The following is PTNY’s advocacy agenda for 2013. The policies and programs supported by PTNY reflect the essential role of parks, trails and greenways in New York’s economic growth, the health of its residents, and the long-term resiliency and sustainability of its communities.
Outdoor recreation is a major component of New York State’s economy contributing $11.3 billion to the state’s tourism economy each year–over 21 percent of the state’s total tourism industry–according to a 2010 report by the New York State Comptroller’s Office.
In addition, more than 60% of New Yorkers are overweight or obese – costing taxpayers $9.9 billion annually in adult obesity-related health care costs. Parks and trails can help New Yorkers get the physical activity they need and improve their health.
In the wake of more frequent and severe weather events, parks, trails and greenways also provide natural protective systems while keeping the lands they occupy in productive, attractive use. Walkways and bicycling infrastructure preserve the ability for people to safely get to work, school and shops when storms interrupt motorized transport, especially in dense urban areas.
In 2013, PTNY will work to promote policies and programs that protect, promote and enhance New York’s parks, trails and greenways, and to ensure that these natural, recreational and cultural treasures are an integral part of the state’s economic, health, and environmental strategies.
Protect and revitalize parks for future generations
Last year, the Governor and Legislature reached a budget agreement that included great news for our state parks. The final budget included $89 million – leveraged to $143 million – for capital improvements at state parks and historic sites in every region of the state. This historic infusion of capital has brought jobs and addressed critical needs in our state park system, things like replacing aging water and sewer lines and repairing bridges, roads and swimming pools.
The Governor's 2013-2014 budget proposal includes a $90 million investment in our state parks. PTNY applauds the Governor for making this investment in our state park system and recognizing the strong connection between economic vitality and outdoor recreational opportunities.
Despite New York’s legacy as a leader in parks and conservation and our park system’s importance to the state’s economy, our state parks remain chronically underfunded. While the most visible threat to the park system came in 2010, when 88 parks and historic sites were threatened with closure, the real long-term threat may very well be the park system’s crumbling infrastructure.
The Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) estimates the capital backlog at more than $1 billion. This includes critical safety repairs such as rehabilitating dams, replacing aging water and sewer lines, and bringing electrical systems into compliance with fire codes.
The impacts from Superstorm Sandy, along with last year’s storms, have only further compounded that need and reinforced the importance of restoring our park system with long-term resiliency and sustainability in mind. Investing wisely in parks infrastructure, including both natural and built infrastructure that utilize sustainable development practices, will serve as a national model for rebuilding smarter after storms and protect these treasured places and their surrounding communities from the impacts of sea level rise and future storms.
Continuing to invest in our treasured state park system will keep people working to help grow New York’s economy sustainably, boost tourism in communities across the state, and secure our parks and conservation legacy for future generations. Let’s keep the momentum going in 2013 with another round of NY Works funding for state parks infrastructure improvements.
Last year’s budget included minimal reductions in funding for OPRHP’s operating budget and did not cut any staff. This year, the Governor has again proposed maintaining the agency's operations budget. Given the state’s multi-billion dollar budget deficit, we are pleased with the Governor’s support for parks and his recognition of the important link between well-maintained parks and economic growth.
Repeated cuts to operating funds over recent years, however, means that there are significantly fewer resources dedicated to operations, maintenance, natural resource protection, and the visitor experience. The parks operations budget is down 23% from just a few years ago, which has already translated into less maintenance and reduced hours and services. Investing in our state park system must be a part of any effort to make New York's economy sustainable and create jobs. PTNY urges the Governor and the Legislature to continue their commitment to revitalizing the state park system.
State Parks provide residents and New York communities with multiple benefits:
PTNY strongly supports the establishment of a new, dedicated funding stream for the state park system, such as Pennies for Parks. Models for public-private partnerships and dedicated park funding that do not require any new taxes on New Yorkers exist in other places. A dedicated funding stream for parks can help revitalize the park system and ensure its integrity for future generations.
The state parks agency is struggling, with 1,500 fewer park workers and a 23% decrease in its budget over the last few years – a larger hit than many other agencies have taken. State parks face a huge backlog of infrastructure needs - to the tune of more than $1 billion - to restore deteriorated facilities and address health and safety needs. A dedicated funding stream for parks can help revitalize the parks system and ensure its integrity for future generations.
One option is Pennies for Parks, a proposal for a surcharge on disposable bags, which can provide generate an estimated $70 million per penny charged to OPRHP for capital needs. Reducing New Yorkers’ use of disposable bags also has the added “wins” of reducing litter, waste, and New York’s contribution to greenhouse gases and dependence on oil. And, a surcharge is supported by the public: polling shows 3 out of 4 New Yorkers support a surcharge if the money goes to parks. The surcharge can be avoided through the use of reusable bags.
Several other options have been proposed or have been implemented in other states, such as an “I Love NYS Parks” license plate supplement, a voluntary tax check-off for parks, or a voluntary donation as part of vehicle registration.
Innovative thinking is needed to ameliorate the immense problem of OPRHP’s aging infrastructure and save some important and historic properties. PTNY supports authorizing OPRHP, after careful consideration of terms to protect the public interest, to enter into agreements with private individuals who are willing to invest private funds to rehabilitate and maintain vacant and at-risk residential buildings in state parks and historic sites for which the agency has no public use and lacks the funds or staff resources to improve and maintain, in exchange for receiving a long-term lease or life estate to live in the building. In such a partnership, ownership of the structures would remain with OPRHP and, at the end of the lease or term, control would revert back to the agency.
New York has already approved such public-private partnerships: the Governor and Legislature authorized OPRHP to lease the caretaker’s house and garage at Buttermilk Falls State Park in 2011 and to lease buildings at Knox Farm State Park in 2012 as a way to encourage private investment in adaptive reuse of the buildings. Similar programs have also been very successful in other states.
Through the EPF, New York is conserving and enhancing farms, forests, rivers, beaches, and lakes. The EPF is supporting community parks and trails, recycling programs, and zoos and botanical gardens. EPF programs improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers, attracting businesses, creating jobs and protecting our water, air, and natural heritage.
The EPF is critical to the future of New York’s parks and trails. The EPF provides funds for
Thanks to the Governor and Legislature, the FY2012-2013 budget included $134 million for the EPF, maintaining the fund at the previous year's level. The Governor's 2013-2014 budget proposal includes $153 million for the EPF, an increase of $19 million. PTNY commends the Governor for providing this increase.
Unfortunately, current demand for EPF programs far outpaces appropriations and spending. Delays and long waiting lists for EPF dollars continue to threaten opportunities to leverage millions of dollars from local, federal and private sources.
2013 marks the 20th anniversary of the creation of the EPF, New York’s precedent-setting commitment to funding environmental conservation and restoration projects. Particularly in light of the extensive damage to our communities wrought by Hurricane Sandy, and previously by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, this historic moment should be used to strengthen this hallmark environmental program as part of the state’s efforts to invest in healthy communities, establish sustainable and resilient infrastructure, and reinvigorate New York’s economy.
A June 2011 statewide survey of New York voters found that more than two-thirds believe that we can promote a strong economy and clean environment at the same time. The EPF does both: a recent analysis by The Trust for Public Land of the economic value of natural goods and services provided by lands protected through the EPF found that for every $1 of EPF funds invested, $7 in economic benefits is returned to the state of New York.
As the economy continues to improve, in part because of EPF programs, the Fund must grow to meet existing and future environmental funding needs. In addition to the appropriation for state fiscal year 2013-2014, there are steps that the Governor and Legislature can take together in this budget to enhance the Fund in coming years. By taking these steps now, we can ensure the deployment of much-needed environmental capital around the state, creating and protecting jobs, increasing tourism, and safeguarding valuable natural resources for people and nature. PTNY urges the Legislature and Governor to include one or more of these concepts, to take effect in future years, in the SFY13-14 State Budget.
In addition to the need to enhance the EPF in the coming budget, state agencies responsible for administering the EPF and implementing important programs that protect our shared environment and public health need resources adequate to meet existing needs. Staffing levels at the Department of Environmental Conservation, Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Department of Agriculture and Markets and Department of State remain deeply reduced. Staff restorations at each agency could increase efficiency and effective administration of important programs.
PROTECT OUR LOCAL PARKLAND – ENACT PARKLAND ALIENATION LEGISLATION
The Vision: PTNY’s vision is that all New Yorkers will someday be located only minutes from a trail and ideally will be able to access that trail easily and safely by walking or bicycling. Throughout the state, trails, bicycle boulevards, and complete streets will be acknowledged as an essential and mainstream element of community infrastructure, much as utility lines and sidewalks are thought of today. Beyond its borders, New York will be recognized as one of the most trail-rich and trail-friendly states and will attract visitors from across the nation and abroad to experience the historic communities and varied and beautiful landscapes accessible through the state’s trail network.
The 361-mile Erie Canalway Trail is now more than 75% complete as an off-road path. When finished it will be the longest multi-use trail in the nation. Already it attracts visitors from across the world, but the trail cannot realize its full economic potential and become a premier tourist destination until it is complete.
As noted in PTNY’s report, Closing the Gaps: A Progress Report on the Erie Canalway Trail 2012, there are 84 miles of remaining gaps:
Several factors continue to contribute to closing the remaining gaps:
Amtrak serves Buffalo, Albany, and all the major cities along the Erie Canalway Trail but, despite the fact that bicycles are allowed on trains in other parts of the country, Amtrak prohibits bikes from being rolled onto the Albany to Buffalo Maple Leaf, Empire Service, and Lakeshore Limited trains. Furthermore, while bikes can be boxed and transported in the baggage car attached to the Lakeshore Limited, most stations along the Albany to Buffalo route do not have the capacity to handle baggage, essentially making this service unavailable to almost everyone.
Because of the growing popularity of the Canalway Trail as a bicycling destination and the higher income level of many touring cyclists, the lack of roll-on service between Buffalo and Albany is a lost opportunity for Amtrak and the restaurants, lodging and other businesses in upstate communities that serve these cyclists. The same lost opportunity holds true for Amtrak north-south routes in New York State through the Hudson Valley and Champlain Valley.
Communities across the state are eager to provide citizens of all ages and abilities with safe, healthy, and low-cost active transportation. For more than two decades federal transportation legislation has helped communities make that happen by providing funds to build bicycle and pedestrian paths, bike lanes, sidewalks, and other infrastructure that promotes complete streets and bicycling and walking.
Communities that invest in bicycle and pedestrian projects benefit from improved quality of life, a healthier population, greater local real estate values, more local travel choices, and reduced air pollution and, as was demonstrated in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, preserve the ability for people to safely get to work, school and shops when storms and other disasters interrupt motorized transportation. Bicycle and pedestrian projects also generate jobs: According to a study conducted by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, every $1 million of spending on bicycle and pedestrian project construction creates at least 9.6 jobs while road-only projects create just 7.8 jobs.
Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), the current federal transportation bill, reduces funding for trails and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure by 30%. Having a dedicated state funding source will help assure that the level of funding for bike-ped infrastructure is, at the least maintained, or, optimally, increased. In Delaware, the state budget now dedicates $15 per capita for bike/ped infrastructure. By comparison, New York spends less than $5 per capita. Communities also need additional state assistance because:
The new federal transportation law gives New York State and its metropolitan planning organizations a much a greater role in how to use the funds allocated to trails and bicycle and pedestrian projects. The pool of money previously directed specific programs with dedicated funding, such as the Recreational Trails, Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to Schools programs, has been consolidated into the newly-created Transportation Alternatives (TA) program. States now have great latitude in deciding how these funds are spent and can even divert half of its TA funds to non-bicycle-pedestrian projects and opt out completely from the Recreational Trails program.
It is crucial that the state continue its commitment to complete streets, smart growth and active transportation. Any diversions of TA funds will significantly undermine the growing movement to increase opportunities for physical activity for all New Yorkers.
We also encourage New York State to utilize other MAP-21 funding programs—such as Highway Safety Improvement, Congestion Management Air Quality, and Surface Transportation Programs—to help make our communities more livable and safer for those who walk, bike and take transit to their destinations.
The state currently has as much as $50 million in dedicated, unallocated funds in the Transportation Enhancements Program. These are funds that were provided to New York by the previous federal transportation legislation, TEA-21, and can only be used to fund trails, sidewalks, and other infrastructure that supports bicycling and walking. Communities are eager to have the opportunity to apply for these funds yet, it has been four years since the state has held an application round to distribute them. New York must act quickly. If these funds are not distributed this year, New York State will most likely lose them.
In years past, NYSDOT has convened a statewide Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee to serve as a forum for a diverse body of stakeholders, including state agencies and nonprofits to discuss common issues and offer feedback on a variety of NYSDOT policies and initiatives related to walking and bicycling. This committee has not met since 2010. Because of the growing popularity of walking and biking among New Yorkers for alternative transportation, recreation, and health we urge that this committee begin meeting regularly again. The committee could play an important role in guiding NYSDOT’s efforts to implement Complete Streets legislation and MAP-21.
Numerous volunteer trail organizations and local, regional and state government agencies are working to develop and maintain more than 1200 miles of multi-use trails across the state. In order to advance trail development to the level being demanded by our citizens and maximize the multiple economic, environmental, health, and quality of life benefits that trails generate, New York State needs to develop a vision and a plan for a statewide multi-use trail network that will inform acquisition and development decisions and funding allocations for trail promotion, development, interpretation, and maintenance.
Creation of that plan needs to be a broad-based effort involving a task force consisting of representatives of the many state agencies and other groups whose missions support trail promotion and development. Because trails are vitally important not only for recreation but also for tourism, health, alternative transportation, and community revitalization, agencies representing these other interests must be full partners at the table in order realize the fullest potential of any planning effort. Input also must be sought from local governments; regional planning authorities; regional tourism agencies; regional advisory groups representing the interests of local conservationists, outdoor and sports enthusiast groups; and federal agencies involved with greenways and heritage corridors.
New York State took an important step in 2011 towards safer streets for everyone by passing Complete Streets legislation. Complete Streets design principles assure that when roads are built or redesigned, they take into account the needs of everyone who uses them. The law requires consideration of people of all ages walking, riding bicycles, driving cars, and taking public transportation in any transportation project that uses federal and state funds, including the construction, reconstruction, restriping, and rehabilitation of roadways.
Implementation of these principles is left to the discretion of state and local government. Infrastructure changes only need to be considered; they are not required.
Some communities, large and small, urban and rural, have already adopted their own Complete Streets policies. However, NYSDOT has yet to indicate how they will respond. PTNY urges NYS DOT and the MPOs to actively implement Complete Streets in the projects they oversee and support and foster understanding and implementation of Complete Streets among practitioners at other levels of government.
PTNY supports dedicated funding to the LWCF at $900 million, the maximum level authorized by Congress, without further appropriation and including $125 million for the stateside program.
The LWCF has done more than any other program to expand the systems of local parks, recreational green spaces and public lands enjoyed by hundreds of millions of Americans. The LWCF is the federal government's principal means of assisting in the preservation of outdoor recreation resources including parks, trails, and wildlife lands. LWCF is funded from a fraction of the proceeds from federal offshore oil and gas leasing royalties, and uses no taxpayer dollars.
Of greatest importance to New York is the stateside program which provides matching grants to states and local governments for public outdoor recreation areas and facilities. This is the only way states such as New York, with few national parks and little federal land, can receive their fair share of LWCF funds. In New York, OPRHP uses stateside program monies for stewardship and acquisition of state park lands and trail corridors as well as to fund grants to local governments for the acquisition, development and/or rehabilitation of outdoor park and recreation facilities including trails. As OPRHP’s municipal grants program has been reduced by cuts to the EPF, there is an even greater need to ensure that New York receives funding from the LWCF stateside program.
PTNY supports the creation of a standard, universal registration form for volunteers working on lands owned and managed by NYS DEC, NYS OPRHP or the NYS Canal Corporation.
Volunteers must currently register to receive permission to help maintain the network of trails owned and operated by various agencies of the state. However, sometimes one trail is managed by more than one agency which means that volunteers have to fill out more than one form, because each agency has their own form which requires different information. To make the registration process less confusing and more attractive to volunteers, NYS DEC, NYS OPRHP and the NYS Canal Corporation must simply the process and establish one volunteer registration form that applies to all state-owned resources.
The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released a revised Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement along with Proposed High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Regulations in 2011 and accepted comments on both until January 2012. In late November, DEC filed for a 90-day extension of the rule-making process as the state works to complete a health impact study of the high-volume hydraulic fracturing process. In doing so, DEC released revisions to its proposed regulations, opening another public comment period.
While the proposed regulations include a recommendation that surface drilling be banned on state-owned lands – including parks and trails – they do not go far enough to protect public recreation lands. PTNY urges the Governor and the DEC to protect public recreation lands from hydrofracking as well as complete a thorough analysis of the impacts of hydrofracking on these lands and the region’s tourism economy. Read PTNY’s full comments submitted to the DEC.
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