Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
(Washington, DC -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan sounded like anything but an official on the defensive in a speech this morning at The League of American Bicyclists’ National Bike Summit here.
“It is wonderful to be here with so many friends,” she began, addressing a ballroom full of cycling advocates at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. “The movement is there,” she said of pro-bike and pedestrian advocates and policy-makers. “The people are there, the projects are there—and none of this really was there just five years ago.”
Sadik-Khan has been sharply attacked of late. Some residents of Park Slope, Brooklyn, sued this week to have a bike lane along Prospect Park removed, a much-discussed profile in The New York Times called her “brusque” and worse; and a New Yorker writer described her as the head of “a small faddist minority intent on foisting its bipedalist views on a disinterested or actively reluctant populace.”
But Sadik-Khan is continuing to make the case that the economic and cultural future belongs to cities that wring transportation efficiencies out of moving more people above-ground by bus, bike and foot.
Further, she said opponents of the kind of streetscape re-engineering that shifted space from cars to bikes and pedestrians were up against a movement with momentum. “We’re starting to see real cycling systems in American cities,” she claimed. “In New York, we have added 250 miles of on-street bike lanes since 2006.”
She then launched into a list of famous streets around the U.S. that now have bike lanes and more space for pedestrians, from Market Street in Portland to Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. She praised Barcelona for throwing “infrastructure parties”—transit projects and urban upgrades completed in preparation for large events like the Olympics. And to the approval of the room, she talked up the pedestrian plaza her department created in Times Square.
“You can see this on Broadway, in my town, which is now the Great Green Way,” she said. “And more is coming. I don’t know if you heard that just last week Mayor Villaraigosa of Los Angeles talked about plans for a 1,700-mile bike network in Los Angeles. I think that’s really extraordinary.”
All of this is proof, she said, of a global competition by cities to innovate with their transportation systems. “City leaders—mayors, certainly— understand this is an economic development strategy,” she said. “If we are going to attract the best and the brightest to our cities, we have to make these cities work.” She said that means urban planners are looking at the competition and asking: “Who can be the greenest, who’s got the next bike share program, who’s got the coolest new bus rapid transit line?”
But she said urban development is not solely competitive. Together with transportation officials around the U.S., she launched an online Urban Bikeway Design Guide that cities can use as an engineering template to construct even more bike lanes. “For too long, these basic tools have been out of the tools of local officials,” she said. The group will be lobbying the Federal Highway Administration to recognize the guidelines as national standards, she added, making it easier to install bike lanes around the country.