Janette Sadik-Khan Is the Best Mechanic the City Streets Have Had in a Generation—So Why Do Motorists Hate Her So Much?

Kiss her asphalt, drivers!

potholes with molinaro and oddo1 e1315482260327 Janette Sadik Khan Is the Best Mechanic the City Streets Have Had in a Generation—So Why Do Motorists Hate Her So Much?

Gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling. (NYC DOT)

Asphalt. Huge, heaping obsidian piles of oozing rock and tar, steaming tons of it mounded up on the banks of Flushing Creek in Corona, Queens. More than a million pounds of asphalt a day. This may well be the greatest legacy of the city’s innovative, controversial, visionary, despised Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

Completed in May 2010, the Harper Street asphalt plant produces 250,000 tons annually, much of it made from recycled rocks ripped from roads around New York. If asphalt could be considered state of the art, this would be it. The plant saves the city $5 million every year and keeps thousands of asphalt trucks that would be importing the road rock off the streets, preventing more potholes as a result.

And that is precisely the point of this plant, one of two the city now owns: to repave and repair the streets more efficiently and sustainably. It is one of hundreds of programs launched in the past four years by Ms. Sadik-Khan and the mayor, part of a $4.3 billion capital campaign. That is more than many states have spent over the same period and as much as had been spent in the first six years of the Bloomberg administration, meaning essentially a 50 percent increase in road spending under the current commissioner.

“One of the things I’m most proud of at DOT is that we’ve really increased our commitment to the basics, even while we launch new programs,” Ms. Sadik-Khan said in an interview last week. “We’ve got an unprecedented commitment to the road and bridge network.”

The Department of Transportation oversees more than 6,375 miles of surface roads in the five boroughs and 787 bridges. The Port Authority is in charge of four, the M.T.A. seven. Along those roads and bridges, there are 500 miles of on-street bike lanes, more than half of which have been built in the past four years. Of the 775 projects funded under the current capital plan, only a handful involved pedestrian plazas, like the closure of Times Square and the rest of Broadway, or bike lanes, like the litigious route along Prospect Park West. Some of these projects are so cheap, they do not even make the budget. All told,  DOT has spent $19.2 million on plazas and $15.8 million on bike lanes. That is less than 1 percent of all capital spending over the past four years, or about as much as the $30 million DOT spent on the one asphalt plant.

Tour the Public Works of Janette Sadik-Khan >>

“She has done more for drivers than anyone since Robert Moses,” one transportation professional told The Observer. Rarely is that comparison a complimentary one—Janette Sadik-Khan has long been dubbed Mrs. Moses, but it is by those who disagree with her programs and (often very successful) tactics. There is a perceived imperiousness, a sense of know-it-all-ism, my-way-or-no-highway. DOT points to the thousands of community meetings held each year for its new programs, and the poll numbers that continue to grow in the department’s favor.

No matter. The critics still honk their horns and file their lawsuits. Meanwhile, the same driven demeanor of Ms. Sadik-Khan that has seen so many bike lanes built also goes about the dirty, dismal work of so many bridges repaired and so many potholes filled—400,000 last year alone. With all the angst and ink spilled over bike lanes, the department and its supporters lament the fact that drivers have yet to appreciate all the benefits made on their behalf.

“She’s been very successful, which can be beneficial but also controversial if people do not agree with you,” said Mitchell Moss, director of the Rudin Center for Transportation at N.Y.U. “Essentially, she’s taken a very shy agency and put it out there on the front pages.”


  1. Jackmorpher says:

    this is a reputational rehab piece, for the bike mafia, and her Don boss, who needs all the help he can get which won’t be enough

    i would like our author to divide the dollars spent on bicycles by the number of bicycles, probably an obama’s worth of dollars per rider, no surprise there, seasonally adjusted of course, how many bicyclists in winter, commish? as we have alternate side parking, how about alternate season bike lanes

    as for faster traffic, well you can’t have it both ways, either traffic is NOT slowed, as one paragraph says, or traffic IS slowed, and accidents are no longer s fatal

    btw i support traffic cameras, and would also like real-time linkage to insurance status, and traffic warrants and other warrants

    1. Driver says:

      Yeah! How about alternate season parks and schools? How many tennis court users in the winter, commish?  How many empty school cafeterias in summer?

    2. mike says:

      as for faster traffic, well you can’t have it both ways, either traffic is NOT slowed, as one paragraph says, or traffic IS slowed, and accidents are no longer s fatal

      It’s counterintuitive, but this is actually not true. It is entirely possible to reduce cars’ maximum speed but also reduce the amount of time they spend stopped, thus actually improving travel time.

    3. Anonymous says:

      Try reading the article before commenting:

      “Studies have shown that reducing speeds from 40 MPH in urban settings to only 20 MPH has little impact on travel times; it simply means less time waiting at stop lights.”

    4. Anonymous says:

      Here’s some quick math for you Jackmorpher. $15.8 million spent on 250 miles of bike lanes for 17,000 daily cycling commuters works out to about $12 foot in infrastructure or $929 per cyclist. Lets contrast that with the projected $16 Billion (low-end est.) it will cost taxpayers to build the 8.5 mile long 2nd avenue subway which is projected to service 200,000 users per day: $356,500/ft and $80,000 per user. Bicycles are the most cost effective transportation mode we have.

      1. Biker/Driver says:

        The number per cyclist is far lower.  The 17,000 figure is a screenline count, measured at 6 entry points into Manhattan (bridges, the Staten Island Ferry terminal and the West Side Greenway) and was actually 18,809 in the Spring of 2011.

        There are far more daily cyclists, many of whom weren’t counted in that figure.  Anyone who stays within a borough and doesn’t cross a bridge doesn’t get counted, so if you run errands on a bike in a bike lane or bike from Greenpoint to DUMBO for work, you also don’t get captured in these screenline counts.

        The per-cyclist cost of bike lanes is probably much much less than $900. Considering how many cyclists also own cars (many), have a drivers license (most), and pay taxes (all), we’re more than paying our share.

        As for expensive projects, don’t forget the $500 million Brooklyn Bridge rehab project happening right now. You can be sure the bridge wouldn’t need so much work if it weren’t for heavy car traffic using the free bridge every day.

  2. Unknowncolor says:

     First the Bus islands and lanes in SoHo are a big mistake ,it cut down Broadway to a one lane street. On Spring if any vehicle is making a left hand turn its gridlock because you can only use one lane the rest are for Tourist Buses Same for Spring because of the grid lock no one can move down Spring St .Whats so annoying is all these decisions are being made for TOURISTS  not New Yorkers and while Im at it the new BID set up on Broadway is a failure ,last weekend garbage was every where piling up and overflowing on the corners. Bring back ACE immediately 

    1. It seems you’re under the impression that SoHo traffic moved any faster before the bus islands came along. And that the tourism industry… as uninteresting as it is to locals, including myself… has no benefit to the city and would simply go away if we narrowed the sidewalks and turned streets into highways. 

      Yeah, buddy, you’ve got my vote in 2013. You’ll be running as a Republican, right? Or “Tea Party / The Way Things Ought To Be Party” specifically? 

  3. Adamlaw says:

    Far and away Mayor Bloomberg’s best decision as Mayor was his appointment of Janette Sadik-Khan. Both Bloomberg and Sadik-Khan recognize that in order for NYC to succeed its policies need to factor in the enormous costs associated a car centric or overly car-accomodating model.  Those who oppose Sadik-Khan and bristle at her and Mayor Bloomberg’s transporation policies are like ostriches with their heads in the sand. Their car centric model is unhealthful and completely unsustainable. My biggest fear is that the next Mayor and DOT commish don’t share Bloomberg’s and SK’s vision.

  4. Gus says:

    My only gripe is that it takes over a MONTH to pave the streets after crews tear it up, when in many cases the asphalt wasn’t that bad to begin with.  This happens in every neighborhood, from the Bronx to Astoria to the LIE to right off of Central Park. Aside from it being annoying to motorists, it leaves jagged edges on manholes, gas valves etc which can cause flats (accidents) and furthermore it makes virtually every street corner non-ADA accessible. For WEEKS.  Is is so hard to schedule road paving soon after asphalt removal?

    1. Z Fechten says:

      “in many cases the asphalt wasn’t that bad to begin with.”

      As the oil filter guy used to say, you can pay a little now, or a lot more later.

      It’s been conclusively proven that it’s much cheaper to resurface a road when it is still in relatively good condition, rather than waiting until it needs full reconstruction. A dollar of preventive maintenance or resurfacing can prevent spending five dollars only a few years later.

       From a system-wide perspective, it’s more cost-effective to concentrate on keeping the good roads good, and fix the bad ones as the budget allows. If you concentrate on the roads in poor condition, by the time all of them are fixed, the roads that were good when you started will be poor.

      Unless they are doing cold-in-place recycling, it does seem they could be doing a better job on scheduling. CIPR needs at leasta week to set before putting the top course on.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Finally, a positive story about Sadik-Khan.  Just the reduction in crash deaths alone is huge.  I only regret that Cuomo didn’t tap her for State DOT.  We could use her help in the suburbs.  We’re getting fatter and fatter in our cars, and too scared to walk anywhere for fear of being mowed down by cars.

  6. Gnossos says:

    Quoting a Transportation Alternatives spokesperson on what’s good for drivers is the journalistic equivalent of quoting a Nazi on what’s good for Jews.