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.

PT JSK NYC
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 )

Results
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.

Comments

  1. The city’s assets — the public realm — need to reflect current values. Invest in the best use of public space.
    I couldn’t agree more. The impression is that we are so obsessed with views and tall buildings that our streets are neglected. The street network consumes the largest share of the Commons, but they are not paid nearly enough attention, especially in converting them incrementally away from their single purpose as conduits for traffic. Sure, we have a couple of separated bike lanes that occupy the tiniest fraction of road space, but where is our Times Square? Our Stroget?

        1. Spoiler alert: future blog post. 🙂 Timeline? Who knows? 2017 is Gastown’s 150th birthday so no digging up the streets that year. I predict within 4 years…

  2. Linda Buchanan, City of North Vancouver Councillor, and Douglas Pope, City Engineer, also attended. Probably other City staff as well.

    1. Thank you for solving the mysteries for me, Antje and Yuri. Indeed, having both a CNV Councillor and the City Engineer present is hopefully telling. And it turns out at least two Lower Mainland Mayors there – and at least one of them a bicyclist. TWo days after the feds announce starter money for The Mayors’ Plan which includes 2700km of bicycle infrastructure. Hmmm.

  3. It was good to see so many elected officials there. Without their support and understanding, these changes don’t happen. It’s all well and good for some thoughtful little engineer to propose replacing a car lane with a bike lane, but if Council or the Mayor cave at the first public complaint, it goes nowhere. And pretty soon that thoughtful little engineer learns to keep her mouth shut.

    1. What else have they done to improve MetroVan’s traffic congestion ? Some cuutzy bike lanes won’t cut it. No road tolls nor parking fees on residential streets nor hike of property taxes to generate $s for subways, LRTs or faster buses. Just whining and seeking handouts from the province or the feds. Why should folks in Kelowna or PEI fund Vancouver’s or Surrey traffic problems ? It has to be funded locally. The leadership is very weak.
      To fund transit or car alternative one needs to make car use far FAR more expensive, for example. Where is that said, or done in MetroVan ? Our property taxes are very low. Local councils have plenty of tools to use them to fund transit. They chose not to do it, and just whine or do nothing. This is leadership ?

    2. Dan, thank you for elaborating my point. I’m not one for celebrity or VIPs. My point was decision-makers attended as well and hopefully felt inspired at least to take bold steps and back up their team. I also saw thoughtful engineers and planners there. I wonder how many more were watching from home…

  4. Thomas, Tuesday night I told a City Councillor I’d be willing to pay double the property taxes I currently pay each year (used prudently of course). I have also been giving my input into much higher and restructured Residential Parking Permits (RPPs), increased meter parking, etc.
    However, if you’re aware of the capital costs of major transit infrastructure and how our income tax is distributed among the levels of government, you must know the increases you suggest would not begin to cover the costs of building transit and other infrastructure.
    You might not be aware of the City of Vancouver’s success in increasing the number of people getting around by walking, bicycling, and transit; now 50% of all trips are via those modes. (Let’s work towards our next goal of 2/3 now.) Vehicle traffic into downtown has reduced by 23% while our population rises; no other City in Canada/US has done that.
    There’s lots more to do.
    It seems to me the City focuses on what is in its control. As they work towards building relationships with higher levels of government to make larger (green) projects work, putting energy into active transportation (AT) infrastructure has had effective results locally. It seems to me they no longer need to be as politically cautious about AT infrastructure and could move more assertively. I think we’ll see a number of improvements this year and next. Everyone’s list of what to do is longer than what can get done, of course. It’s our job to encourage more.

  5. I noted that Vancouver has progressed many of the initiatives that JSK presented. The glaring exception is quality, well-engineered and enforced bus lanes. These are more important than ever in an era of constrained transit resources. Bus routes with slow and/or unreliable travel times are a drain on resources that could do a better job of moving people. NYC has managed to make like better for all modes of transportation (even cars based on JSK’s stats) so let’s hope broader initiatives in Vancouver are jar puns the corner.

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