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Sadik-Khan’s experience as New York’s DOT head explains the local history, tells the story behind political fights, and explains the why and how other cities like DC should change their streets.

Sadik-Khan's experience as New York's DOT head explains the local history, tells the story behind political fights, and explains the why and how other cities like DC should change their streets.

Wikipedia Commons


I just finished Janette Sadik-Khan’s book about evolving NYC’s streets for safer travel on bike, foot, scooter, and more. Sadik-Khan’s experience as New York’s DOT head explains the local history, tells the story behind political fights, and describes the why and how other cities like DC should change their streets. It’s a great book. You should buy it.

Among the myths and lessons are that helmets don’t make cyclists safer because helmet laws mean fewer people bike and more drive or use Uber. Car travel is exponentially more dangerous than using a bicycle.

Here are my favorite passages:

“Real-world experience showed that reducing the number of lanes on carefully selected streets or closing them entirely not only provided pedestrian space and breathed new life into neighborhoods, but also actually improved traffic.”

“Having well-balanced street-level design activates the sidewalks and invites residents outside with their all-important “eyes on the street,” keeping the street safe and neighborhoods engaged and connected.”

“By invoking Jane Jacobs, many NIMBYs today are effectively arguing that roads should be kept the way Robert Moses wanted them. It’s after decades of lifelessness and danger, it’s obvious that cities will not succeed in transforming themselves through market forces, consensus, or by waiting for infrastructure to crumble before taking action.”

“Retrofitting our cities for the new urban age and achieving Jane Jacobs’s vision today will require Moses-like vision and action for building the next generation of city roads, ones that will accommodate pedestrians, bikes, and buses safely.”

“Within city transportation departments, most street design practices were standardized by traffic engineers long ago, with no tradition of innovation or experimentation. Transportation-as-usual in most of the world’s cities means building, expanding, repairing, or replacing as many roads as possible and brushing aside anything not tested or explicitly authorized.”

“While spending money to build roads is seen as a public investment, critics characterize public transportation as a wasteful welfare subsidy. The pervasive myth that public transportation riders are subsidized and that people who drive pay the full cost of their trips has never been less true than it is today.”

“But recent data show that drivers don’t pay the full cost of the roads they drive on, and they’ve never paid less. Driver taxes and tolls pay for only about half of the cost to build and maintain the physical infrastructure needed to drive. Every American household pays more than $1,100 in addition to whatever they pay in direct transportation costs to drive—even if they don’t drive at all.”

“These decades-old standards contain remnants from the era of Moses yet are still found in binders on the desk of every engineer—and are part of the reason why our streets have been frozen in time ever since.”

“At typical public meetings, city officials lecture community members for twenty minutes, then take questions. This format works against general public participation and in favor of the few who feel passionate enough to declare an opinion before a room of people—often the most extreme opinions, which frequently result in a polarized room. People with moderate opinions remain silent and stay out of the conflict, which means decision makers don’t hear a full range of views.”

“As long as planners widen roads and build new ones; as long as drivers have poor transportation options and remain insulated from the full cost of their trips; and as long as government policies encourage people to live in far-flung suburbs, we will have an even more sprawling urban future.”

“Lewis Mumford observed that trying to address congestion by building more traffic lanes is like trying to prevent obesity by loosening one’s belt.”

“Cities today are designed for private vehicles not because it is the most efficient mode, but because most other transportation options were rendered impossible following planning decisions made decades ago.”

Desire lines are the native operating code for a new approach to urban design. Instead of asking why people aren’t following the rules and design of the road, we need to ask ourselves why the rules and design of the road aren’t following the people. Desire lines are a road map of opportunity, and they represent a challenge to the view of streets as places to move cars and the dogma that isolating people from the streets is the only way to protect them.”

“Never underestimate the anger directed at bicyclists. They ride too fast, terrorizing pedestrians. They ride too slow, dangerously obstructing drivers. They don’t wear helmets or reflective bike gear, jeopardizing themselves. They look ridiculous riding around in those helmets and reflective bike gear, more like Mad Max marauders than human beings. They shouldn’t ride in streets, which are hostile, car-only zones. They shouldn’t have their own lanes because there aren’t enough of them to take away space from cars. Yet there are so many of them that they’re running down pedestrians and therefore shouldn’t ride on sidewalks.”

“Whatever annoyance or unpredictability pedestrians and cyclists pose on the street, drivers are the ones in each other’s way. They are never stuck in traffic. They are the traffic they are stuck in.”

“I think what’s crazy is that anyone would be content with city streets so dangerous that only a lunatic would ride a bike on them, or that some think the only way to deal with cyclists is to require that they armor themselves or to ban them from the road.”

“Bike riding shouldn’t be an act of bravery, and transportation leaders should redesign their streets so that they don’t depend on armor or surrender to survive.”

“Reducing the number of lanes changed only the speed of traffic and its impact on the neighborhood, not the street’s ability to process all vehicles.”

“Contradicting factually inaccurate claims wouldn’t eliminate them from public discussion; it only helped keep the controversy alive. ... Judged by the polls, most New Yorkers either didn’t read the papers or didn’t relate to the controversy. What sounded like a chorus of opposition in the media was actually a small but determined section of the population.”

“Very few cities require helmets because there is evidence that whatever safety benefit helmets provide riders, it is erased by discouraging people from riding in the first place, ... focusing on helmets for all users perpetuates the misimpression that biking is an inherently dangerous activity and obscures the underlying problems with our streets. ... Requiring helmets would effectively eliminate biking as a transportation option in a wide swath of situations.”

“If a bike-share station was on the sidewalk, neighbors would protest that it impeded walking. If a station was in the street, businesses might bemoan a loss in parking for customers or deliveries. If it was in a park or plaza, there would always be someone to grumble about a loss of space for fun, art, or recreation. When critics said the bike stations would violate the character of historic neighborhood streets, blogs like Brooklyn Spoke posted pictures of dozens of beat-up cars parked on those streets that no one complained about.”

“Would-be bike-share cities that think they can dip a toe into bike share with a small-scale system in one neighborhood shouldn’t be surprised if that system fizzles. Transportation isn’t about one neighborhood, and a one-neighborhood bike-share system would be as effective as a one-neighborhood bus or train system. When it comes to bike share, bike big or go home.”

“In the same way that people who drive believe more roads can solve traffic congestion, local residents believe that signals and stop signs can solve traffic safety problems.”

“Taxis, trucks, and bike riders are typically perceived as loose cannons on city streets, yet 79 percent of crashes in the study involved private automobiles as opposed to cabs, buses, or trucks.”

“Re-educating city drivers to see traffic death as a preventable public health crisis takes more than a finger-wagging media campaign that scolds: “Don’t speed” or “Don’t drink and drive.””

“Statistics show that bike riders actually protect pedestrians by altering the behavior of drivers.”

“An advanced city is not one where poor people drive cars,” Peñalosa says, “but where rich people take public transportation.””

“Public debates about streets are typically rooted in emotional assumptions about how a change will affect a person’s commute, ability to park, belief about what is safe and what isn’t, or the bottom line of a local business. Everybody has an opinion about a change, and with or without data to back up the opinion, extreme claims are the ones that make the news.”

“Better streets mean better business. Transportation departments don’t traditionally measure these economic data. To be successful over the long term, we knew we had to be smart about measuring the street, ... stores along streets where changes had been made reported increased sales, far outperforming overall businesses across the boroughs. it isn’t hard to find a restaurant owner or shopkeeper claiming that bike lanes, bus lanes, and plazas cause local recessions. Data say otherwise. Data showed that interventions that resolved street problems improved safety and had neutral or even positive effects on overall traffic and business.”

“While people who drove cars to shop spent more on each individual visit, people who arrived on foot or by bus or the tube shopped more frequently and collectively spent almost five times more than those who drove over the course of a week or month.”

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