In this year’s state budget and proposed Restore Mother Nature Bond Act, New York has the opportunity to invest in green transportation infrastructure for the 21st century. Transportation emissions account for more greenhouse gases than any other sector in New York and are the only area to have increased emissions since 1990.
A network of transportation corridors dedicated to human-powered travel would encourage New Yorkers to bike or walk when visiting neighbors, commuting, or running errands — and potentially reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. Greenways can be prioritized for historically disadvantaged communities, reducing isolation created by highways built through many underserved neighborhoods and closing the gap to the nearest mass transit stop.
Several studies have concluded that trails and greenways have the potential to reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent or more while also providing other community benefits, all at relatively low cost. A new effort by Brooklyn Greenway Initiative will develop New York-specific greenhouse gas emission data for a 26-mile trail as a model for dedicated cycle and pedestrian paths in urban centers. But even before those findings are in, we can say that the impact will be positive. The Trust for Public Land estimates that a 20-mile trail parallel to a road that carries 40,000 cars per day in an urban area with transit could reduce more than 1.7 million vehicle miles per year and avoid more than 1.2 million pounds of carbon dioxide per year.
Just imagine what the impact would be if the state were to commit to building out an additional 2,000 miles of greenways — just a small fraction of the 240,000 miles of roads that already exist and that require billions of dollars every year to build and maintain. The state has already started by investing in the 750-mile Empire State Trail, which links communities and parks across the state. Additional trails branching off from that backbone would create a statewide network.
New York now has the opportunity to make a greenway network part of its plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to lead in transportation as it has in the power sector.
Carter Strickland is New York state director for The Trust for Public Land, which creates parks and protects land for people.