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!

1015655351 Janette Sadik Khan Is the Best Mechanic the City Streets Have Had in a Generation—So Why Do Motorists Hate Her So Much?

Looks like the Brooklyn Bridge needs some Simonizing. (Getty)

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.

Tour the Public Works of Janette Sadik-Khan >>

mchaban [at] observer.com | @MC_NYC


  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.