Transit on Sadik-Khan’s backburner?

By · Published in 2009

Pedestrians take advantage of a car-free Broadway in Times Square on Sunday. (Photo by flickr user bmaryman)

Recently, Janette Sadik-Khan and her revolutionary livable streets plans have been garnering a lot of headlines. With the pedestrian takeover of Broadway around the Times Square and Herald Square areas, Sadik-Khan has thrust her pro-bike, pro-pedestrian, anti-car, anti-congestion policies onto the crossroads of New York.

In an effort to bring Sadik-Khan’s vision and personality to those impacted by her decisions, New York Magazine wrote a sprawling profile of the DOT commissioner. Various sites have covered the profile, but I wanted to highlight a few points.

First are the comparisons to Robert Moses. “One of the good legacies of Robert Moses is that, because he paved so much, we’re able to reclaim it and reuse it,” Sadik-Khan said. “It’s sort of like Jane Jacobs’s revenge on Robert Moses.”

In the past, I’ve called for a Robert Moses-type figure to lead the city’s much-needed transit revolution. I’m almost on board with Sadik-Khan’s plan, except for one detail: She hasn’t embraced the transit expansion aspects of a livable streets plan. Getting cars off the roads and restoring the streets to those who walk and bike is an admirable goal, but the second part of that plan is to offer more mass transit options. People can still get around fast when they need, and they won’t be compelled to drive.

The New York Magazine piece does not comfort me:

While Sadik-Khan seems genuinely taken by the idea of bus rapid transit, she has clearly put it on the back burner—even though it would likely have practical and utilitarian appeal. But getting a new bus system going is a lot less sexy than making pop-up public spaces, or leading Bike to Work Day rides, like she did last Friday. It would take longer, cost more, and require a lot more bureaucratic tussling (with the MTA, no less). It would be a different kind of revolution—slower, more compromised, perhaps more lasting—and would probably require a different kind of revolutionary leader.

The plans are out there. Some people want streetcars for Brooklyn, and the DOT Commissioner plans to work this summer with the MTA to identify more bus rapid transit corridors.

The truth is, though, that Sadik-Khan could implement BRT with the same sense of purpose as she has livable streets. She could close road sections on cross streets and avenues while installing dedicated bus lanes with separated lanes and pre-board fare options. She could connect disparate parts of the city that aren’t transit accessible right now, and she could do it while pushing her pro-bike, pro-pedestrian plans. After all, making the city more livable involves transit, and if the will exists, we shouldn’t sacrifice the chance to expand our public transportation network.

11 Responses to “Transit on Sadik-Khan’s backburner?”

  1. Ray says:

    Not sure NY Magazine was entirely fair. When it comes to development of BRT, isn’t Janette Sadik-Khan’s role to be an vocal advocate for BRT and an excellent enabler/partner with the MTA when they move to implement such a service? Maybe I don’t understand DOT’s role?

    Surely NYDOT would ‘clear a path’ for lanes and spaces for associated curbside needs. It seems with urban plazas and bike lanes NYDOT is acting where it can vertically execute. Put pressure on the MTA to act on BRT and judge NYDOT by how they do or do not respond.

    Janette Sadik-Khan is rebalancing public space, gaining productivity by elevating the pedestrian, putting autos in their proper place, cementing the use (and public support) of current transit options and building inertia for further development. That’s no small feat.

    Moreover, I take issue with NY Magazine’s portrayal of urban plazas as “pop up” public spaces. The implication that none of this good work is lasting is false; we are in the earlier phases of the significant structural transformation of our streets (sustained by our carefully considered mayoral and council votes).

    I would like to flash forward a decade or so and find that today’s “pop up strategy” has yielded a city full of wide sidewalks radiating from parks and plazas – And a new street car network now connects large ‘pedestrian zones’ throughout the city.

  2. gecko says:

    Bike Rapid Transit (BRT) makes the best economic sense and is a lot more practical than bus rapid transit which is essentially expensive large vehicle transit (ELVT).

  3. Gary says:

    To follow on what Ray said, I think she’s doing an incredible job within her purview: DOT. The MTA has to implement bus improvements in conjunction with DOT. I think it’s only fair to judge Sadik-Khan on the things she has control over. And on those, she gets an A+ in my book.

    Ben – you are cited in the current piece on the Transport Politic on Stewart Airport if you haven’t seen it.

    Also recommend this Nat’l Journal piece on federal funding for operating costs:

    • Alon Levy says:

      Sadik-Khan as described in the article has taken not listening to community input to new heights. She’s just part of Bloomberg’s idea of figuring out on his own how New York ought to look and then shoving his vision down everybody’s throats. When that kind of planners set their sight on Brooklyn, the result was Atlantic Yards, a giveaway to Bruce Ratner dense mixed-use project.

      • Woody says:

        Hey, I like dense mixed-use projects. Atlantic Yards could be greatly improved by dropping all requirements for parking, in fact, eliminate all parking and make it depend on transit. That move could help neighbors worried about traffic on local streets. And cutting out the parking garages would make it cheaper to build the promised ‘affordable housing’.

        What I don’t like about Atlantic Yards is the bailout giveaway to Bruce Ratner. To swill at the public trough like that, who the hell does he think he is, a bank too big to fail?

    • Julia says:

      Completely agree that this is not totally up to Sadik-Khan. In addition to the huge issue of working with the MTA, it’s also possible that BRT isn’t enough of a Big New Idea for Bloomberg to make it a priority. Making Times Square a pedestrian mall costs less than opening BRT lanes (I assume) and doesn’t do as much to cut down on vehicle use, but it gets a lot more attention. It’s natural that that should happen first, especially in an election year.

      Sadik-Khan seems like a true believer in the whole package – livable streets, less congestion, better transit. I’m not worried about her priorities.

      • Red says:

        Maybe, but I think bus rapid transit has, potentially, more political impact than people understand. Watch this video, especially the rider interviews:


        Seems like it could be a perfect campaign commercial. “All New Yorkers deserve a better commute. That’s why over the next four years the City is bringing this new technology to every borough. Smart technology means you get more for your MetroCard – just another way Mike Bloomberg’s Five Borough Economic Plan is helping everyday New Yorkers.”

        (I have gotten four mailings about the damn Five Borough Economic Plan, by the way.)

  4. John says:

    Is implementing BRT really the primary job of the DOT or the MTA? Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems that it would be led by MTA, with coordination with the DOT. Another thing to consider is that MTA is likely applying for FTA New Starts grants for the BRT service, so the funding process is MUCH more complicated and will take a lot longer to implement than something the DOT can do on its own.

  5. Jonathan says:

    NYC DOT doesn’t own a bus fleet, employ bus drivers and maintenance workers, or collect fares. Once it has those capabilities, then let’s ding its leadership for not doing enough to support mass transit projects.

  6. k.geis says:

    JSK isn’t anti-car at all; I speak as a driver of twelve years.

    The numbers, showing higher automobile throughput with longer light timings and limited crosstown turns, aren’t cooked. We’ve lost precious few parking spaces, and then usually to increase visibility at intersections. Box-block enforcement tamed gridlock.

    More, please, Ms SK.

  7. J says:

    To expand on many of the comments above, implementing a new transit service is a far more complicated endeavor than reconfiguring street space. The more agencies and money involved, the more deliberate the process must be in order to get it right. Also, slow progress is often more permanent progress. Copenhagen took 40 years to become what it is today. The subway system took 50 years to build. A little patience is merited at this juncture, especially given the planning that is underway for BRT.

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