Even when she is working on behalf of drivers, Ms. Sadik-Khan has had a hard time winning them over. “Filling potholes, fixing the Brooklyn Bridge? None of those things speak to the core problem,” Robert Sinclair Jr., manager of media relations at AAA New York, told The Observer. “They’re Band-Aids on gaping wounds.” It would seem Mr. Sinclair agrees with the administration as to the deficiency of its streets, but he sees too much focus on bikes while taking for granted what changes have been made. “Smooth roads are what we’re supposed to have,” Mr. Sinclair said.
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz has gone so far as to pen songs mocking Ms. Sadik-Khan, and he maintains that she attacks drivers despite the outsized investment she has made for them. “I firmly believe that this DOT, under this commissioner, is committed to stigmatizing private automobile use and has deliberately used bike lanes and other measures to accomplish this goal,” Mr. Markowitz said in a statement. “I do not object to all bike lanes but it remains a fact that less than 1 percent of all commuters use their bikes for transportation.” By that logic, DOT is actually underspending on bicycle facilities.
Not all car-centric outer-borough pols dislike Ms. Sadik-Khan. She has found an ally in Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro. “I have the highest respect for her,” he said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “That does not mean we agree all the time, but there’s always an opportunity for give and take.” He points to Father Capodanno Boulevard, where an on-street bike lane was removed, despite outcry from advocates, because another had been built in a neighboring park. Meanwhile, DOT installed its first smart signals in the borough, among other innovations. “I have 5 percent of the city’s population, but 18 percent of its registered motor vehicles,” Mr. Molinaro said. “She has been an asset to Staten Island, as far as I’m concerned.”
“Have you ever heard of a beloved Transportation Commissioner?” Mr. Schwartz asked. “It’s not a particularly well-regarded job. While a lot of drivers may dislike her, she is fortunate that so many other New Yorkers are in the Sadik-Khan fan club.”
The fact remains, there may only be so much she can do. Mr. Schwartz explained that going back at least to the 1950s, midtown traffic has been constant: If it moves above 7 MPH, everyone rushes into the nearest car or cab, and it slows down again. If it falls below 5 MPH, people start to abandon automobiles. There is nothing to be done about it, except maybe closing down 34th Street so buses become a viable option. “New York is not a happy place to drive,” Mr. Schwartz said.
“We need to define a new approach,” Ms. Sadik-Khan said. “It can’t be just one perspective from behind the windshield. We need to innovate and find new solutions because we can’t pour any more concrete, we’ve run out of room.”
And yet even that may not be enough, may never be enough. “The streets of New York are always going to be a site of controversy because people are fighting for public space,” Mr. Moss said. “It’s not about bikes or anything ekse, it’s a matter of the streets always being contentious. When you have 8.2 million people in a very small space, it’s bound to get competitive.” His solution? Widen the sidewalks.