The New York Times JSK Profile: Politicos vs. Progressive Transportation

Has the Times ever published a profile so singularly devoted to one city commissioner’s relationships with other public figures as this Michael Grynbaum story?

It’s not so much a profile of transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan as a 2,500-word description of her place in New York’s political firmament. The question that drives the piece forward is this: “What is it about Sadik-Khan that gets under the skin of state legislators, City Council members, and other political figures?”

A more revealing piece might have asked: “What is it about a program to make New York a better city for transit, biking and walking that gets under the skin of the city’s political class?”

New York is now seen as a national innovator in progressive transportation policy, emulated by cities all over the country. I would like to know more about why so many elected officials in this supposed bastion of progressivism are so worked up over this development, which has not really affected all that many streets. What is it about some thermoplastic stripes on a street that gives Lew Fidler such agita?

The quote that’s already sending the most ripples has nothing to do with Sadik-Khan herself, and everything to do with the program that’s advanced under her leadership at DOT. It comes from Congress member, congestion pricing foe, and once and future mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, at a Gracie Mansion dinner last year:

“When I become mayor, you know what I’m going to spend my first year doing?” Mr. Weiner said to Mr. Bloomberg, as tablemates listened. “I’m going to have a bunch of ribbon-cuttings tearing out your [expletive] bike lanes.”

The strange thing about Weiner’s wisecrack is that he’s on the record supporting the expansion of NYC’s bike network.

In 2007, while he was opposing congestion pricing, he was supporting steps (including bike-share) to increase cycling in New York to 10 percent modeshare.

In 2008, while he was toying with a run for mayor, Weiner told the riders assembled at the first Tour de Queens:

We still have to make this city a much more bike-friendly town. For every ten dollars we spend for transportation in this city, nine dollars and 30 cents goes to moving cars around, and the other 70 cents is to help pedestrians and bike riders. We need to change that.

The shout-out to better streets for walking and biking even made it in to Weiner’s proto-platform, before he decided not to make a run at City Hall:

Finally, as evidenced by my work as a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to secure millions of dollars for pedestrian and bicycle transportation options, we need to make our existing infrastructure safe and friendly for alternative modes of moving from Point A to Point B. Integrated neighborhoods — where individuals live, work and play in close proximity to one another, as Jane Jacobs once exalted — demand that we enable those who want to commute without polluting to do so safely and easily.

Interesting that the guy said something totally different at a dinner for New York’s congressional delegation. I think it says more about the audience at Gracie Mansion that night than it does about the person overseeing the changes to NYC’s streets.

  • mike


    All those words, and yet there is nothing to back them up. Why? Because they’re wrong.

  • gecko

    You learn this in something like social psychology 101. It is blame the victim. Blame the pedestrian and blame the cyclist. Or, blame the smoker dying of cancer.

    The truth is that transportation systems based on cars is what is causing many extremely serious life-threatening problems in addition to being quite impractical and incovenient.

    Transportation systems based on cars are both directly and indirectly, or structurally very violent, as the fundamental technology in a transportation industrial complex many times worse than the military.

  • mjd

    I almost got hit this am by a car running a red light, right from Park Ave to Carlton in Bklyn, cars to his left blocking his view of me going through the intersection with the green. He was a man with a kid in a child seat.

  • An Outhouse

    You write a whole article that basically says some comment probably said in jest at a dinner party trumps all other public proclamations and demonstrated commitment to an important issue? Are you an idiot?

  • Marty Barfowitz

    You write a whole article that basically says some comment probably said in jest at a dinner party trumps all other public proclamations and demonstrated commitment to an important issue? Are you an idiot?

    I don’t know. Is Michael Grynbaum and idiot? He used it as the lede for a front page New York Times profile of the city’s transportation commissioner.

  • Jay

    @ Outhouse – in jest or not, one of the main parts of politicians’ jobs is controlling their message.

    I guarantee you many more people are now familiar with his “joke” than with all the other statements he’s made. Meanwhile, a whole weekend has passed, and we’ve heard absolutely no effort on damage control.

    A joke is one thing… a counterproductive statement left unchallenged that confuses your position is a different matter quite entirely.

  • gecko

    Implications remain that bikes are still considered toys and not real transportation, which is extremely naive.

    It is way too easy to underestimate the extreme value of net-zero mobility which captures many of the viral disruptive advantages of information and communications technologies including cell phones; as transportation and ICTs rapidly converge.

    Can’t wait!

  • Fritz

    I just made my grandma my “Anthony Weiner and Chuck Schumer want me to get hit by a car!” shirt. She likes it wearing it while riding on the back of my tandem bike. I’ve got a few more printed I’m leaving on the sidewalk for anyone interested.

  • To the Good Gecko, Re: comment # 47: “When you…look at congestion in this city you’ll see only cars. Most of these cars will have only one passenger and will be greater than ten times [t]he passenger’s weight and the size of at least a very large walk-in armored closet…”

    Just to add that 1.) these cars all too often block the crosswalks, obstructing and endangering pedestrians who have the green light. 2.) The sluggish mass of rush hour traffic gets nowhere, while emitting toxic fumes. Cyclists (here on 9th Ave., where there aren’t even any bike lanes), thread their way down the streets 20 times as fast, or more. 3.) How do I know? I’m a bike rider. 4.) Living with a view up 9th from 43rd St., I’ve frequently timed traffic: if you’re in a car any afternoon or evening between 3 and 8, it often takes up to 22 MINUTES to get from 57th St. to 42nd St. (!) 5.) Many of these single-occupant cars are headed for the Lincoln Tunnel to New Jersey…where Gov. Christie refuses to spend on a new rail tunnel. 6.) Health problems related to pollution are high along the 9th Av. route. 7.) It’s a wonder drivers sitting in traffic for so long have any sanity left, or at least the semblance of a good mood, though perhaps their cars, virtual living rooms on wheels, afford an escape. 8.) You’re better off walking, but bus passengers-commuters have it the worst – enduring up to an hour-long trip that should have been a matter of minutes. 9.) The solution is clear: fewer, (or no cars), more bike and ped. lanes and walks, and surface light rail lines…is that rocket science?

  • Item # 10, see above, to add the obvious – think of how much fossil fuel is used up everyday by traffic congestion. (and by drivers circling the block looking for a parking spot). How patriotic or Earth-friendly is that? Think global warming.

    11.) Cars are filthy: Look at the streets after it snows – piles of black, grimy slush, and ankle-deep puddles at crosswalks. Particulate matter emissions – carbon, asbestos, rubber, etc. – end up as dust on all exterior surfaces, as well as the interiors of apartments…and your lungs.

  • station44025

    Does anyone else think the connection between the Schumers, NBBL, Markowitz, Marcia Kramer and the Times Editorial page stinks like last weeks fish tacos? Seriously, I had no idea a [expletive] bike lane would reveal the political and media underbelly of New York. Where are we, Chicago?


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