NYC’s New Budget Fails to Fund More Low-Cost Vision Zero Street Redesigns

It’s July, which means the city’s new fiscal year 2016 budget is in effect. This spring, the de Blasio administration touted early funding for street repaving and reconstruction of four arterial streets under the “Vision Zero Great Streets” program. But the final budget the mayor’s office negotiated with the City Council fails to beef up the city’s efforts to quickly reduce deaths and injuries on its most dangerous streets.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announces the fiscal year 2016 budget deal with the City Council. Photo: NYC Council/Flickr
Mayor Bill de Blasio announces the fiscal year 2016 budget deal with the City Council. Photo: NYC Council/Flickr

The most promising way to get fast results from street redesigns is through “operational” projects that use paint and other low-cost changes to calm traffic, rather than waiting years for the city to design and build an expensive capital project. But the final budget sets aside funding for just 50 of these operational projects, DOT said, which does not represent an increase in the city’s commitment.

The $5.2 million pot of money for those 50 projects, which can be as small as a single intersection, also covers safety education, signal retiming, and replacement of faded pavement markings.

To put that amount in perspective, the de Blasio administration set aside an extra $242 million this year to ramp up its street repaving efforts. Devoting similar resources to expanding the city’s program for quick and effect street redesigns could save dozens of lives each year. Without that commitment, it’s hard to see how New York will come close to achieving de Blasio’s goal of eliminating traffic deaths by 2024.

There is some good news in the final budget, but it came in small packages:

  • There’s the first-ever round of plaza maintenance funding, providing $5.6 million over four years for upkeep of public spaces in low-income neighborhoods.
  • The Vision Zero Great Streets initiative is receiving $1.14 million in operating funds over four years. This money will be used to maintain trees and plantings in the medians of redesigned arterial streets in consultation with the Parks Department, said Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.
  • The budget for this year also includes an additional $2.5 million in Vision Zero education funding sought by Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez.

The budget also includes a total of $79 million between fiscal years 2016 and 2019 for what DOT is calling “Vision Zero street reconstruction.” And it funds the Vision Zero Great Streets program, which includes the DOT redesign of Queens Boulevard, Atlantic Avenue, Grand Concourse, and Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue. The Great Streets program will receive a total $298 million between fiscal years 2016 and 2018, a sum that includes federal funds and other sources in addition to the $250 million announced earlier this year.

Those are important projects that will save lives, but it will take at least a few years to build them out. In the meantime, there are many more dangerous arterial streets in need of attention.

NYC DOT knows how to make those streets safer. And in the scheme of the city budget, all it would take is a relatively small allocation of resources from the de Blasio administration to overhaul many more streets with low-cost redesigns. So far, City Hall isn’t delivering.