Council to move on Vision Zero checklist bill

Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the City Council’s transportation committee, speaks at a rally for street safety legislation on the steps of City Hall on May 8. Photo: John McCarten/NYC Council
Legislation would require DOT to consider installing protected bike lanes, pedestrian islands on all major projects
By Michael Garofalo

Amid an uptick in fatalities on New York City roadways, the City Council is poised to pass legislation that would place new requirements on safety features the Department of Transportation must consider as it redesigns streets.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced last week that he will hold a vote later this month on Intro. 322, which would mandate that the DOT publish a checklist of 10 street safety elements included in each major street design project undertaken by the agency. Features the DOT would be required to consider include ADA-accessibility, protected bike lanes, bus lanes, pedestrian islands, wide sidewalks and traffic signals with exclusive intervals for pedestrian crossing.

The legislation stops short of requiring the city to install any measures, but would require DOT to put forth an explanation whenever a design element is not included on a given street.

“The bill is fairly modest in what it directs the city to do, but the thinking is that it’s an opportunity for the public to get insight into the street design decisions that are made and what priorities go into them in a much easier way than through the typical community board process,” said Marco Conner, interim director of the safe streets advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. “We’re very hopeful that public scrutiny will pressure the city to prioritize what it should.”

NYPD statistics show that 67 people have been killed in traffic collisions so far this year, a nearly 20 percent increase over the same period in 2018.

“It Shouldn’t Be a Heavy Lift”

As drafted, the checklist bill would only apply to redesign projects on major arterial streets — which would likely include most avenues and two-way crosstown streets in Manhattan but not most one-way crosstown streets. Transportation Alternatives is advocating for lawmakers to expand the legislation’s scope by forcing DOT to apply the checklist any time it repaves a given length of any street.

“We also want to see stronger language around the explanation that the DOT is required to make so that they can’t just make a generic explanation every time that says a given solution is not feasible and leaves it at that,” Conner said.

The DOT submitted testimony to the Council last year in opposition to the bill. Margaret Forgione, the agency’s chief operations officer, said that the DOT’s existing design process already accomplishes the goals of the legislation and that the bill’s increased reporting requirements “would add costs and delay to the delivery of Vision Zero projects and other mobility projects by consuming project staff time at their completion.”

“If that’s the case, then it shouldn’t be a heavy lift for them,” Conner said. “All we ask for is public insight into their process, which shouldn’t be too much to ask for.”

The administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio has now taken a slightly more conciliatory approach in the face of what is likely to be a veto-proof legislative majority (43 of the Council’s 51 members have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill).

In an interview last week on WNYC, de Blasio said he and the Council have “a lot of agreement on the basics,” but his administration has “concerns about some of the specifics of the bill.” The mayor declined to discuss the specific elements of the bill that he objects to.