Streetfighting female: inside the story of how cycling changed New York

As transport commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan faced down reviewers to transform New York with 400 miles of cycling roads, a bicycle share scheme and the remodelling of Times Square. Any city can do it, she tells Peter Walker

Janette Sadik-Khan, who in alliance with her then-boss, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, arguably did as much to transform the citys streetscape as anyone in its most recent history, recalls an early time when she wondered whether people were ready for such rapid change.

It was August 2008 and the city was experimenting with a so-called summer streets programme, where virtually seven miles of center streets were closed off to automobiles for three Saturday mornings in a row. The notion was not new Bogot acquainted its equivalent, the Ciclovi, in the 1970 s but it was entirely untested in New York.

I remember, hours and hours before it opened, being out on wall street with my team and looking around, deliberation, What if no one is demonstrated by? What if this is a disaster ?, suggested Sadik-Khan, who was Bloombergs transport commissioner from 2007 until he left office in 2013.

I remember being absolutely allayed when I identified beings treading and biking, and kids out there playing. It turned out New Yorkers knew exactly what to do with their streets. We had 300,000 people coming to play, and cha cha, and take basketball lessons.

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Brooklyns Prospect Park repetition corridor formerly was regarded as the most controversial slab of plaster outside the Gaza Strip. Photo: Alamy

Sadik-Khan abides better known for the rapid rollout of around 400 miles of cycling streets during her six-and-a-half times in charge of the$ 2bn( 1.4 bn) annual budget of New York Citys Department of Transportation, and the later opening of the Citi Bike cycle share scheme.

But in latitude “shes been” oversaw a series of new rapid bus routes and the carving out of dozens of pedestrianised plazas from room previously set aside for autoes, including the initially controversial remodelling of Times Square.

Sadik-Khan now advises other municipalities how to follow suit via the ex-mayors self-styled philanthropic consultancy, Bloomberg Associate. She has also condensed her image into a volume, Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution.

She describes the approach as re-writing the operating code of the street. It is a perhaps uncomfortable philosophy for those working, like previous generations of New Yorkers, used to being able to drive and park their gondolas more or less where they choose.

Urban transport is, Sadik-Khan quarrels, amid a Copernican revolution in which streets are remodelled around human beings, whether walking, cycling or on bus, rather than alone inside a speeding metal box.

In the United States we spent the past century construct are metropolitans around the car, but we damaged our municipalities in the process and were really get diminishing returns on that asset, she said.

If city inhabitants dont have a select but to drive everywhere then our metropolis dont stand an opportunity of living in this century. So we really do need to provide new options for parties to get around. We need to face the fact that the road our streets are designed has, in the past, represented the decision for its residents.

The intention under Bloomberg, she pronounces, was kind of throwing the dialogue in how our streets were designed and who are they designed for.

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A girl enjoys her morning coffee in the middle of Broadway in Times Square after it was closed to cars. Photograph: Seth Wenig/ AP

Such a change was, inevitably , not without dispute. All sortings of neighbourhood vestibule radicals duelled a blueprint for separated repetition roads, most famously over one eventually constructed outside Brooklyns Prospect Park, a route formerly was regarded as the most controversial slab of cement outside the Gaza Strip.

A good deal of the obloquy focused personally on Sadik-Kahn, even though her strategy came from Bloombergs PlaNYC, his 2007 image for making an expanding city more dark-green and liveable. But she came to exemplify his switch on cycling topics, which had attended little focus under his first transport commissioner, Iris Weinshall.

Some critics named Sadik-Khan brusque and uncompromising; others wondered whether such labels tend to stick more easily to the relatively rare women in positions of power.

Its fair to say that I thrived two seconds skin during the course of six-and-a-half times, she remarked. Theres 8.4 million people in New York and I sometimes seemed there were 8.4 million transaction designers.

People take their streets very personally. They consider every parking zone like it was their first-born progeny. So its a fight. All 180 acres of streets that we devoted back to beings on foot and people on motorcycles and transit intend a hard-fought battle. I get it transportation is local. Parties are enthusiastic about their street, and when “were talking about” new ways to get out which arent about driving a lot of beings genuinely erupt.

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Bike trail on Brooklyn Bridge. Photo: imageBROKE/ Rex/ Shutterstock

These periods, she responds with some justified atonement, polls show the changes are generally popular with New Yorkers. Other statistics are impressive, too.

Sadik-Khans old-fashioned department produces a simple and exemplifying diagram storying the changing jeopardy of hurt when cycling in New York against the number of cyclists doing it. From 2007 onwards the two wires differ at steep angles. Even as cyclist numbers have more than redoubled, the number of serious injuries has actually fallen.

Fittingly, as government employees of a billionaire entrepreneur, she sees such changes as not so much better socially just as economically indispensable: Transportation is not just a dogma, its not a left or right thing. Its about taking a look at the capital city resource we have and using it in the most efficient way possible.

For so long the space we quantified transportation, the path we evaluated our streets, had been about the flow of commerce, how quickly was congestion croaking, which neglects all the other practices a street is used.

Our streets have been in this kind if suspended animation. Theyre seen as there for all time. The result is that youve got dangerous, congested, economically under-performing streets. That impresses at the very heart of the liveability and competitiveness of a city.

In her new capacity Sadik-Khan has advised metropolitans including Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles, Mexico City and Detroit. One of her key themes, she answers, is that radical changes need not inevitably take a long time or a big plan, or even a mayor like Bloomberg.

Theres no question having a strong manager does help in establishing that vision, and substantiating change when the status quo blowback inaugurates, she spoke. But in New York we profoundly rewrote the operating code of the street , not with mega-projects and thousands of millions of dollars, but by changing the seat that was already there.

Thats a really important reading in numerous, numerous metropolis: you dont have to have the most visionary mayor, you dont have to have a billion-dollar fund, you dont have to have years and years of modelling. Simply by accommodating the opening thats there you are able to make a huge difference.

A lot of metropolis are cautious of trying events, as theyre loath they are likely not work. But theres a lot you can do with cover, and planters and stones from old-time connection programmes. We shut Broadway from Times Square in a few months applying only the materials we had in the transportation districts arsenal.

You can change a street on a ordeal basis using substances that are easily accommodated or can be removed if it doesnt work out. Its existing and it is feasible to done.

An example of this was the part-pedestrianisation of Times Square from 2009, reach out to the simple-minded measure of blocking off Broadway with orange barrel-bollards. Even here, she withdraws, there are still space for last-minute improvisation.

When “were in” shutting Times Square, and “were in” reeling out the orange barrels, we looked out at this two football fields-worth of asphalt and conclude, Oh my God, thats a lot of opening, and theres nothing there. And thats what led to the beach chairs.

The near-4 00 folding chairs, bought from a local hardware shop for about $11 each when more permanent street furniture failed to arrive on time, pictured the fundamental adaptability of New Yorkers, Sadik-Khan said.

Again, the inspiration came out of necessity. But putting out those $11 beach chair on Times Square was an interesting time. People came out, and all people talked about was those shall be the chairman of the quality, the design. Not that wed shut Times Square to cars.

It was the same know in so many of our projects: when you adapt the street, parties accept it. Its almost like its always been here. You go to some of these plazas now and beings have forgotten the road it used to be.

Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution by Janette Sadik-Khan was published this week

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