Bike lane on Brooklyn Bridge. Photograph: imageBROKE/ Rex/ Shutterstock
These days, she says with some justified gratification, polls show the changes are generally popular with New Yorkers. Other statistics are impressive, too.
Sadik-Khans old department produces a simple and illustrative graph plotting the changing danger of injury when cycling in New York against the number of cyclists doing it. From 2007 onwards the two lines diverge at steep slants. Even as cyclist numbers have more than doubled, the number of serious injuries has actually fallen.
Fittingly, as the employee of a billionaire entrepreneur, she sees such changes as not so much socially just as economically vital: Transportation is not an ideology, its not a left or right thing. Its about taking a look at the capital asset we have and using it in the most effective way possible.
For so long the way we measured transportation, the style we measured our streets, had been about the flow of traffic, how fast was traffic going, which dismisses all the other styles 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 strikes at the heart of the liveability and competitiveness of a city.
In her new role Sadik-Khan has advised cities including Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles, Mexico City and Detroit. One of her key messages, she says, is that radical changes need not inevitably take a long time or a big budget, or even a mayor like Bloomberg.
Theres no question having a strong leader does help in establishing that vision, and supporting change when the status quo blowback begins, she said. But in New York we basically rewrote the operating code of the street , not with mega-projects and billions of dollars, but by accommodating the space that was already there.
Thats a really important lesson in many, many cities: you dont have to have the most visionary mayor, you dont have to have a billion-dollar budget, you dont have to have years and years of modelling. Only by accommodating the space thats there you can make a huge difference.
A lot of cities are wary of trying things, as theyre afraid they might not work. But theres a lot you can do with paint, and planters and stones from old bridge projects. We shut Broadway from Times Square in a few months utilizing only the materials we had in the transportation departments arsenal.
You can change a street on a trial basis using materials that are easily adjusted or can be removed if it doesnt work out. Its available and it can be done.
An example of this was the part-pedestrianisation of Times Square from 2009, achieved through the simple measure of blocking off Broadway with orange barrel-bollards. Even here, she recalls, there was space for last-minute improvisation.
When “were in” closing Times Square, and we were rolling out the orange barrels, we looked out at this two football fields-worth of asphalt and suppose, Oh my God, thats a lot of space, 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, depicted 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 moment. People came out, and all people talked about was those shall be the chairman of the colouring, the design. Not that wed closed Times Square to cars.
It was the same experience in so many of our projects: when you accommodate the street, people adopt it. Its almost like its always been there. You go to some of these plazas now and people have forgotten the route it used to be.
Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution by Janette Sadik-Khan was published this week
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