Local Progress Members Demand New Approach To Transit Funding In New York

Today,  15 Local Progress members across New York sent a letter to Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Heastie, advocating for the passage A4120/S1981. The bills, sponsored by Assemblymember Karen McMahon and Senator Andrew Gounardes, would direct the state Department of Transportation (DOT) to reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) by 20% by 2050. Reducing VMT would direct DOT to make planning decisions that actively discourage driving, prohibiting future road widening and highway expansion projects. Instead, DOT would be directed to invest in alternative transportation projects, including pedestrian walkways, cycling infrastructure, and mass transit such as buses or trains.

In recent years, Minnesota and Colorado passed similar pieces of legislation that, just like A4120/S1891, direct their DOTs to cut Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) as part of transportation planning. In real terms, this means both departments factor in miles traveled by cars into infrastructure decisions and prioritize investments that reduce single occupancy vehicle mileage. This means projects that expanded cycling infrastructure, pedestrian walkways, and public transit were prioritized over outdated highway expansions and lane widening. With this policy change, Colorado shifted $1.5 billion away from roadway expansions and into 5 Bus Rapid Transit Corridors and dozens of new bike, walk, and transit projects, bringing in a net benefit of $40 billion to residents. In Minnesota, planners project the new policy will reduce thousands of traffic fatalities, significantly reduce air pollution, and save the state almost $90 billion by 2050.

It’s estimated that by cutting VMT by just 20% by 2050, New York could eliminate 227 million metric tons of carbon emissions and save the average household $3,750 annually in gas and vehicle costs. Given that the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) commits our state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 and 85% by 2050, adopting this legislation is essential to meeting the state’s critical climate goals. Given the slow pace of electric vehicle rollouts across our country, we simply cannot rely on electrification alone to help us meet our climate goals.  

Beyond the enormous financial and environmental impact of A4120/S1891, the 20% VMT cut proposed in this legislation could also save lives and prevent worsening segregation of communities across our state. For example, highway expansion projects have physically decimated historically black communities in Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse, and the Bronx, just to name a few. While federal infrastructure spending will help our state address racial inequities in our transit system, A4120/S1981 will ensure state DOT does not exacerbate them nor recreate them in other municipalities. Additionally, while traditional transportation planning has widened vehicle lanes to alleviate traffic, study after study has shown that larger roads attract more drivers, increase congestion, and worsen pollution. Cutting vehicle miles traveled by just 20% in New York would save nearly 6,000 lives each year due to fewer collisions and less air pollution.

There is no silver bullet to New York’s transportation challenges, but Local Progres members across the state united in the belief that investing solely in car-centric infrastructure will only exacerbate the problems New Yorkers face.