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The First Lady of Livable Cities

Meet Janette Sadik-Khan

Janette Sadik-KahnI was lucky enough to meet and interview the First Lady of Livable Cities, Janette Sadik-Khan (and NY Times profile) in New York last month. (Her actual title is Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation.) Sadik-Khan oversees the way people get around in the Big Apple.  It’s one of those jobs that is a little hard to get your head around: she manages 793 bridges and over 300,000 streetlights on a daily basis.  And there are impromptu events everyday. For example, we watched President Obama land in his chopper from her 9th floor window office and the ensuing traffic problems as a result of his motorcade. No two days are the same.

I am a big fan because she has done more to make US cities livable than any recent person we know.  You’re welcome to challenge me on that in the comments below. I would be happy to meet another person in the US who surpasses her in accomplishments.

Consider these recent New York City milestones:

  • Transforming Times Square into a pedestrian zone
  • 200 miles of on street bike lanes
  • 1200 new outdoor bicycle racks
  • 600 signs to guide cyclists
  • 35% increase in commuter cycling from 2007–2008.  Think about that. 35%.

The changes she brought about in New York set an example for other smaller, less complex urban environments. You only have to go to Manhattan and pedal around to appreciate what these accomplishments mean.  You can get almost anywhere in New York City pretty easily.  And riding across one of the bridges is a real thrill.

Her actions and leadership make so much sense in light of the BP Gulf Coast debacle. We can chastise BP and “Big Oil” all we want. But as long as our society maintains the current rate of oil consumption, we should can expect more disasters to occur.  Sadik-Khan’s rationale for reducing cars in the city has less to do with preventing future natural disasters and more to do with solving immediate and pragmatic urban issues of congestion and mobility.

According to Sadik-Khan, “projections show that one million more people are expected to move to New York City over the next 20 years.  Mayor Bloomberg’s plan for the city recognizes that the only way to accommodate that growth is to improve public transit and make cycling a real transportation option for New Yorkers.”

It is great to see a woman in a leadership position like this.  US transportation design culture (cars, bikes, trains) has traditionally been male dominated. Robert Moses might have his own opinion.

Hear Sadik-Khan and join PUBLIC in Copenhagen

If you get a chance to meet or hear Janette Sadik-Khan talk, it’s worth it.   Later this month she’ll be addressing an international audience at VELO City in Copenhagen. We’ll be there too, so come ride with us.

7 Responses to “The First Lady of Livable Cities”

  1. Dale Lazerson Says:

    Improving the quality of life/living across a diverse audience is neither simple nor easy. Cheers to Janette Sadik-Kahn; she is a leader and an inspiration.

  2. Alessandro Latini Says:

    I would love to be able to champion some of these ideas to the city i live in ALAMEDA, CA (also an island like manhattan!) – especially in light of the redevelopment in the works for the old military base build out- With ferry access to Oakland and SF but limited on island traffic routes it would be an ideal location for a car free development- what examples/info can i use to show that these communities are in demand and can succeed?

  3. JC Says:

    Great post! We need more people like Sadik-Kahn!

  4. Christa Says:

    Love the First Lady analogy. Go Miss Sadik-Kahn!

    Wish I could attend the VELO City conference. How about live video and twitter feeds, please? :)

  5. John Loomis Says:

    I was in NYC a couple of months ago for the first time in a couple years, and I was blown away by the bicycle friendly transformation. Not only network bike lanes strategically strung all around the city, but most of these lanes were protected by more than just a painted line, most often barriers and buffer zones. Having biked all over NY in the 80s when I was a grad student and neophyte architect, and have the scars to prove it, I never thought NYC would become a leader, cutting edge bicycle friendly city. Kudos to Janette Sadik-Khan. And thank you PUBLIC for informing me as to who was responsible.
    John Loomis

  6. The Public Blog» Blog Archive » Copenhagen: Where the Mayor does not wear a bike helmet Says:

    [...] taking action around the country on behalf of alternative transit. Mayor Bloomberg of New York, with Janette Sadik- Kahn, has been the poster child in recent years. But Mayor Daley of Chicago recently implemented the [...]

  7. The Public Blog» Blog Archive » Fifteen Women Who Rule the Biking World Says:

    [...] Janette Sadik-Kahn Sadik-Kahn is the current Transportation Commissioner of New York. Her work extends beyond the NYC city limits, as she is recognized internationally for improving the rights of pedestrians and bicyclists. In 2010 we sat down with her for an interview. [...]


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