‘Urban Acupuncture 101’ – Mobility and cycling in New York with Janette Sadik-Khan
October 19, 2009. In a room full of Vancouver’s planning and transportation elite, Gordon Price (director of SFU’s City Program) introduced an event from SFU’s public lecture series, evoking New York City’s gritty and dangerous history, comparing it to a “fallen empire.” He feels that the success in recent years give it reason to be called “a resilient city” – acting as proof that cities can rebound – and aptly referencing the Gaining Ground conference this week. Our guest this evening, Janette Sadik-Khan is the commissioner for New York City’s Department of Transportation (DOT). She is largely responsible for this transformation, rigorously analyzing ways to make streets more people oriented in one of the world’s largest most congested city. “It’s a war out there,” she said a few times.
This is her first visit to Vancouver in 10 years. Back then she was impressed by the integrated transportation system – calling the Translink pass the “Willy Wonka ticket.” She is known for a “borrow or steal” approach to ideas from other cities like Vancouver and including Copenhagen, Curitiba, Portland and Bogota (just to name a few). Appointed in 2007 by Mayor Bloomberg, she has – in two years! – implemented a staggering number of innovative, people-oriented interventions on New York City’s streets quickly, effectively, cheaply. It was such a pleasure to see such a brilliant woman with a clear sense of humor in the position of transit commissioner, in a stereotypically serious, male dominated field. As the “largest real estate developer in New York” she is practicing “urban acupuncture” in the form of new bike lanes, linear plazas (Herald Square and Times Square), Hudson River greenway, regulations regarding indoor parking, increased number of street bike racks, select bus service in the Bronx, Summer Streets and more. What makes the projects so effective is that they are inexpensive and experimental in nature. As pilot projects, they are faster to implement and easier to justify, built on Robert Moses’ legacy of extensive concrete streets. The proven benefits from these various interventions range from increased public space generating economic development to safety and health improvements. Janette’s work is also the product of extensive public outreach – the DOT holds 200 public meetings every month.
All of their plans are available on their website and I would highly recommend that you check out both the Sustainable Street Strategic Plan 2009 and the Street Design Manual for the details of these new streets. A nugget for media folks – the website also has a tool called CityRacks.com where you can find out the location of nearest bike rack.
A podcast of this lecture will be coming up in the next few days on the City Program website.
You can read more about Janette in this New York Magazine feature here.