, , , , , ,

On Tuesday I cracked myself up in prep for an evening with Janette Sadik-Khan (JSK), former NYCDOT Transportation Commissioner and author of Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution. Here are the highlights.

Whether you livestreamed it under the covers or attended at the Vancouver Playhouse, you probably had at least one moment of inspiration, imagining the delight that street transformation can bring to where you live. What if the City of Vancouver became the largest real-estate developer in town like JSK was for NYC?

Her statistics were all US based but we’re used to that. When we translate their numbers to our population, the information is uncomfortably more relevant than we would like. She included in her slides pictures of Vancouver and local examples to go with them. For those of us who attended her last visit, a few of the NYC successes were the same and still had a stunning, audible impact on attendees; she has more data to back her up now. She is confident and motivating.

Gordon Price is consistently a top-notch moderator and interviewer. He was a gracious Canadian host, animated, and entertaining. He had a great rapport with JSK. Price asked the pertinent questions and got solid answers.

What’s as interesting is who attended. At $5 a ticket, there were all ages and abilities present. I wondered how many business owners or BIA staff were there. Did Nick Pogor attend?

Unfortunately, I didn’t catch all of the electeds who introduced themselves from my perch on the balcony. I was pleased to see Vancouver’s Deputy Mayor Heather Deal front and center, who is also a Councillor Liaison to the City’s Active Transportation Policy Council and Arts & Culture Policy Council, among others. It was announced for the first time publicly that Lon LaClaire is the new City of Vancouver Director of Transportation. He introduced JSK. At least one Park Board Commissioner attended.

There was at least one City Councillor from New Westminster, Patrick Johnstone there – a fan of 30kph. I was tickled that Nathan Pascal, City Councillor for Langley City was there in his first week on the job! I was even more delighted to hear that the Mayor of Abbotsford Henry Braun was there. It symbolizes a shift in decision-makers toward at least open ears and at most safer, healthier city centres in the Lower Mainland.

The first rule of Hollywood is: Always thank the crew.

JSK started by thanking the 4500 within New York City’s Department of Transportation. She acknowledged that they implemented the changes her team tried – often quickly. Being fast and keeping the momentum up is key.

Interview well. Be yourself. Be bold.

When JSK was interviewing for the top transportation job with then NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he asked: Why do you want to be Traffic Commissioner? She answered: I don’t. I want to be Transportation Commissioner.


A City’s assets – the public realm – need to reflect current values. Invest in the best use of public space.

JSK on streets: “If you didn’t change your major capital asset in 50-60 years, would you still be in business?”

“We transformed places to park [cars] to places people wanted to be…we created 65,000 square feet of public space with traffic cones.” “Broadway alone was 2.5 acres of new public space.”

JSK talked about the imbalance between the space for cars and space for people. Crowded sidewalks of slow walking tourists that fast-walking New Yorkers were willing to walk in car lanes to pass or avoid. In Vancouver, we already see this imbalance in our shopping districts and entertainment corridors.

She appreciated working for a Mayor who would back her up on her bold suggestions and who asked her to take risks because it was the right thing to do.


Consultation + Visualization = Education + Transformation

People find it hard to visualize from drawings and boards. Create temporary space and program it.” Basically: traffic cones, paint, and planters are your friends.

“We need to do a better job of showing the possible on our streets.”

“Involve people in the process…Just try it out. Pilot it. We [all already] know the streets aren’t perfect.”

She estimated that once [in 5-10 years] shared, driverless cars are operating in our cities, most of our on-street parking won’t be needed. In the meantime, one of the many community requested programs is time-of-day based pricing for on-street parking. Of course, the higher turnover of vehicles is better for business.

Even better for business is putting in bicycle lanes. Some of the areas where businesses were most opposed have some of the highest bike volumes now.


The Times Square portion of Broadway, Phase I Transformation. LEFT: Before; RIGHT: The Broadway Overhaul. Phase II it became a 58,000-square-foot pedestrian plaza. (Photo: Courtesy of the New York City Department of Transportation )


It takes 4 things to increase bicyclist volumes significantly and NYC does them all.

  • a network of bicycle infrastructure (and traffic-calming design)
  • lower speed limits (and traffic-calming designs help)
  • bikeshare
  • ciclovias

JSK saw 3 of the above steps to fruition. Mayor de Blasio lowered speed limits to 25mph in November, 2014.

When Broadway closed to cars and opened to people, in Midtown:

  • pedestrian injuries decreased by 35%
  • motorists injuries went down by 35%
  • vehicle travel times increased by 17%
  • protected bike lanes brought a 50% increase in sales


Ciclovias, Car-free Spaces and Street Art

“The Public Domain is the Public’s Domain.”

“We asked the community where they wanted plazas and they took ownership of them.”

“The canvas of our streets was transformed by artists.”

Ciclovias involve closing streets to vehicles and allowing people to roam on them via any active transportation mode, often on weekends. In NYC it’s known as Summer Streets. Every Saturday in the summer from 7am-1pm they have about 300,000 people take part. Small businesses along the way have seen sales increase by 71%.

On making parts of Robson Street a car-free space, JSK said: “Try it; you’ll like it.”


Three words: Dedicated. Bus. Lanes.

These are enforced by cameras. Green traffic lights are synchronized with bus use. Like in Colombia, they have off-board fare collection. [Senior planners at TransLink would love dedicated bus lanes on Georgia Street, Hastings Street, or Broadway in Vancouver.]

PT JSK dedicated bus lane 34th


NYC needs to up our game on the following:

  • more bikeshare next to low-income housing and public housing
  • #VisionZero “Our streets are sick. Thousands are dying and people are blasé about it. In any other field you would lose your job if that many died.”
  • seamless, integrated, multi-modal transportation (all on one card/app) like in Helsinki
  • congestion pricing. The state capital is less urban and turned down their request for it. Plus people hate both “congestion”and “pricing”. The rebrand is MoveNY. JSK said paying more to drive to Manhattan is “inevitable”.


Migration Astonishment: 1M here, 1M there

I was astonished (and by the looks of it so was Gordon Price) that NYC estimates that they will have 1 million more people living there by 2030. That’s the same number we expect in Metro Vancouver by 2030! Clearly, the impact here will be a much larger transformation. There’s a lot of work to do.

JSK advised: “Leverage the density. Recognize the value of density.”

“People want safe streets (and affordable housing) and are ahead of politicians and the media.”

Last word:

“Inaction is inexcusable,” JSK said.