Janette Sadik-Khan: Bridge-Fixing Fanatic

Sadik-Khan with Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro and ##http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/01/28/oddo-bike-lanes-were-just-to-grab-attention-for-loosening-enviro-review/##cyclist-baiting## Council Member James Oddo. Photo: NYC DOT via The New York Observer

Matt Chaban at the Observer has filed a balanced, thorough and, dare we say, mature profile of Janette Sadik-Khan. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s definitely worth a read.

Eschewing the pat cars vs. bikes conceit, and with nary a mention of the commissioner’s sartorial preferences, Chaban examines NYC DOT spending and wonders why critics refuse to acknowledge that, under Sadik-Khan, the agency is busting its hump to keep roads and bridges in good shape for motorists.

Of the 775 projects funded under the current capital plan, only a handful involved pedestrian plazas, like the closure of Times Square and the rest of Broadway, or bike lanes, like the litigious route along Prospect Park West. Some of these projects are so cheap, they do not even make the budget. All told, DOT has spent $19.2 million on plazas and $15.8 million on bike lanes. That is less than 1 percent of all capital spending over the past four years.

“She has done more for drivers than anyone since Robert Moses,” one transportation professional told The Observer.

All of which means nothing, Chaban writes, to a media and political establishment wedded to the status quo. When politicos and the press go into convulsions over the slightest perceived inconvenience to the motoring minority, when a junk lawsuit literally drives the news cycle of the city’s paper of record, DOT’s success stories don’t stand a chance.

Of course no one ever flipped breathlessly to a story about a pothole-free street, or a pedestrian who made it home safely. (“So much of what DOT does is invisible,” says Sam Schwartz.) But Chaban notes that even a sure-fire spectacle like the replacement of the Willis Avenue Bridge only got play for a day or two, “compared to at least a year’s worth of reports lambasting bike lanes.” Another example: If any media outlet in the city has connected the makeover of Times Square with the subsequent rise in retail rents, please send us a link.

If the city were really ramping up cyclist and pedestrian infrastructure at the expense of motorists, at least Sadik-Khan’s detractors, misguided as they may be, would be arguing from a point of fact. But as it is DOT is making New York a more livable city on the cheap with little to no impact on drivers — if anything, the emphasis on maintenance and repair is a blessing for motorists — and is saving lives in the process. Only through willful ignorance could this story continue to go untold.

  • To the extent that there is an institutional “willful ignorance” among the transportation columnists in the local news outlets, I’d be curious to watch a roundtable discussion among them to see where they get all of their ideas from. There’s no way we’re ever going to get them to stop editorializing or focusing on the more sensational stories, but at least we should question why so many of them have abandoned reasoning. Do they really think that the DOT’s approach is tantamount to an elimination of automobiles from the city’s densest areas? Or would they admit openly that their habit of finding governance issues to nitpick about (whether the concerns are real or just theoretically/remotely possible) is the strongest influence in all of this “bike bedlam” coverage? 

    Even the media’s own coverage trends, biased toward tidy post-accident police reports where a cyclist is always at-fault, show that the only remotely possible bedlam that’s being brought on by cyclists seems to only affect the cyclists. There is no data showing any correlation between inconvenience/injury of drivers and DOT street restructurings. Except in a few cases where drivers clumsily run over pedestrian-protecting bell bollards and then blame the city for obstructing them from driving on the wrong side of the street. Damn bikes!

  • Chris

    Very interesting even article. I was heartened to see the 1/3 drop in cyclist fatalities (despite much increased ridership). Still to high, but a move in the right direction. Tells you the bike lanes are working. 

    Sadly the number of pedestrians killed is stubbornly high. Once again the bike lanes did not increase the number of pedestrians killed, as some would have you believe. 

    All in all a very nice article. 

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