Sadik-Khan Unveils NYC Model for Transport Reform
Event: Sustainable Streets: Highlights from the Strategic Plan for the New York City Department of Transportation 2008 and Beyond
Location: Municipal Art Society, 04.28.08
Speakers: Janette Sadik-Khan — Commissioner, New York City Department of Transportation; Edward Skyler — Deputy Mayor for Operations, Office of the Mayor (introduction)
Organizers: Municipal Art Society of New York
In the wake of the state legislature’s refusal to bring Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing proposal to a vote in time to secure federal funds, the mood at the launch of the Department of Transportation’s (DoT) new strategic plan might have been subdued. However, Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan energized the crowd by promoting local independence in transit policy. The congestion pricing program would have adapted a “London model,” Sadik-Khan noted, and debate has also drawn attention to ideas from other international cities, but she favors a “New York City model” building on local strengths like mass transit, pedestrianism, and democratic procedure.
Described by Deputy Mayor of Operations Edward Skyler as a “transportation visionary,” Sadik-Khan introduced the plan as a way to “treat streets as valuable public places rather than utilitarian corridors.” Citing safety statistics including last year’s lowest number of traffic fatalities since annual recordkeeping began in 1910, she outlined further traffic-calming measures focusing on schoolchildren, seniors, infrastructure inspections, and public education. The goal is to cut fatalities in half by 2030, which would win NYC the title of “safest city in the world” given PlaNYC’s projected population growth to nine million.
A Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project on Fordham Road in the Bronx is the first segment of a plan to add new BRT lines and incorporate BRT-like features such as dedicated bus lanes into the existing system. Bicycle infrastructure expansion will extend some of the innovations tested in Chelsea’s Ninth Avenue cycling zone, aiming to double citywide bike commuting by 2015. New parking policies will strive to raise curbside vacancy rates and reduce space-hunting time. Selected sites such as the three-way intersection of Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and 23rd Street will see low-performing square footage reclaimed as destination plazas — in Sadik-Khan’s phrasing, “putting… the ‘square’ back into Madison Square.”
Like other PlaNYC green initiatives, the full Sustainable Streets publication is thorough and detailed, presenting the potential of public-sector activism. Instead of a single attention-getting plan like congestion pricing, Sustainable Streets offers a broad range of nuts-and-bolts reforms that may ultimately be more effective at restoring civility to vehicle-ravaged civic space. (The talk wasn’t just for the anti-auto faction, though: Sadik-Khan also hailed DoT’s road-resurfacing operation, a division that saves the annual equivalent of nearly a million barrels of oil by recycling used asphalt.)
Both Sadik-Khan and Skyler expressed long-range optimism about congestion pricing as an idea whose time has come: “We do believe that ideas, just like cities, can be sustainable,” Skyler said, “and that there’s going to be a coalition built around that.” The near miss may have galvanized a community’s resolve to take back the quality of its street life. Long timetables, though, put the enthusiasm of Sadik-Khan and her team to serious tests: how much of the DoT program can be realized during this administration’s remaining months, and how much of it will be upheld by its successor?