NYC Budget Cuts Target Transit and Safety Programs, Drawing Criticism

Mayor Bill de Blasio has proposed $24 million in cuts to the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) as a result of the current economic recession. These cuts, which are part of a proposed $1.3 billion budgetary reduction package, would affect all commuters but would have a disproportionately large, negative impact on low-income New Yorkers of color.

The Mayor plans to dock the 2019 “Green Wave” bike safety initiative by $3 million. The Green Wave project aimed to expand bike lanes, redesign intersections with an eye towards cyclist and pedestrian safety, and increase policing of reckless car and truck drivers. The city promised to add 80 miles of protected bike lanes, particularly in neighborhoods with high instances of collisions such as Jackson Heights, Corona, Maspeth, Ridgewood, and East New York. According to data compiled by the New York Times, 124 pedestrians and 28 cyclists were killed by car crashes in NYC within the last year. Further compounding safety concerns, the city’s six-year-old Vision Zero pedestrian and bike safety campaign will see $4 million in cuts from street safety projects and $3 million in cuts from its advertising budget, even as a large number of New Yorkers have started biking on city streets for the first time.

Another proposed budget cut would eliminate $7.9 million from the Better Buses program and new bus lanes. The Better Buses plan, which NYLCV strongly supports, aims to increase bus service efficiency by increasing bus speeds by 25%, thereby increasing bus ridership, which has been in decline for years due to slow, unreliable service. New lanes would extend the reach of the bus lines, tow trucks and cameras would keep cars out of bus lanes, and pylons would even be added around the lanes as an extra deterrent to cars along some routes. Bus riders are overwhelmingly low-income people of color, and 47% of bus riders are also essential workers. Cutting such safety and service improvement efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic would disproportionately hurt those who are already marginalized. The budget for the Staten Island Ferry, on which overnight trips were recently increased, will see a $6 million cut. The proposed changes could leave Staten Islanders without full ferry service for nearly 16 months, through Fiscal Year 2021.

Former DOT official Jon Orcutt criticized the plan to cut transit and safety programs instead of reducing the road repacking budget, which consumes $1.1 billion of the DOT’s total $1.6 billion budget. “It’s hard to understand why safety is seen as discretionary,” he said. “We know tax revenue is down and choices have to be made, we just don’t understand why all of DOT’s choices have to fall in the [Vision Zero] area. The pedestrianization of Times Square took place in the depths of the Great Recession, so this stuff doesn’t cost a lot of money.” City Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriquez echoed these sentiments, writing that “For our city’s recovery effort to be fair and equitable to all, we must…make sure bus riders and essential workers will have access to reliable and fast transit.” NYLCV seconds these sentiments and hopes to see the cuts rolled back in the final adopted budget.