EDITORIAL: ‘Complete streets’ legislation will save lives, expand opportunities for pedestrians and cyclists


There’s a price to pay for delaying important safety legislation.

In New York, the price of delaying “complete street” legislation for more than a decade can be measured in thousands of lives.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, crashes killing pedestrians increased 46% from 2010 to 2020, compared to just a 5% increase for all other crash fatalities. More than 12,000 New Yorkers have been killed since 2011, when the state last took major steps to boost bike and pedestrian safety.

For the sake of all New Yorkers who walk, run, ride bikes, rollerblade, ride scooters and skateboards and who use other forms of non-motor-vehicle transportation, Gov. Kathy Hochul needs to sign the latest complete-streets bill when it gets to her desk.

The bill (A8936A/S03897) would encourage communities to invest in improving safety and access for pedestrians and cyclists by making it easier for them to pay for improvements like bike paths, crosswalks, sidewalks, and pedestrian corridors alongside streets.

Because many older communities in this region have already designed and constructed their streets, there’s often little room to add improvements like bike lanes without spending a ton of money. The high price of upgrades often dissuades local communities from improving non-motorized access.

This legislation, cosponsored locally by Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, would help alleviate that concern by having state government pick up a greater share of the local cost of implementing traffic and pedestrian safety projects.

Under the new formula, the percentage of state responsibility for federally assisted projects would be 82.5% of total project costs if a municipality agrees to incorporate complete street design features at its expense.

That would reduce the municipality’s percentage from 5% to 2.5% of the total project cost, a significant savings over the existing formula.

With more people demanding safer corridors for bikes and pedestrians in their communities, the financial incentive for communities should spur more projects.

And since the legislation will improve safety across the state, state taxpayers should be willing to pick up a greater share of the local expense of construction.

The legislation coincides with another safe-street initiative signed by the governor in August that allows local governments to lower local speed limits to 25 mph.

Statistics show that the risk of lowering vehicle speeds just a little bit, from 33 mph to 25 mph, reduces the risk of injury or death from being struck by a vehicle by 25%.

The complete streets bill was first proposed in 2011 and the latest version passed both houses of the Legislature in late May and early June.

Gov. Kathy Hochul should continue her support of bicycle and pedestrian safety by signing this bill when it gets to her desk.

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