A state law signed on Monday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo will require municipalities to consider how new road projects affect motorists, pedestrians and cyclists.
The law, which will go into effect in about 180 days, will require any road projects that receive state or federal money to consider the needs of nonmotorists. These considerations include sidewalks, bicycle lanes, crosswalks, pedestrian control signals, bus stops, curb cuts, raised crosswalks and ramps.
In a news release, Cuomo characterized the program as a way to make streets safer for people of all ages and abilities. “New York’s roadways should safely accommodate all pedestrians, motorists and cyclists, and this legislation will help communities across the state achieve this objective,” he said.
Skip Holmes, president of the Mohawk-Hudson Cycling Club, said the legislation reverses the predominant mindset since the 1950s, which focused on the idea that roadways are only to serve motorists. He described existing roads in New York as “inadequate” for cyclists and pedestrians. One failing is the quality of the shoulder of most roads, which isn’t properly maintained because cars don’t drive on it and as a result it forces cyclists into the dangerous position of riding in the road.
“We’ve been pushing for [this law] a long time,” Holmes said. “We all want it. It’s one more step toward making things better for cyclists and pedestrians.”
The new legislation was also applauded by the American Association of Retired People’s New York Chapter, which put out a release on Monday commending the state for addressing the issue. Lois Wagh Aronstein, AARP NYS director, said that New York is fourth in the country for pedestrian fatalities for people over the age of 65.
“Maintaining an independent lifestyle is key to enabling people to age in place, and it can only happen if people are able to negotiate the streets and roads in their own neighborhoods,” she said in a statement. “Complete streets … designs can vary from area to area and can include simple features such as sufficient crosswalks, timed pedestrian signals, curb cuts, ramps and more.”
Edward Farrell, executive director of American Institute of Architects New York State, said that not all of the requirements are overt, such as bike lanes or crossing signals. He said the changes could be worked subtly into the design of certain elements, like on-ramps.
Farrell added that many of these changes are already being considered by progressive municipalities, like his own neighborhood in Albany.
He said that this bill only demands reasonable consideration for nonmotorized interests. “I think the bill is balanced,” he said. “It requires that these alternatives be considered, but … not that they be implemented.”
The bill was initially proposed in the state Senate in May before being modified and also introduced in the Assembly. The final version explicitly states that no municipality is required to spend more than the federal and state funding they’re allotted for the goal of “Complete Streets,” but notes that they can spend their own funds on those projects.
Additionally, the legislation now adds protections for municipalities from lawsuits and exempts projects from this law if they were approved before the law’s effective date.