviews as part of the federal approval process, which involves filling out thick binders of paperwork. “We’re targeting projects that already have to do a lot of review and we’re just adding two pages to their world,” said Lemmon.

Purely local projects wouldn’t be covered, but Lemmon argued that as towns or counties prepare complete streets plans on some projects, they’d grow more familiar with the concept, leading to what she called a “trickle down effect.”

In the Senate, the complete streets bill is sponsored by both Charles Fuschillo and Martin Dilan, the chair and ranking member of the Transportation Committee, respectively, along with twelve other senators. In the Assembly, however, the companion legislation hasn’t been introduced yet. That said, Lemmon reported that preliminary conversations about the bill with both the governor’s staff and state DOT officials have been encouraging.

Automated Enforcement for Speeding and Red Lights

Using automated cameras to enforce the speed limit would save lives, but local governments need state approval to do so. Legislation to allow New York City to install such cameras was introduced in the Assembly by Manhattan rep Deborah Glick last week, said Transportation Alternatives State Policy Director Lindsey Lusher Shute. The bill is now in front of the transportation committee. Companion legislation hasn’t been introduced yet in the Senate, she said, though she thinks that Brooklyn Republican Marty Golden may sponsor it.

Though the bill currently has 12 co-sponsors, “it’s going to take quite a few more sponsors and attention by the transportation committee to move,” said Lusher Shute, especially “given the reluctance of the chair to adopt more automated enforcement legislation.” Transportation Committee chair David Gantt killed legislation to allow bus lane enforcement cameras in 2008. Concluded Lusher Shute, “It’s not as close as we’d like.”

Another Golden-sponsored bill, to allow New York City to increase the number of life-saving red light cameras in use from 150 to 300, has moved quickly through the Senate. It passed through committee there and now only awaits a floor vote. Again, however, the Assembly version is stuck in the transportation committee.

Transit Funding Lockbox

The broad array of groups supporting legislation to make it harder for Albany to steal dedicated transit funds is headed up to the Capitol today, said Lusher Shute. The coalition includes transit advocates, labor and business leaders.

The bill is currently in front of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee. Assembly sponsor Jim Brennan urged supporters to contact Ways and Means chair Denny Farrell at a press conference last week.

Lusher Shute sounded optimistic about the lockbox’s chances. “There are tons of groups behind it,” she said, and legislators’ memories of recent fare hikes and service cuts are fresh. “It’s very possible that we could move that this session.”

Crossover Mirrors

An effort to require large trucks on New York City streets to be equipped with mirrors that enable drivers to see pedestrians in the blind spot in front of the cab got a big boost last week, in the form of a mayoral press conference supporting the bill. By standing with the bill’s sponsors, Golden and Brooklyn Assembly Member Joan Millman, Mayor Bloomberg showed that the legislation is a top priority for the city.

Yesterday, the bill passed the State Senate, where it was sponsored by Golden. In the Assembly, the bill is still in front of the transportation committee, but the Daily News reports that it could clear the whole chamber as soon as tomorrow.