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New York State Department of Transportation Sustainability Initiatives

Joan McDonald

New York State Department of Transportation

ABSTRACT

The New York State Department of Transportation broadly assesses the state’s transportation systems to identify the needs of these systems and determine how decisions can best support the needs of a sustainable society. The department has adopted four guiding principles for maintaining and improving transportation resources: preserving current enterprises, taking a systems approach to projects, maximizing the effectiveness of investments, and making the system sustainable.

INTRODUCTION

The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) is divided into 11 regions, from Long Island to Buffalo and up to the Adirondacks. It is responsible for 113,000 highway miles, 17,400 bridges, a 3,500-mile rail network, 130 public transit operators, 485 public and private aviation facilities, and 12 major public and private ports. To manage this geographic breadth and scope of projects, department leaders need to address issues creatively and to work not only with the federal government—the Federal Highway Administration, our traditional partner—but also with partners in local government.



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82 LIVABLE CITIES OF THE FUTURE New York State Department of Transportation Sustainability Initiatives Joan McDonald New York State Department of Transportation ABSTRACT The New York State Department of Transportation broadly assesses the state’s transportation systems to identify the needs of these systems and determine how decisions can best support the needs of a sustainable society. The department has adopted four guiding principles for maintaining and improving transportation resources: preserving current enterprises, taking a systems approach to projects, maximizing the effectiveness of investments, and making the system sustainable. INTRODUCTION The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) is divided into 11 regions, from Long Island to Buffalo and up to the Adirondacks. It is responsible for 113,000 highway miles, 17,400 bridges, a 3,500-mile rail net- work, 130 public transit operators, 485 public and private aviation facilities, and 12 major public and private ports. To manage this geographic breadth and scope of projects, department leaders need to address issues creatively and to work not only with the federal government—the Federal Highway Administration, our traditional partner—but also with partners in local government.

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SUSTAINABILITY, IT, AND ENVIRONMENT 83 At NYSDOT we are investing in the future. As always safety is our top priority. We also look at demand-response, preservation, renewal of the sys- tem, and what needs to be modernized. GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR INVESTMENT IN SUSTAINABILITY To fulfill its vision for sustainability, NYSDOT must integrate sustainability into all its decisions, use a multimodal and corridor approach, take care of present infrastructure for future generations, and enhance quality of life for all users. Actions in support of sustainability follow a three-step decision-making process that considers why, what, and how to determine strategic plans, tacti- cal moves, and operational practices, respectively (Figure 1). Complementing the three-step process are four guiding principles for making sound investments: preservation first, a focus on the system not on discrete projects, maximized return on investment, and sustainability (Figure 2). Sus tainability Decis ion Levels v Sus tainable Society: ü Better quality of life ü C onnecting people, goods & s ervices ü Econom ic and com m unity viability v New Approaches : ü Forward four guiding principles ü Hierarchy of priorities ü Sus tainability incorporated into trans portation decis ions v Evolving T ools & Program s ü GreenLIT ES ü 5 1 1 NY FIGURE 1  Sustainability Decision Levels

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84 LIVABLE CITIES OF THE FUTURE Mak ing Sound Inves tments : NYSDOT ’ s Forward Four Guiding Principles 1 FIGURE 2  Making Sound Investments: NYSDOT’s Forward Four Guiding Principles For example, because of the aging transportation systems, one of the state’s strategies is to shift investments from new construction to the pres- ervation of existing infrastructure. This strategy will both maximize public benefits and be affordable over the long term. And whereas NYSDOT used to consider a project only in the context of what it meant for a very small defined area, each project is now understood as part of an overall system. This understanding can change the dynamics of decision making, maximizing return on investment and ensuring sustainability. In these and other ways NYSDOT is incorporating sustainability into all its decisions and practices, using the triple bottom line approach in making investment decisions that affect the environment, the economy, and social concerns (Figure 3). THE IMPORTANCE OF POLITICAL WILL It is impossible to take politics out of transportation decision making— politicians love groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings—so it’s important to

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SUSTAINABILITY, IT, AND ENVIRONMENT 85 T ak e a Holis tic V iew: T riple Bottom Line 1 FIGURE 3  The Triple Bottom Line Approach to Sustainability balance the preservation-first strategy with linking big infrastructure proj- ects to economic development. Because each of the state’s 11 regions has a different way of making capi- tal planning investment decisions, working across so many regions requires political will. People typically think of politics with a capital P—the presi- dent, the governor, the mayor,… But managers have to challenge staff and that takes political will. Bucking long-held systems and processes requires political will. This political will in changing how we do business is equally important for achieving a sustainable society. PRACTICAL STEPS IN SUPPORT OF SUSTAINABILITY One department program that fosters sustainability is GreenLITES, which recognizes Green Leadership in Transportation Environmental Sustainabil- ity in NYSDOT projects and offices that encourage the use of green processes and green design. Traditionally, when people think of a green program and sustainability they think of design and construction: How are transportation engineers

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86 LIVABLE CITIES OF THE FUTURE adding bike paths? How are they using landscaping to make a road or bridge improvement project more pedestrian friendly and community friendly? With the GreenLITES program the department rewards the efforts of not only the design and construction side but also operations and maintenance, where staff adapt and use green technology by, for example, using less salt to keep highways free of snow, or using sustainable detergents and cleaning fluids at department facilities. Sustainability must also address the needs of the community. To that end NYSDOT is working with local administrators around the state on a number of projects—the Hempstead Turnpike Pedestrian Safety Corridor, the Economic Development Corridor in Fuller Road (Albany), an Urban Waterfront Revitalization Project for Buffalo Outer Harbor, a Bus Rapid Transit Corridor along Central Avenue (Albany-Schenectady), and the Bronx River Greenway (Figure 4). For the latter, NYSDOT collaborated with New York City Parks, the US Department of the Interior, and Amtrak using fed- eral CMAQ (Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality) funds to make some wonderful investments in the community. All of the projects show that a lot can be done to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists with very small amounts of dollars, for example by raising medians, changing bus stops to be more pedestrian friendly, integrat- ing landscaping, improving drainage, and maintaining bike and pedestrian paths. The digital age also affords opportunities, and NYSDOT has made it a priority to use 511, the National Transportation Information System that DOTs use across the country. It provides travel information and updates on capital construction projects so that by accessing 511—whether on a computer or cellphone or mobile device—people can find out where the construction projects are, what the alternate routes are to get to their destina- tion, and upcoming transit options. CLOSING REMARKS It is the responsibility of leaders to address challenges creatively and to build a legacy of safety, mobility, and economic development in order to ensure quality of life and sustainability for our children and future generations. I have found that all entities want to be part of the solution. If you engage people in dialogue at the beginning, present ways to achieve shared goals, and discuss options, the outcome is a great design. Great ideas come from great conversations, a great dialogue. NYSDOT can come up with creative

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SUSTAINABILITY, IT, AND ENVIRONMENT 87 C entral Avenue (Albany- Schenectady) Bus Rapid T rans it C orridor •Reduces number of stops by 80% •Connect thriving communities •Hybrid buses •Shorter travel time 1 Bronx River Greenway : C onnecting C om munities • New pedestrian bridges, bringing together three Bronx communities. • Mile-long multi-use path establishes better community connections along the Bronx River. • One kilometer (0.6 mile) walking loop encourages exercise and well being. Existing • Multi-use bicycling, walking, skating, and running path paralleling entire 23 mile Bronx River. • Over 25 acres of open space restored and redeveloped along the Bronx River.. After Construction Visualization 2 VISION PLAN FOR A GREEN ROUTE 347 Integrates Transportation System with Local Land Use Plans •Bikes & pedestrians •Access to Mass Transit & Connections •Adds Vegetation •Conserves Energy Mobility enhancements, including Intelligent Transportation System Management i.e., INFORM P a r t n e r e d w it h C o m m u n it ie s a n d S t a k e h o ld e r s Typical Plan View and Cross Section 3 FIGURE 4  Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit Corridor (top), Bronx River Greenway (cen- ter), and Green Route 347 in Suffolk County (bottom)

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88 LIVABLE CITIES OF THE FUTURE solutions by working with our partners in local government, academia, not- for-profits, and the private sector. Through balanced, multimodal planning and actions, NYSDOT sup- ports economic development and a transportation system that is safe, efficient, balanced, environmentally sound, and sustainable for the future. It takes vision, passion, and political will to plan and take action toward a sustainable future.