Thursday, November 18, 2010

Smart Growth, Stupid Agencies

In late August, Governor Paterson signed into law the, "Smart Growth Public Infrastructure Policy Act (A8011B/S5560B), a bill that requires the state to make wiser, more sustainable infrastructure investments based on smart growth principles." As Smart Growth Online reports: "The law requires state agencies to use smart growth and sustainability criteria when deciding how to spend infrastructure dollars for roads, sewers, water lines and utilities."

So, what does this law mean for the approval of ramps off of the Van Wyck Expressway in order to advance an example of supremely stupid growth at Willets Point? WPU's attorney, Michaeal Gerrard believes that it requires NYS DOT to disapprove these ramps. In his letter to Commissioner Gee he writes that the state must issue a written "smart growth impact statement that the project, to the extent practicable, meets the relevant criteria set forth" in law.

Gerrard goes on to point out, "The ramps are inconsistent with the statutory criteria. In particular criteria "a" calls for projects leading to 'improvement of existing infrastructure.' The new ramps would seriously degrade the quality of traffic service on the Van Wyck and nearby roads." In addition, "Criterion 'f'' calls for projects that provide mobility through transportation choices including improved public transportation and reduced automobile dependency."

If anything, the Willets Point development-and the attendant ramps-exacerbate the transportation choices by, simultaneously, gridlocking the roads, and offloading tens of thousands of daily trips to a mass transit infrastructure unable to accommodate them. As the Empire State Future website comments on the law, "With the stroke of his pen, Governor David Paterson codified a new law that directs New York State agencies, authorities and public corporations to screen their infrastructure programs and investments to ensure that they are not funding inefficient, redundant, and costly development..."

The website goes on to say: "This law is a significant step for New York's efforts to revitalize its cities and villages, and to revitalize and preserve its suburban and rural communities. For decades across New York, land has been developed at many times the rate of population growth, causing an array of economic, ecological, and social consequences. Especially severe in this "sprawl" pattern has been the excessive burden on governments and taxpayers stemming from the need to maintain the excess "built environment." Limited public infrastructure dollars must go to build the kinds of sustainable places, spaces, and communities we need now and in the future."

Given what we have found out about the deficiencies of the Willets Point ramps-and the manner in which the entire development violates any sensible sustainable development criteria-the new law poses an immense challenge to the Bloombergistas. In essence, their spouting of "sustainable growth" platitudes will never stand up to any independent evaluation of the costs and impacts of the Willets Point mega-development.

Finally, WPU's Gerrard goes on to demand that NYS DOT comply with the new law, and refrain from doing anything on the ramps-and certainly approving the EDC application qualifies here-until it prepares a, "smart growth impact statement," and allows WPU and others in the community to comment on it. It is Gerrard's view, however, that the smart growth criteria embodied in the new law militates against any approval of the ramp application-and we agree.