- Two New York City Council members introduced two pieces of legislation to improve street safety for cyclists and pedestrians, as well as promote healthy, sustainable transportation options. One would establish an Office of Active Transportation and the other would create an Office of Pedestrians.
- Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez proposed the Office of Pedestrians, which would work with the mayor and city agencies to pursue pedestrian safety policies, strategies and recommendations and to address pedestrians' complaints. Council Member Carlina Rivera proposed the Office of Active Transportation, which would play a prominent part in developing infrastructure for bikes, scooters, skateboards and other similar modes of transportation, and would serve as a liaison between riders, the city and stakeholders.
- Two director positions would be created to oversee the new offices, a so-called bike mayor and a pedestrian mayor. If both bills pass, the offices and directors could merge into one. "I know there are many New Yorkers like me who walk on our sidewalks or ride on our streets and they feel like their voice is being drowned out by the honks of car horns," Rivera said during a press conference. "But with a bike and pedestrian mayor installed, we're going to change all that."
The proposed bills come during a difficult year for New York on the bicyclist and pedestrian safety front. Twenty-eight cyclists have been killed so far this year while riding on city streets — up from 10 for all of 2018 — resulting in an outcry for better protective measures. Mayor Bill de Blasio called the spate of cyclist deaths "a crisis, it's an emergency," when he introduced his Green Wave plan this summer to improve bicycling infrastructure and cyclist safety.
The Green Wave is a $58.4 million plan that involves design, enforcement, policy and education to increase street safety. However, it did not propose any director positions to oversee such activities. The council members' new pieces of legislation would further the efforts in the Green Wave by ensuring oversight and accountability.
Attention to this matter is growing across the country, partially fueled by the surging popularity of Vision Zero initiatives, which aim for zero traffic fatalities. "There's a whole movement in the nation and in the world of cities doing urban planning around pedestrians and cyclists. And I feel that the City of New York has that opportunity to be the best, walkable and cyclist friendly in the United States of America," Rodriguez said at the press conference.
The goal of the new office(s) and director(s) would be to serve as the voice of pedestrians and cyclists and coordinate between various city agencies and stakeholders. The director would champion safe infrastructure, promote education and generally ensure pedestrians and cyclists remain protected across the five boroughs. The director would be required to submit a yearly report detailing the office's activities.
Equity is another focus of the legislation. It would not just prioritize citizens over vehicles but also certain areas of the city to target for improvements. Rivera explained that while parts of the city such as Manhattan have greater investments in cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, other areas in the boroughs are lagging. Brooklyn, for example, could arguably use significant infrastructure attention considering that's where nearly three-quarters of New York's cyclist fatalities have occurred this year.
"We have to look at other parts of the city, especially those that have experienced gentrification," Rivera said. Redeveloping neighborhoods often experience a change in their ratio of commercial, industrial and residential make-up, and infrastructure does not always keep up with more cyclists and pedestrians in these areas.
"I want to make sure that we are looking at every single neighborhood, really understanding its nuances and really looking towards what the future is going to be," she said, adding the future involves multiple mobility modes such as bikes, scooters and skateboards that must be considered.