Statement of Teresa Toro, Tri-State Transportation Campaign
Thank you for the opportunity to testify this morning. I am Teresa Toro, NYC Coordinator for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. It is indeed an important time to address pedestrian safety and the quality of the city's walking environment. Not only has the city recently seen a reversal of its long 15-plus year downtrend in pedestrian fatalities, the Bloomberg administration has also staked out a prominent policy position on the need to move many more people in and through the New York City of the future, though it has provided little detail on the practical implications of this position.
One implication is the essential relationship between expanded mass transit and higher pedestrian volumes. Mayor Bloomberg says we will do much more with mass transit. That's the only way to move the additional million people that are coming. What are these people going to do when they get off the bus or train? We will have more pedestrians, who will need more room to walk and a safer environment to do it in unless we want the pedestrian fatality trend reversal to continue to swing in the wrong direction. It's no accident that many of the toughest places to walk in New York today are big transit hubs - Penn Station, where train commuters walk in the avenues alongside cars every morning and night. The Port Authority bus terminal. Herald and Times Squares, Flushing/ Main Street. The pedestrian environments in these places are neither attractive nor safe, but we are talking now about adding to transit ridership and packing more people on foot in and through these hubs.
The study for the plan to build new NJ Transit tunnels into Manhattan, doubling New Jersey rail commuting volumes into the Penn Station area, says as much. It notes that sidewalks will have to be widened to accommodate flows of people in and out of the station. It also says there will be more taxi traffic as a result, but it doesn't reconcile these demands. That project is close to winning final approval and full federal funding. It will be built, and will benefit the city's economy and environment. But we know the city has no pedestrian plan for western Midtown. Does city government even care that people are forced to walk in the avenues every morning and evening? Is it just OK because to do anything about it means relaxing city government's obsessive preoccupation with how the cars are flowing across every inch of pavement in every corner of town?
The city can likely drive pedestrian fatality numbers down some more if it simply focuses on the data and aggressively goes after the worst danger spots, as it did on Queens Boulevard. The problem with that approach is that it simply leaves the rest of the city untouched and as nasty to walk in as before. If people have to walk in 7th Avenue it's fine as long as not too many are killed and thus don't present data and headline problems for the mayor and the police department.
We think it would be preferable and much more in keeping with the notion of sustainability and a transit-oriented city if we adopted transportation and urban design guidelines that put pedestrians first, stopped bending over backward for the small minority of commuters and shoppers who have to haul SUVs around everywhere they go and really started building good places to walk and to allow pedestrians to enjoy the city's urban terrain. That will improve safety and create a more attractive and competitive city in the bargain. It's what the great cities of the 21st and 22nd Centuries are doing. But despite the global sweep of the concepts of traffic calming and place-making over the past three decades, it's something that New York City is still not philosophically equipped to do.
In fact, we seem light years from a city with a pedestrian-first approach. We are not even comfortable enforcing the traffic laws that used to pass for common sense, like not driving through red lights. Former NYC Comptroller Alan Hevesi estimated that one million red light violations take place each day in the city. Doing something about that would not only reduce pedestrian and motorist deaths and injuries, but it would be revenue-positive for the city. Why isn't that a priority? Over a decade after the advent of the Giuliani administration, we are still waiting for the extension of the "broken window theory" of law enforcement to the Wild West climate on city streets. The theory says if you enforce the smaller violations(like fare-beating or walking between train cars - both campaigns have helped reduce crime on the subways) you will catch the bigger criminals. It makes similar sense that the red light runners have outstanding tickets, uninspected vehicles or expired licenses and are likely the people who will one day hurt or kill someone with their car. Commissioner Kelly? Mayor Bloomberg? Hello?
Since they are nowhere on this issue after six years in office, perhaps it's time for the Council to take action. We appreciate oversight hearings as much as the next advocacy group, but how about the legislature doing some legislating?
Instead of introducing and not passing a resolution calling on the DOT to implement a citywide Safe Routes to School program, mandate it with a law. Instead of calling on DOT to implement a citywide Safe Routes for Seniors program, require it. The Council should pass legislation which will increase the number of traffic enforcement agents (again, traffic law enforcement will pay for itself), and approve a bill which requires NYPD to report on the violations written by those agents. Become part of the solution rather than just another member of the chorus that so far has fallen on deaf ears.