Is NYC’s “Sustainable Streets” Plan a Communist Plot?


This week’s Observer is running a profile of DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. It focuses on the speed with which many of DOT’s Sustainable Streets projects are moving ahead and seems to suggest either:

a) Improving conditions for New York City’s pedestrians, cyclists and bus riders is a Communist plot. Or,
b) The change that Sadik-Khan is bringing to New York City’s streets is akin to the Russian Revolution.

You be the judge:

On the ideological scale of transportation planning, her policies
err far closer to Trotsky than Reagan. She is decidedly pro-bike and
pro-pedestrian, and thus inherently anti-automobile, earning her
constant praise from the normally critical transit advocates.

This raises some obvious questions. If Sadik-Khan is Leon Trotsky does that mean suburban Westchester Assemblyman and congestion pricing foe Richard Brodsky is Josef Stalin? Will Sadik-Khan be exiled to an upstate gulag when Bloomberg is term-limited out of office?

All fun and games aside, as we gird ourselves for the Tony Avellafication of the 2009 mayoral race, the last two paragraphs of the article are worth discussing:

With many of Ms. Sadik-Khan’s key
initiatives, there is a potential lack of permanency. The same features
that allow the DOT’s projects to get in the ground swiftly could also
seal their fate in a future administration: The city has claimed lanes
of Broadway as open space with some epoxy, sand, paint, plants and
tables, yet a future administration could just as easily pack up those
tables and put lane markers right back down on the roadway.

This prospect seemed almost
incomprehensible to Ms. Sadik-Khan, who seemed to think that public
resistance to it would prove too great, the ease of removal
notwithstanding. “People are very protective about their public space,”
she said. “I think it would be very hard to take these spaces back to
the state that they were in before.”

  • OK…. if sidewalks and bike lanes are “communist” then why aren’t roads communist too? Highways area communist plot! …. sigh… I don’t get it.

    I’m really nervous about the next mayoral election. I have not found a candidate that I really like yet.

  • Max Rockatansky

    The lack of permanency is troubling, it would be all too easy to turn back the clock. Friedman had an interesting piece in the NYTimes comparing China and US infrastructure –

    The difference is starting to show. Just compare arriving at La Guardia’s dumpy terminal in New York City and driving through the crumbling infrastructure into Manhattan with arriving at Shanghai’s sleek airport and taking the 220-mile-per-hour magnetic levitation train, which uses electromagnetic propulsion instead of steel wheels and tracks, to get to town in a blink.

    Then ask yourself: Who is living in the third world country?

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    Pursuant to Chapter 9 of the New York City Charter, I believe the following statement is false: “If the DOT wants to close down a lane of traffic and hand it over to pedestrians, for instance, it is not required even to notify the community board….”

  • Marty Barfowitz


    I don’t think that’s right. Chapter 9 of the NYC Charter is about capital projects. I’m pretty certain that most of these new projects are coming out of DOT’s operating budget. They’re being done as quick and cheap proof-of-concept pilot projects. They are not being done as expensive, time-consuming capital projects involving DDEP moving manholes and sewer grates, DDC dragging its feet, and all the rest of the cumbersome capital project process.

  • Evan

    “She is decidedly pro-bike and pro-pedestrian, and thus inherently anti-automobile.”

    Excuse me? Please explain to me how someone who proposes transportation equity for all users is necessarily anti-car.

  • E

    Apologies for being rather off-topic, but does anyone know whether there are any new north/south bike lanes in the works in the East Village and East Midtown — in other words, something on the east side that akin to the 8th Ave/9th Ave combo? If not, why not? I’m getting pretty envious of my west-side friends…. 😉

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    Evan, I almost commented on that line too. Thanks for doing so.

    Marty, I believe these type of projects conform with the definition of capital project at the beginning of the Chapter 9 of the charter no matter how they are funded and, therefore, trigger the community board outreach “requirements” found elsewhere in the chapter. “Requirements” in quotes since there is nothing short of an Article 78 proceeding as a remedy if an agency chooses not to comply.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Wow! Talk about always having an ax to grind!

    Someone actually gets off their bureaucratic duff and gets something done in government and all of a sudden the media complains that they must be a communists.

    Jeesh!! Grow up!

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Jeffrey, you may be correct that, by the letter of the law, Broadway and some of these other DOT sustainable street pilots using temporary materials should be considered capital projects. But as a practical matter I am quite certain that DOT and other city agencies are not budgeting them or treating them as capital projects. Even still, if the issue came before a judge, I suspect the City could convincingly argue that putting tables and planters on the street, striping some Thermoplast and gluing down gravel doesn’t qualify as a capital project given that the entire thing can be taken down and thrown away in about 72 hours for minimal cost.

  • Capitalist

    ” … I believe these type of projects conform with the definition of capital project at the beginning of the Chapter 9 of the charter no matter how they are funded and, therefore, trigger the community board outreach “requirements” found elsewhere in the chapter. “Requirements” in quotes since there is nothing short of an Article 78 proceeding as a remedy if an agency chooses not to comply.”

    Here’s the definition:

    1. The term “capital project” shall mean:
    (a) A project which provides for the construction, reconstruction,
    acquisition or installation of a physical public betterment or
    improvement which would be classified as a capital asset under generally
    accepted accounting principles for municipalities or any preliminary
    studies and surveys relative thereto or any underwriting or other costs
    incurred in connection with the financing thereof.

    A “betterment” is a durable improvement to a piece of property that improves its value. No “betterment” here (though . No capital asset was created.

    (b) The acquisition of property of a permanent nature including wharf

    No property was acquired.

    (c) The acquisition of any furnishings, machinery, apparatus or
    equipment for any public betterment or improvement when such betterment
    or improvement is first constructed or acquired.

    No furnishings or equipment was acquired.

    (d) Any public betterment involving either a physical improvement or
    the acquisition of real property for a physical improvement consisting
    in, including or affecting:
    (1) Streets and parks;
    (2) Bridges and tunnels;
    (3) Receiving basins, inlets and sewers, including intercepting
    sewers, plants or structures for the treatment, disposal or filtration
    of sewage, including grit chambers, sewer tunnels and all necessary
    accessories thereof; or

    I’m a pretty experienced student of bureaucratese, but I’m stumped by this one. “[C]onsisting in” renders it unparsable. I’m guessing that it’s meant as a catch-all to describe work that qualifies as a durable improvement (and hence elligble for capital funding), but which would be hard to charactarize as a “project,” i.e., on-going programs that continously upgrade capital assets, such as street resurfacing, bridge painting, and certain types of water and sewer repairs.

    (4) The fencing of vacant lots and the filling of sunken lots.
    (e) Any other project allowed to be financed by the local finance law,
    with the approval of the mayor and the comptroller.
    In other words, something not included above that the mayor AND the comptroller agree is a capital project. Negatory.
    (f) Any combination of the above. Negatory

    I don’t think anyone with any working knowledge of the City’s capital project and budget processes would agree that these are capital projects. These are maintenance efforts involving placement of easily (re)movable, consumable materials. You can believe me or not on this, but I have a great deal of experience with determinations of what does and does not constitute a capital project. Stripes and planters ain’t capital projects.

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    Okay, I’m convinced. In the end, I find DOT pretty good about presenting to community boards, even if they don’t have to. Granted, it’s often a briefing on what is going to happen no matter what the community board may think.

  • Andyp

    I tried the Broadway bike lanes this past Saturday at 6:45pm and found them rather full of people. I rode in the street rather than ask 2-6 people per block in the bike lane to move. A


Sadik-Khan Has Two Things Her Predecessors Lacked…

Transportation Alternatives’ press release on the naming of Janette Sadik-Khan as New York City’s new transportation commissioner doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to her predecessors: Transportation Alternatives commends the Mayor on his appointment of Janette Sadik-Khan as the next Commissioner of the NYC DOT. His thoughtful and progressive appointment will usher in an […]

A Transcontinental Transpo Message: Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment

NYCDOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan is in Los Angeles this weekend for the StreetSummit, a gathering of Southern California bike and pedestrian advocates. In a lead-in to the conference, Sadik-Khan spoke at her alma mater, Occidental College, and Clarence Eckerson and Streetsblog LA’s Damien Newton were there. Speaking to a packed house of advocates, planners, and […]

Shifting Gears at DOT

  DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan bicylcing to work during her first week on the job Crain’s New York reports that the earth is shaking below Dept. of Transportation headquarters at 40 Worth Street: Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s new transportation commissioner, politely says she’s building on the foundation left by her predecessors. In fact, she is […]

Streetfilms: A Conversation With Janette Sadik-Khan

In this exclusive Streetfilms interview, The Open Planning Project’s Executive Director Mark Gorton talks with Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan about how her agency is redefining public space in New York City. As the two take a walking tour of recently revamped streetscapes designed to encourage car-free movement and foster social activity — including […]

Sadik-Khan Announces Summer Streets 2012

Summer Streets will return this August. NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan today announced dates for the fifth iteration of the city’s premier car-free event. Seven miles of Manhattan streets, from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park, will be open to pedestrians from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on August 4, 11 and 18. “For three […]

Overheard in New York: Biking Up 35 Percent in 2008

A tipster reports that DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan dropped an interesting stat at an NRDC fundraiser Tuesday night: A fresh batch of bike traffic counts are in, and the numbers show a 35 percent gain compared to 2007 levels. Sadik-Khan also touted components of DOT’s Sustainable Streets plan that could be especially relevant for other […]