The City Council approved a plan on Wednesday aimed at "revolutionizing" the way pedestrians, cyclists, and bus riders move through the five boroughs.
Spearheaded by Council Speaker Corey Johnson, the so-called "streets master plan" passed the council by a vote of 37 to 9, with two abstentions. The legislation requires the city to to build 250 miles of protected bike lanes and 150 miles of dedicated bus lanes over a five-year period. It also mandates construction of one million square feet of pedestrian space in the first two years, as well new accessibility upgrades and transit priority at hundreds of intersections.
But don't expect drivers to relinquish their grip on city streets immediately. In order to secure Mayor Bill de Blasio's support, it was announced this week that the first of two master plans won't be due until December 2021—one month before the current mayor leaves office. Prior to that compromise, the ambitious benchmarks would've been outlined in the coming weeks, and put into place starting next year.
"You know, I have pushed the envelope more than this administration has on our streets," Johnson said, when questioned by a reporter on Wednesday about his decision to compromise with the mayor. "But I still think they have holistically tried to do some good on here. This is really about deepening the commitment to Vision Zero."
While the mayor had repeatedly expressed reservations about the bill's targets, a City Hall spokesperson told Gothamist this week that he'd "always supported the goals behind the Master Plan building on our Vision Zero agenda."
The spokesperson also noted that engineers will start planning for the comprehensive street redesigns immediately, citing Johnson's calls for a "total reshaping" of the Department of Transportation. It's unclear why, six years after that start of Vision Zero, the transportation agency does not currently have the resources in place to begin work on a master streets plan.
De Blasio's signature transportation initiative has faced a barrage of criticism in recent months, as the number of cyclists killed this year has spiked to 26, the highest total in two decades. Until the new plan takes effect in 2022, the city will continue with its current commitment to building 30 miles of protected bike lanes annually.
"New York City is fixing one street at a time with no plan and no significant ramped up effort—and is frequently stymied by a few vocal opponents," said Harold Kahn, a member of Families for Safe Streets whose son Seth was killed by an MTA bus driver in 2009, during a press conference alongside the council speaker on Tuesday.
"This slow, piecemeal approach is grossly inadequate," Kahn continued. "Our streets are a killing field—people are dying and suffering life-altering injuries in huge numbers. Every two hours, someone is killed or seriously injured like those of us here today in a crash on New York streets."
The plan is expected to cost $1.7 billion over the next decade. The second master plan mandated by the legislation is due in 2026, and it includes completion of a connected bike lane network, something that advocates have long demanded.
During Wednesday's vote, a handful of council members expressed frustration with the city's process for installing bike lanes, claiming it doesn't adequately take into account concerns from the local community.
"It's a blank check, and that means ultimately we're turning over our authority to a bunch of bureaucrats," said Councilman Kalman Yeger, who represents a district where drivers killed multiple cyclists and pedestrians this past summer.
The passage of the bill comes the same day the City Council voted to overhaul the commercial trash hauling industry, a major contributor to traffic deaths on city streets.
Johnson, a likely mayoral contender, has also vowed to push for a number of other transportation initiatives in the coming months, such as cracking down on placard abuse, creating more car-free busways similar to 14th Street, and expanding a city pilot program to ease the strain created by residential deliveries.
"I'm proud of this bill," Johnson said. "I think it's going to really revolutionize the streets of New York City and it's going to change the future of New York for decades and decades to come."
Mayor Bill de Blasio had not released a statement about the legislation as of press time.
Additional reporting by Brigid Bergin.