By Steve Dwyer
In the fall, the New York City Council passed a $1.7 billion plan to expand protected bike lanes as part of an effort to overhaul the city’s streetscape.
The plan aims to create a comprehensive reimagining of how roads can best serve all New Yorkers navigating them. Spearheaded by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and recently backed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, this follows a sharp spike in cyclist deaths this year—25 so far, a two-decade peak, and more than double the 10 recorded in 2018.
Overhauling the city streetscape and fostering a plan to promote bike transportation has a brownfield redevelopment connection, all within transportation-oriented developments, or TODs. Beyond the safety aspects, the legislation seeks to overhaul how New Yorkers bike, bus and walk through the five boroughs by requiring the city to build 250 miles of protected bike lanes and 150 miles of dedicated bus lanes over a five-year period. It also calls for one million square feet of new pedestrian space within the first two years, along with new signaling technology and accessibility upgrades throughout the city.
Under the bill, the city’s Department of Transportation is required to release a plan every five years to make street safety improvements and to prioritize public transit. The city must also hit annual targets, conduct public education on the effort and issue a report on any changes to the plan each February. The first master plan is due December 2021, with the second slated for 2026. The latter is set to complete the city’s bike lane network—something transportation advocates have long demanded.
Using a broad lens, a TOD-oriented blueprint within the urban infill is continuing to gather momentum each year across many major metro areas as a growing number of people, from millennials to boomers, transition to city living—boomers after downsizing homes and millennials often to be closer to work. It’s all part of the “live-work-play” dynamic.
TODs have much upside: They are an environmental boon as it reduces the carbon footprint as fewer people are inclined to drive because it means easier navigation within the grid across bike, light rail, electric scooter and walking. People drive less when TODs are executed to the letter and it also sparks the local economy. As people get to places quicker, which include local businesses, they can spend additional disposable income and spark the local economy.
A growing number of developers, many brownfield professionals, are initiating mixed-used projects that start with perhaps an anchor multi-unit living complex that’s built minus enclosed or open-air parking. That’s the point: Build out the project to attract folks who are expressly seeking NOT to drive because they developed a propensity for alt-transportation.
New York City lawmakers that support this ambitious plan emphasize that the effort is not a push toward eliminating cars from the city, but instead is a shift away from car-centric design with safety improvements geared toward improving quality of life and safety on city streets for all.
Far from everyone is on board with the legislation, and several city lawmakers complained in late October about how the bill lacks community engagement for the changes that are coming to New Yorkers’ neighborhoods.
The de Blasio administration has completed 100 miles of protected bike lane since 2014, and in August the mayor unveiled a $58.4 million “Green Wave” plan that seeks to build safe cycling infrastructure and promote biking. The master streets plan takes the effort further with a more aggressive push toward making streets friendly to pedestrians and public transit.
This is all a testament to TOD-oriented projects, which seem to fly under the radar from a brownfield redevelopment standpoint. But they are powerful catalyst for habit-changing and to stimulate economic, environmental and social change.
This month, we’ll take a closer look at the same brand of under-the-radar brownfields—the power of urban garden programs and the bandwidth it might have for greater expansion in New York City and beyond. Stay tuned.