In 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.