- Letter Sent March 10, 2021
- Re: Infrastructure support for greenway network development in New York City
Dear Members of the New York City Congressional Delegation:
We write to call your attention to a substantial opportunity to create jobs, build sustainability and resilience, improve neighborhoods and public safety, and enhance public health: expanding and building out a Five-Borough greenway system.
A greenway is a landscaped, protected, multi-use trail for people of all ages and abilities. Urban greenways create essential public space for human-powered transportation and healthful outdoor recreation; provide numerous environmental benefits like stormwater and carbon capture; foster tourism and create jobs; and provide connection to job centers and transit. Greenways offer sustainable low-cost mobility by encouraging more people to travel on bicycle, scooter, and other electric and human-powered means, reducing reliance on personal cars and de-carbonizing transportation.
Greenways are an opportunity to center frontline community leadership and promote equitable, accessible, and resilient transportation and infrastructure solutions. Frontline communities most impacted by multiple crises, suffering from a history of discrimination and extraction must be at the forefront of creating solutions and decision-making processes. The relationship between infrastructure and health is undeniable, and the lives of black and brown and low-income communities across NYC depend on the infrastructure investment decisions made today. Greenways are a strategy to address these multiple crises and center equity.
Resources must be designated to support local knowledge sharing and community planning processes to develop greenways. Greenways can be a model of co-governance and a truly transparent and accountable process to operationalize the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. Resilient infrastructure projects like greenways will create thousands of local jobs and workforce development opportunities to support the economic resilience of frontline communities.
Greenways currently run through every district in the city. But today, they rarely connect to each other, older segments require upgrades, and new parts of the network are still too few and far between. New York City has a 400-mile network of greenways on paper. 100 unbuilt miles need to be developed, and upgrades and connectors are needed throughout the network. Construction of the remaining segments will connect disparate, isolated greenways to create a citywide open space and transportation network that will be essential infrastructure for an equitable and sustainable future.
We call on you, the Senators and Representatives from New York City, to help us launch a new era of resilient urban infrastructure. The city has enough greenway projects and planning efforts underway that they should be high priorities for federal COVID stimulus funding, for federal transportation reauthorization, and for annual appropriations. A $1 billion commitment to New York City greenways would stimulate miles of new construction, realization of missing connections, and long-awaited upgrades.
Greenway development will provide strong contribution to a wide range of critical public policy areas:
- Jobs: Even before the COVID pandemic, there was talk across the country of the need to upgrade infrastructure and put Americans to work in the process. The East Coast Greenway Alliance calculates that 17,000 jobs are directly created for each $1 billion invested in greenways, and that greenway development supports more jobs than comparable spending on highways. An ambitious greenway effort in New York City could represent a cornerstone of a Green New Deal program to put New Yorkers back to work as we recover from the pandemic, building green infrastructure.
- Sustainability and climate resilience: Reducing our climate impact requires attractive alternatives to car use and their associated greenhouse gas emissions while also adding critical nature-based solutions and green infrastructure – vegetation cover to increase carbon sequestration and stormwater capture, creation of habitat corridors, and urban cooling. Greenways help New York City resilience. When Hurricane Sandy shut down the subways in 2012, bike use of the Williamsburg Bridge more than doubled. During the COVID-19 pandemic, user counts on the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway quadrupled, even in the absence of traditional office commutes or any tourism.
- Equitable neighborhood open space: Greenway development can create safe, usable open spaces across communities more quickly and readily than creation of new parks or plazas, and can create easy connections to existing parks even if they are several neighborhoods away. Analysis by the Trust for Public Land found that residents of central Queens, central Brooklyn, eastern Bronx, and some parts of Staten Island have the least access to open space. An interconnected greenway network would reach all these areas, and better connect people to existing parks and waterfronts.
- Affordable mobility: Fully separated routes for bicycles and small electric vehicles will allow many more people to use these options for commuting, errands, and social Effective transit-bike connections can multiply the utility of transit facilities and investments tremendously, replicating the door-to-door efficiency of many urban car trips while replacing personal or for-hire vehicle use.
- Public health: During the pandemic New Yorkers have taken to greenways, bike lanes, bridge walkways and low traffic streets like never before for outdoor exercise and fresh air, as an antidote to being cooped up, and to get around their neighborhood or borough. Allowing New Yorkers to stay or get active is a healthy development that we should encourage and build on. But as traffic crashes and deaths are climbing again in the city we need the full network of separated greenways to allow for all ages and abilities to enjoy and make full use of the outdoor city.
The boom in bike use and other outdoor activity in 2020 demonstrated New Yorkers’ hunger for car-free spaces and connections. A NYC Parks Department planning effort to upgrade and better connect greenways in Queens needed to add a second public meeting in November 2020 because public interest in the effort was so great. In June 2020 Regional Plan Association’s Five Borough Bikeway report highlighted the need for federal investment in a connected network of protected, high-capacity priority bike lanes that serve as the heart of a comprehensive bike network. The State of New York has inaugurated the Empire State Trail, which NYC’s greenway network needs better connections to. Support for greenways is overwhelming across age, gender, neighborhood, and level of physical activity, a 2019 greenway report by Transportation Alternatives found, emphasizing the likely high rate of return on a relatively modest investment. We hope you will help meet this intense public interest with federal resources.
We look forward to working with you as you shape the next COVID/economic stimulus act, the federal transportation reauthorization, and other legislation that can help us meet the climate, equity, economic, health, and sustainability promises of a built-out New York City greenway network.
- Brooklyn Greenway Initiative
Bronx River Alliance
Bike New York
Bike South Brooklyn
Bronx Council for Environmental Quality
Center for an Urban Future
City Parks Foundation
Eastern Queens Greenway
Families for Safe Streets
Gowanus Canal Conservancy
The Harbor Ring
Harlem River Working Group
Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks
Leaf Island Team
National Parks Conservation Association
Natural Areas Conservancy
New Yorkers for Parks
NYC Environmental Justice Alliance
Parks & Trails New York
Randalls Island Park Alliance
Regional Plan Association
Riverside Park Conservancy
The Trust for Public Land
Untapped New York