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Surprise: Big Old New York City Is the Cutting Edge for Urban Transportation and a Vision for a Sustainable Future

Thanks to Janette Sadik-Khan, NYC is setting an example for the rest of the country, innovating in public transportation and the pedestrian automobile dynamic.

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“I was appointed at about the same time that PlaNYC was announced, Sadik-Khan says. "In the run-up to the appointment, I spent a lot of time with his senior team, talking about the priorities. They were basically chapter and verse in PlaNYC. So it was a wonderful meeting of the minds. The importance of improving the quality of life, and the economic health of the city is a huge priority for me."

Sadik-Khan adds: “The thing that I loved about PlaNYC is that it wasn't just a conceptual plan, or a set of principles that got stuck on a bookshelf. It's a really detailed action plan with benchmarks. For us, the Department of Transportation, it became a game plan for how we look at our streets, so that we are designing greener mobility into our street grid. We are looking at our streets differently, and treating them as the valuable public spaces that they are. With 6,000 miles of streets, that's a lot of real estate to work with. We're looking to create world-class streets that work better for everyone who uses them, and are more inviting."

Safety comes first

With all the focus on Sadik-Khan as "the Commissioner of Bicycles" -- and yes, the biking revolution is a key cornerstone to the urban vision -- what is often lost is that Sadik-Khan is a sophisticated, savvy urban trans expert who spent years in the engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff traveling around the world seeing how other countries do it. (She also served in the Federal Transit Administration under Bill Clinton.) Another obsession of hers is buses; she loves to trot out the stats about increasing the timeliness of commuter buses. But her real obsession is safety, and here she is in total sync with her boss.

When asked about Sadik-Khan, Mayor Bloomberg said, "I bring in the best people I can find to do the best job possible. Improving our transportation network is an important priority for us and clearly Janette is a doer, someone who knows how to get things done and who is not afraid to try new ideas. For all the attention she’s gotten for being a pioneer – and she is the most dynamic transportation leader in the country – she does not get enough credit for partnering with community and business leaders to make our streets safer than they’ve ever been. She is literally saving lives.”

In one conversation I had with her, she quizzed me, “Do you know the legal speed limit across the city?" When I guessed 35 mph, she said “See, no one knows the speed limit -- it's 30 mph and it is set at that level because a pedestrian struck at 40 mph is 3.5 times more likely to be killed than one struck at 30 mph." [Read more New York City's speed limit here.] The DOT also has a special focus on drinking and driving, which is a surprisingly significant problem in the outer boroughs.

On the safety front, the New York Times' Michael Grynbaum reported last summer on a study that tracked pedestrian accidents: "Taxis, it turns out are not a careening menace: cabs, along with buses and trucks account for far fewer accidents in Manhattan than did private automobiles. Jaywalkers were involved in fewer collisions that their law-abiding counterparts who waited for the 'walk' sign though they were more likely to be killed or seriously hurt by the collision....in 80% of city accidents that resulted in death or serious injury, a male driver was behind the wheel...." (57% of cars are registered to men). And oddly, left-hand turns were three times as likely to case a deadly crash than right hand turns... so NYC walkers stay on the right side of moving traffic and you will be safer.

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