'Traffic' Expert: Janette Sadik-Khan Has Been Good For Drivers For Precisely the Reasons They Dislike Her

picture 3 e1315431508206 'Traffic' Expert: Janette Sadik Khan Has Been Good For Drivers For Precisely the Reasons They Dislike HerIn this week’s profile of the bridge-building, car-loving exploits of Transit commish Janette Sadik-Khan, there was not time or space to include the insights of Tom Vanderbilt, the cleverly counter-intuitive author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). Still, he had an interesting take we’d like to share here.

Well I guess the idea comes a bit out of left field for me; of any number of big city transportation people I’ve talked to in recent years, I can’t think of any who really had the idea of improving car travel on the top of their agenda.  In NYC, where cars are the minority mode, this seems to make even less sense.

And unfortunately, JSK has no authority over some of the things that really would improve traffic flow, like congestion charging.  I would argue that the things she has done that have made things better for drivers are precisely those things that many drivers see as impositions; on PPW or Ninth Avenue or any other number of sites, traffic calming has helped reduce the instance of drivers injuring themselves or others; the city’s parking policies are finally creeping toward rational pricing, increasing turnover and reducing the amount of ‘cruising’ for parking; etc.  I’d say the biggest change from her predecessors is precisely the amount of ink she has generated; most New Yorkers who could name her would be hard-pressed to name any of the city’s prior transportation commissioners, who mostly preserved the dysfunctional status quo.

On things I would change if I could:  East river bridge tolls; the ‘boulevardization’ of chaotic streets like Brooklyn’s Fourth, Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues; bike sharing and ‘transit stations’; paid residential parking permits (NYC is the only big city without these), dedicated hybrid car-share parking spaces, 20 mph speed limits for neighborhoods (which is really most streets here), and the design to back them up, full ban on cars in Central/Prospect Park….

The only measure of street quality I really care about is safety, and on that front she has succeeded, again, by mostly reducing drivers; ability to hurt themselves or those outside the car.  I’d like to see more enforcement, as well — when’s the last time you actually saw some pulled over for reckless driving in NYC, or even exceeding the city-wide speed limit of 30?

Speaking of street safety, John Petro of the Drum Major Institute points us to a report he wrote with Transportation Alternatives showing how safter streets can save at least 100 lives a year in the city.


  1. Anonymous says:

    still can’t believe it I just got a $829.99 iPad2 for only $103.37 and my mom got a $1499.99 HDTV for only $251.92, they are both coming with USPS tomorrow. I would be an idiot to ever pay full retail prices at places like Walmart or Bestbuy. I sold a 37″ HDTV to my boss for $600 that I only paid $78.24 for. I use BidsNéw.com

  2. 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.    

    1. Eva B. says:

      Tom Vanderbilt is not a TA spokesperson.  But good job invoking Godwin’s Law.

    2. Anonymous says:

      As a person who drives in NYC, I have to say that I like all the changes on the streets.  And it is not just because once I park I become a pedestrian.  Instead, it is because driving a car is far more rational, predictable, and orderly.  

      What’s it really like for a driver on an un-calmed road?  4-5 lanes of competitive chaos, like a car-racing video game.  Drivers’ adrenaline and gas pedals surging, trying to swerve in front of the car in front or prevent the car behind from cutting-in line.  Taxis careening across multiple lanes to gain advantage.  Frankly, it is chaos with the primary actors, drivers, having little regard for those around them.  And when I get behind the wheel, I become one of these aggressive, competitive, and angry actors.

      With the DOT changes to some roads, now there is a calmer environment.  Left turn lanes require everyone to line up.  Narrower lanes make drivers slow down.  Partitions prevent the violent swerving across multiple lanes.  So driving is A LOT safer for me, my passengers (spouse, kids, their friends), and those around me.  
      Transportation Alternatives can speak for me, a driver, anytime.

    3. Eric McClure says:

      Sure, Gnossos, and equating TA to Nazis and drivers to poor, persecuted Jews is both patently ridiculous and the kind of rhetoric we’ve come to expect from poor, persecuted drivers.

    4. John Huan Vu says:

      While we’re busy bringing up Nazis, let’s not forget that they actually banned bikes from city streets to marginalize them as transportation. That’s right, the Nazis were bike haters!

  3. Interested Reader says:

    This kind of story really raises the level of civic discussion when it comes to transportation policy. Please do more of this. Keep talking to people like Vanderbilt who know their stuff. We’ve heard enough from benighted fools like Norman Steisel, Jim Walden and others with nothing more than a political agenda. Let’s hear from people who have actually studied the problems of urban transportation and from practitioners and policymakers in other cities who have implemented solutions. Sadly, the New York Times refuses to do this kind of journalism. Michael Grynbaum only wants to write about the political story fed to him by 2013 partisans. He has zero interest in policy. Neither does Haughney. Keep doing this stuff, please. You’ll be the best transportation reporter in the city in no time. 

    1. Matt Chaban says:

      “You’ll be the best transportation reporter in the city in no time.”

      Wait. I thought I was already.

  4. Larry Littlefield says:

    The simple formulation is this:  my car improves my mobility and quality of life but reduces everyone else’s quality of life.  Everyone else’s car reduces my mobility and quality of life.

    In a pre-automobile city such as New York, it is impossible to make drivers happy, because they are stuck fighting for parking and street space with other drivers.  But since they are drivers themselves, they look for someone else to blame — like those on bicycles.

    The dream is to go back to the 1920s, when only a privileged few had cars and there was plenty of room for them.  The problem is, everyone suspects that they are the ones who will be forced by others to give up their cars to benefit those with more power, as the ridiculous anti-congestion pricing arguments show.

    The parking placard issue, and the out of state insurance scofflaw issue, are good ones, because they get driving chauvanists at each other’s throats.

  5. that’s really troublesome, with the drivers not supporting it’ll be very difficult to implement

  6. Thanks for a nice post. I hope you will give us another informative article in coming day.