Posts about Janette Sadik-Khan
New York City is 13 times the size of DC and its greater metro region 3½ times as big. Political fights there are also far larger, including ones over bicycle lanes and public spaces, as a New York Times profile on Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan details.
It explains how Sadik-Khan has pushed forward with many innovative projects including closing parts of Times Square to traffic and building separated cycle tracts, which have gained worldwide praise and passionate fans in New York.
At the same time, some of the projects have irritated some people who want to influence what goes on in New York and want to be consulted on projects. And a few missteps, such as seeming dismissive or brusque toward stakeholders, may have contributed to the tension.
There are many parallels to Adrian Fenty, Michelle Rhee and Gabe Klein in the way people talk about Sadik-Khan (and Mayor Bloomberg) in the article. There are also many clear ways DC is different, besides the fact that cronyism was never a factor with Bloomberg.
For example, one of the aspiring mayoral candidates, Congressman Anthony Weiner from Queens, seems to have decided to ride a wave of anti-bike lane sentiment even though he once supported increasing cycling, including with bike lanes. Yet he changed his tune by the time he attended a dinner with Mayor Bloomberg last year:
"When I become mayor, you know what I'm going to spend my first year doing?" Mr. Weiner said to Mr. Bloomberg, as tablemates listened. "I'm going to have a bunch of ribbon-cuttings tearing out your [expletive] bike lanes."Here in DC, even amid a very contentious mayoral race, both candidates insisted they supported retaining the existing bike lanes and building more. Despite criticizing the 15th Street bike lane recently, Jack Evans also maintains he supports keeping it.
People can argue whether those sentiments come from heartfelt beliefs or from realizing what's politically unpopular to oppose. Even if it's partly or largely the latter, that means that livable streets has a political currency that leaders ignore at their peril. The 2013 mayoral race may well reveal whether that's also true in New York.
For DC (and Arlington), having small jurisdictions is a blessing; if New York were just Manhattan and Brooklyn, for instance, there'd be little political gain in Weiner's stance. He would instead be running for Nassau County executive, which would probably be a better job for him.
In any jurisdiction, though, there is indeed value in listening to communities and building consensus and support for a project. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer built broad support for an Upper West Side bike lane by fostering a dialogue over specific complaints and how to fix them. Sadik-Khan's first revolutionary change, pedestrianizing Times Square, had strong support from area businesses.
DDOT has been doing more listening of late, scheduling meetings on the Circulator, the Anacostia Streetcar, and more. Its livability studies in various neighborhoods have garnered broad praise from most neighborhoods.
Some people will oppose projects regardless. Others will complain they never were consulted no matter how hard an agency works to reach out. Despite well over 150 public meetings on the zoning rewrite, the same people showed up at the DC Council oversight hearing on the Office of Planning for the third year in a row to complain that OP wasn't communicating enough.
But with good community relations, these voices will be few, supporters more numerous, and aspiring elected officials will know that winning cheap applause by feeding on a fear of change won't ultimately pay off. Mayor Bloomberg, for his part, remains strongly supportive of Sadik-Khan and her initiatives.
Imagine visiting a city where the populace steadfastly refused to wear sweaters or coats despite a cold climate.
You might tell your friends incredulous stories about how much people complain about being cold while ignoring an obvious solution. You might take pictures of the enormous three-story space heaters the city placed along its waterfront to let people enjoy the outdoors, and marvel at the ugliness and environmental waste of the practice. Why would the residents of this city endure such painful conditions at such cost to their city and their planet while ignoring such a simple alternative?
This sounds absurd, but scarcely more absurd than the way bicyclists talk about American cities. At Cities, Bicycles, and the Future of Getting Around, a panel discussion last week sponsored by the Brookings Institution, Congressman Earl Blumenauer posed what he called the "universalist bicycle mantra": "How many people, right at this moment, are stuck in traffic on their way to ride a stationary bicycle in a health club?"
Why, indeed, would people endure stifling traffic just to hop on another form of transportation that goes nowhere? How is this not similar to walking around outside without a coat while complaining of the chill? What are people thinking? Children can't get to school on their own, while childhood obesity skyrockets. Yet the evident solution to bicyclists, as simple as putting on the sweater, is simply to ride to school. Yet few do.
Musician David Byrne, author of The Bicycle Diaries, illustrated the absurdity every bicyclist sees in our cities through a slide show. He showed pictures of downtown Austin, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee, where giant highway overpasses soared above desolate landscapes below. He showed a streetscape from Houston, Texas, at 11:00 am, with only a single person visible across several blocks. "There was a group of people around the corner," he said. "They were the smokers." Some scenes could have depicted one of many American cities. "I'm not sure where this is," he said, showing a picture of large parking lots separating the occasional tall building. "Maybe Indianapolis." There's no life visible, "unless you consider the car a form of life."
Nevertheless, the average resident of these cities sees little unusual in these scenes. When driving, we see the broad brush of the buildings and the other cars; we tend not to notice a lack of pedestrians, especially when they are rare. When we travel on a bicycle, however, a city devoid of life seems utterly bizarre, and the populace's blithe acceptance of this status quo even stranger.
Why can't we just put on the coats? Why can't people cycle in the numbers common in many European cities? Blumenauer and Byrne know why: bicycle infrastructure. We don't have enough of it, at least outside Blumenauer's hometown of Portland, Oregon. Its residents drive 30% less than in Houston, the Congressman said. They spend $2,500 less per year on transportation than the national average, and keep that money in the local economy instead of sending it overseas in oil payments. According to Blumenauer, Portland's bicycle share has increased 400% for less than the cost of one mile of freeway.
New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan revealed one of the most vexing absurdities of all: federal rules that make it extremely difficult if not impossible to build good bicycle infrastructure. For a city to build a bicycle lane requires a detailed air quality conformity analysis and a long checklist of approvals, she explained, and requires the involvement of the state DOT. "There are no national street designs that accommodate best practices" in bicycle lane design, she added.
DC's new protected, contraflow bike lane on 15th Street, NW is in no manual, added Sadik-Khan. Nor are bike boulevard markings, lanes painted with a color, or even bicycle signals. Wherever cities have built such projects, they're in spite of accepted industry standards. "My favorite 5-letter word is PILOT," she said; most of New York's greatest successes in bicycle infrastructure have been officially pilot programs, like the protected lane through Midtown Manhattan which increased bicycling by 46% in that area.
In Sadik-Khan's experience, getting approval to spend federal money on a project has typically been the most difficult part of the project, more even than the oft-vehement opposition from neighbors. Blumenauer, too, feels that opposition is not the major obstacle to progress, noting the over 180 members of the Congressional Bicycle Caucus. What are the obstacles, asked moderator Bruce Katz, Brookings Vice President and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program? Some people are "nervous about change," Blumenauer noted, but worse is the "dysfunctionality of the system."
Led by Sadik-Khan, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) launched Cities for Cycling, an effort to create a new manual for street design that includes good bicycle infrastructure. They hope to make bicycle lanes, protected lanes, bike boulevards, bike signals and more official parts of a 21st-century version of the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the bible of traffic engineers that currently enforces design around cars instead of people.
Blumenauer has another prescription: Political organizing. He called on those who support bicycle infrastructure to defend officials like DDOT head Gabe Klein as he tries to build lanes like that on 15th Street or one on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Capitol that Blumenauer has been pushing for. If just five people email a council member about a bicycle lane, Klein added from the front of the audience, that can make an impact. (And now, we know that's true; your emails on Riggs and South Dakota triggered a change.)
If a small group can make a difference, the next questioner hoped to: He pointed out that Brookings itself has no bicycle parking at its Massachusetts Avenue headquarters, and a sign on the door prohibits bicycles inside. A law in New York just took effect requiring office buildings with cargo elevators to accommodate bicycles if the companies leasing space want to let employees bring bicycles into the office; Sadik-Khan noted that safe, indoor bicycle parking is the leading obstacle for people to bike to work. For his part, Katz promised to look into the issue. Local cyclists will be keeping an eye on their progress.
Cross-posted at Next American City.
Janette Sadik-Khan has had a profound impact as Commissioner of New York City's Department of Transportation. The city that never sleeps has been transforming its streets into a more sustainable mold. Since her arrival, NYC DOT has added buffered bike lanes, express bus lanes, public plazas and much more. While these bold ideas are overdue for a city in which 54% of households do not own cars, the ideas are not new. European cities like Copenhagen and Paris have been shifting towards sustainable streets for some time.
Streetsblog reported how Paris has dramatically reduced car ownership this decade. Mayor Bertrand DelanoŽ, realizing congestion pricing was considered politically untenable, focused on altering behavior by transforming the streets.
In 2002, (DelanoŽ) launched Quartiers Verts ("Green Neighborhoods"), an initiative to improve pedestrian space and reduce traffic in residential areas. The administration anticipated especially strong opposition to the parking policies in the plan
— higher rates, a reduction in the amount of on-street parking, and the elimination of free parking altogether. To counteract the expected outcry, the city tied those reforms to the introduction of residential parking permits, which are now available for a nominal yearly fee.
DelanoŽ's next major initiative
— Espaces Civilisťs ("Civilized Spaces") — took aim at Paris's most car-friendly boulevards. The first such project, on Boulevard de Magenta, trimmed a six-lane road down to two traffic lanes and two bus lanes, with the remainder going to sidewalks and street trees. This substantial redistribution of space did not happen overnight. Launched in 2002, Espaces Civilisťs yielded its first finished boulevard in 2005. About half a dozen such transformations have been completed so far, with plans for another on the way.
The brief slideshow above, made from Google Street View screen captures, highlights Paris' wide plaza-esque medians, bus and cycle lanes, reduced curb parking, extensive cross walk striping, mixed pavers, and willingness to program public space rather than simply plant ornamental trees, grass and the occasional statue. I did not cherry pick streets in the Parisian museum or government districts for the slideshow. Nearly all intersections of Boulevards and Avenues in the city center are ripe with grandeur. In fact, Paris boldly devoted the median of Boulevard Pereire to 5 tennis courts end to end!
DC presently falls well short of Paris' comprehensive screetscapes. Perhaps it is not fair to compare our city, only recently on the rebound from the 1968 riots, to an iconic European city often described as a giant open air museum. However, when I walk downtown and see ornamental trees, modestly landscaped narrow medians or major intersections without public space, I wonder if we've set the bar too low. Will DC just settle for matching the low standard of American cities' streets, or will it take the real risks to become world class?
Within a year of Janette Sadik-Khan taking the reins at New York City's Department of Transportation, they got new plazas, "cycle track" buffered bike lanes, express bus lanes, Summer Streets, and more.
OK, some urbanism posting after all.
According to Politico, well-connected Democrats speculate that Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) or Jim Oberstar (D-MN) could be named Secretary of Transportation in an Obama administration. Via WashCycle.
Transportation falls near the very bottom of Politico's list, but near the top of ours. And should Obama win (currently 98.9% likely), you can bet that bloggers interested in transportation will start campaigning for a good choice on this issue. (Blumenauer and Oberstar would both be great.)
How about New York City Transportation Commissioner Jeanette Sadik-Khan? I hear she's interested, and has done great work up in New York. Plus, then we could get back Tommy Wells' transportation and smart growth policy advisor, Neha Bhatt, who recently moved up to New York to work for Sadik-Khan.
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