Downtown Bureau

New York Transportation Commissioner Takes Lead on Pedestrian Infrastructure

Kudos to New York for leading the way, once again - a city that huge has some massive problems, yet is willing to make courageous choices and do what is best for the city

By Jason Leach
Published April 28, 2009

I've come across yet another jaw-dropping article once again proveing that cities that 'get it' will always be the ones leading the rest of us forward into the future.

As Hamiltonians fret over the loss of a few vehicle lanes for LRT or bike lanes or pedestrianizing the Gore, New York City has begun to transform the way that city functions by adding bike infrastructure, car-free zones, public plazas in place of parking lots and many other initiatives in an effort to improve the quality of life and transportation options available in Manhattan.

Next month, workers will start transforming part of New York's iconic Broadway from a congested thoroughfare for cars into a stretch of bike lanes, promenades and plazas, with motor vehicles completely banned on the part of the famed avenue that crosses Times Square.

It is the biggest of a series of street makeovers spearheaded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan...

Ms. Sadik-Khan, 48, has been in her job for just two years. But she has turned heads among transportation planners in other cities, moving ahead with astonishing speed to remake New York's notoriously mean streets. Traffic lanes across the city are turning into plazas of planters and benches, lined with protected bicycle lanes.

It's a pace that environmental activists in Toronto, where similar but less ambitious projects are often bogged down by opposition, consultation and studies, can only envy.

One of the most talked about plans, is one to close Broadway to vehicles through Times Square.

That's right, Times Square. You may have heard of it. It's like Gore Park, only a gazillion times busier.

While we hand-wring and have city counciLlors acting like the world is ending because our own mayor wants to close the Gore to vehicle traffic, New York is going to close a larger area to traffic in one of the busiest intersections on the continent [PDF link].

Hamilton, of course, is not New York, but the lessons and principles being applied here are universal.

They work in Bogota, New York, Portland, Montreal, Rome and many other cities that have decided to enhance the quality of life and to improve the business climate in their urban centres by not catering to fly-away transport trucks, speeding cars and severe restrictions on all other transportation modes other than single-occupancy vehicles.

Hamilton is very slowly working on some plans, such as closing the south leg of King to traffic (most people aren't even aware that it's currently open to traffic), building a new transit terminal at McNab which will be restricted to cars, LRT planning, the York Blvd streetscaping project, and a painfully slow conversion of streets to two-way.

If a city the size and intensity of New York can convert ugly parking lots and excessive road space to public plazas in a matter of weeks, surely we can move on our plans a little quicker than a matter of years.

[U]nlike her opposite numbers here in Ontario, Sadik-Khan insists the crucial task is to get people out of cars, and in so doing improve quality of life, even for drivers.

"When you see the city through the windshield of a car you see one thing," she says. "When you see it from a pedestrian point of view, you see it in different ways. Then it becomes clear our cities aren't working."

Kudos to New York for leading the way, once again - a city that huge has some massive problems, yet is willing to make courageous choices and do what is best for the city, regardless of the effect on their next election campaign.

One can only dream of such leadership in Hamilton.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.


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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted April 28, 2009 at 16:14:46

New York rocks! Janette Sadik-Khan is a very impressive lady. There are two key points in Hume's article which stood out for me:

  1. "In Toronto, the stumbling point has always been a culture that devalues the public realm, a lack of political will and a recalcitrant municipal bureaucracy. The answer, says Sadik-Khan, is the pilot project. "

  2. "It also helps that New York, a metropolis of more than 8 million, is divided into 59 areas, each with its own local council."

It will always be a struggle in Hamilton to get a consensus with a divided council and weak Mayor system. However, if the city can get some pilot projects going maybe some headway could be made... It's all a matter of getting people to appreciate the vision.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted May 06, 2009 at 00:34:14

I'd picked up the Star article a while back simply because someone left that section of the paper on the train, and it made my day. Seeing the bigger picture to it and the changes in New York discussed here and on SSP has been great.

When you have one person with vision and the power to implement it.. sometimes it really does just take the one. I know it's a cliche, but everything really does rise and fall on leadership.

I hope as some of these changes occur and people begin to sit up and take notice, that Hamilton (and other cities) won't wring their hands and say "but it would never work here, we're not _____"... but instead understand that these principles are transferable to different contexts... and a few of Hamilton's own to become the visionaries - or at leat more visionary - in their own places of leadership.

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