Janette Sadik-Khan: New York’s streets? Not so mean any more


Janette Sadik-Khan was the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation from 2007-2013


Streets are one of the most valuable assets a city has, but their power is not fully recognised. Janette looks at New York’s modernising of their infrastructure, which is generally unchanged since the 50s. Goals were to cut fatalities, treat streets as public space, double cycling commuting, and implement rapid bus lanes.

Looking at the design of streets, there were no seats, no room for pedestrians crossing the street, and Time Square was chaotic.

To redesign Time Square, Janette installed temporary materials to close it off to traffic. The temporary materials allowed a 6-month trial to be carried out, and if data showed it worked it could be continued. The closing of Time Square was a monumental success, turning it into a top 10 worldwide retail hub, 5 new stores opened, and people flocking to the public space. Similar road closures were done elsewhere, and were powerful for businesses who recognise that more foot traffic is better for them than car traffic.

All up her team created 50 pedestrian plazas, and they have been emulated in other US cities. The power was using paint and temporary materials to quickly roll out a change and trial it, rather than waiting for conventional design, simulation and construction.

Although it used to be scary as a cyclist, after the roll out of new bike lanes New York has become the cycling centre of USA. New Infrastructure has included USA’s first separated bike lanes and bike share schemes, and injuries are down by 50%. The bike lanes were controversial, with media frenzy but 64% of New Yorkers supported the move. Over time it has become even more accepted.

The bus was another key issue – New York has the largest bus fleet in US, but the slowest. Everyone knows you can walk faster than a New York bike. Adding priority bike lanes has made their movement much faster.

It is possible to change the streets quickly, it’s not expensive, can provide immediate benefits, and is quite popular. You just need to re-imagine your streets – which are hidden in plain sight.

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