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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Sustainable Mobility & Cycling in New York

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Janette Sadik-Khan

“Learning from New York”

Shifting Gears II series SFU City Program at the Convention Centre, October 19

This was probably the largest audience for one of these lectures that I have seen: somehow everyone managed to get in although that meant a late start at 7:25 due to the length of line up.

Gordon Price opened with his memory of  New York in the late seventies when everything looked bleak and dangerous. But New York has now surely earned the title of The Resilient City.  No matter how bad things look cities can come back  faster and in ways you could never imagine. At the same time as this meeting, the convention centre was also hosting a conference called “Gaining Ground: Resilient Cities”.

Larry Frank introduced the speaker Janette Sadik-Khan

Janette Sadik-Khan

Janette Sadik-Khan

What most impressed her on her first visit here was that we have an integrated transit system, where one ticket allows one to ride on a bus, ferry or SkyTrain. “For ten years I have longed for your “golden ticket””

She said that much of success had depended on her ability to borrow best practices from other places. “We have to do a better job: to restructure our cities [to serve people better].  Cycling is just one component.”

Mayor Bloomberg started with a planning exercise – PlanNYC – a systematic examination to reduce the environmental impact of urban systems.   The transportation area is the one that has the most profound impact, and the plan calls for transit expansion as well as cycling and congestion pricing. A plan to introduce a charge of  $8 per car entering Manhattan had majority support in the city but was defeated by the state legislators,  who did not even vote on it .  Only 5% of people drive in NYC.  Sustainable streets 2009 is the strategic plan – with benchmarks so that NYC DOT will be held accountable for major goals. The basis is that streets are for people. NYC has  6,000 miles of streets which are valuable public spaces, not just for making cars go as fast as possible. They will become green corridors and are part of a social and economic plan. She noted that people quickly take over these spaces “once the orange barrels are rolled out.”  Times Square and  Herald Square (both on Broadway) were the first part of a  rapid implementation program. The  World Class Streets Report was commissioned from Jan Gehl which found that 30% of Broadway [sidewalks] were covered in scaffolding with only 3 outdoor cafes and no seats.  “We want to provide seats for New Yorkers.”

Roads are now much safer with the lowest traffic casualty figures since 1910. Children and seniors are over represented in the statistics of fatalities, so NYC is looking at both safer routes to school and for seniors. They targetted 25 focus areas: senior traffic fatalities are down 43% in one year.

The new mobility network is based on selected bus services which now get bus priority lanes with camera enforcement. 98% of riders were satisfied (“This never happens!”) Bus Rapid Transit is much cheaper and faster to deploy than rail. NYC has the largest bus fleet in North America and the slowest bus speeds.  “The only way to get across town was to be born there.”  [Most subway lines in Manhattan run north-south]

Infrastructure repair has been taken care of and now all of the bridges and most of the roads are in a state of good repair. They have created a network of cycling “backbones” – bike lanes on the four East River bridges and a bike highway on the West Side. There are now 200 miles of bike lanes and they starting to fill in the network. Some of these are innovative such as the bike lanes on the centre median of the Manhattan Bridge, use of advanced boxes at traffic signals and protected bike lanes, an idea imported from Copenhagen where bikes are put inside the parking lane. This uses the parked cars to protect cyclists and reduces collisions with drivers opening doors, but also preserves parking and truck loading/unloading. Crashes are down 50% and cycling is up 50%.

New York City has to accommodate 1m more people by 2030. But she also noted that the average New Yorker has one third of the carbon footprint of the average American – simply because they do not drive so much.

She showed an image of a family on bikes on a new lane that had not been completed. “Families are the indicator species: if you are 7 or 70, you should feel safe on the street.”

Lunchtime in Bryant Park

These changes are good for business. Bryant Park 20 years ago was an open drug exchange,  now is now surrounded by some of the most desirable real estate in the city.   They recently completed the “park in the sky” – the High Line – a former elevated railway which has stimulated $50m of investment along its route.

The linear plazas on Broadway mix pedestrians and cyclists but the bike lanes are not for racing at top speed. Cycling is not an extreme sport, which is what it used to be. “It is not alternative, it is fundamental”. The  pedestrian space was achieved through lane re-allocation.  Broadway is no longer a through street. Broadway is the only diagonal in a the grid, and was always a nightmare for traffic engineers. They have now reconnected the grid and restored the space needed to accommodate the 300,000 or more pedestrians who use it every day. Now that there is enough space, even New Yorkers are enjoying Times Square.

From this experience a new street design manual has emerged through the partnership of 11 agencies,  to ensure that the approach continues.  NACTO is to develop guidelines to become an alternative to MUTCD.

NYC is also adding bike parking with new designs of bike racks and they have tripled the number  of bike racks in the city.   David Byrne, author of  “Bike Diaries” has been responsible for some of the more innovative designs. The demand for bicycle parking at bus stops has been so great that NYC is now creating bike parking on street at transit stops. Indoor parking for bicycles has also been a huge issue because of the fear of bike theft. They are now creating indoor parking in government buildings and bike access is being legislated for private buildings.  All new buildings have to provide bike parking.

Bicycle use increased by 35%  in 2008 and is expected to double by 2013. Casualties are declining: there is  safety in numbers but also due to an awareness program LOOK

America faces a crisis of obesity and diabetes. New York started summer street closures – 7 miles of Park Ave. “I want to see many yellow checkered bikes” she said that they have been looking at the Montreal bixi system.

All the information she referred to is available on line

Q & A

Gordon Price pointed out that Translink had paid to bring Janette here.

1. What can we most teach each other?

New York should adopt Vancouver’s use of the bike symbol on signs. Vancouver should adopt protected bike lanes

2. There seems to be a cultural debate: The  Netherlands uses unregulated  shared space to encourage social interaction.  We tend to use signs and separation.

But Paris has seen great success with bike lanes and advanced boxes as well as its Velib program.  Different cities need different approaches. An unregulated space in a city like New York would become a scrum. “It’s a war out there!” We want to engineer safe streets. She referred to their approach as  “urban acupuncture”, applying pointed approaches to specific critical locations and this has been driving down fatalities to a third of what they were.

Q follow up on the scale and speed of changes in NY:  what made that possible?

Firstly the umbrella of  PlanNYC. There was  tremendous buy in, with the  recognition of the need for more effective solutions. New York was tired of plans that take 25 years to happen. The rapid implementation was literally painting the outlines. There was not much digging [in sharp contrast,  I thought, to what is still not yet complete on Granville Street]. Once we  rolled out the orange barrels, people took over.  Since Robert Moses paved a lot of NYC we had a lot to play with!

4     You said that your plan was better for business with lots of pedestrians and you referred to property values. That would not be the same for muffler shops. Are you prepared to purchase the businesses that are car dependent?

No

5   Please tell us more about “creative financing” as referred to by Larry Frank

The 7 line extension is using tax increment financing: the  increase in property values due  to the new facility should  go to the agency that provides it. PPPs make sense if the terms are good, but the public sector needs to up its game: the private sector has been better at securing its own interests.  They could apply to both port and rail expansions. TIF is a simple idea: zone around the project to identify properties that will benefit (our whole city is TOD) and capture that incremental value. Increases in property tax revenues are then used to service a bond issue.

6   How much is the change in mode share worth in terms of reducing pressure on infrastructure?

We don’t have that data yet: it is a ripe area for research and is an effective way to make the case. We  can make the case for transit in terms of the roads and bridges not built.

While there are doubtless significant savings in infrastructure, there are also on major benefits to health side. The lack of active transportation is a public health crisis.

7 – How does this work outside of Manhattan?

There is a huge program in all five boroughs – e.g Bronx hub and extensive BRT.  “People can’t be wished onto buses” we have to increase capacity so that the buses are seen as  “surface subways”. The population of New York is 8.2m – which effectively means there are 8.2m traffic engineers. We hold 200 meetings a month to listen to the concerns and suggestions. There is a strong appetite for transit and we plan “8 to 10 BRT networks” in the next few years

8  The questioner spoke at length about China and how the use of bikes has declined due to “market forces”. In fact driving is promoted by vested interests who will undermine your program just as they conspired to kill the streetcar. Most of the federal stimulus funds are going to roads and freeways. He also suggested that urban communities should be limited to a maximum of 5,ooo population max . He cited Plato who pointed to the complexity of problems of large cities. In Canada 80% of the population is now in cities and we need to read Lewis Mumford again to deal with this problem.

China is  investing heavily in transit – for example in Shanghai. This is a strong sign.  We are going back to the cities in the US. There are now over 100 streetcar city projects and an increase in the role of ferries. The  world is increasingly urban. People moving back into NYC  “We kinda like hanging out”. We can save the planet with cities and make cities work much better by sharing what works.

9 – The questioner liked the idea of changing streets as a better use of resources but said that “in the turf war for asphalt, bikes are getting squeezed out.” He asked are painted curbs safe? New Westminster uses concrete curbs which tend to reduce the overall amount of usable space.

Times Square shared the streets and  is curbless, but we had to tread carefully so that bikes don’t race through. We are not at a “cultural tipping point” [I think she was referring to earlier remarks about Dutch “naked streets“.]

10 – Referring to her comment on how congestion pricing was defeated, “we no longer control Translink”.  How would you have transportation funded,  planned and implemented in an ideal world?

Look at Portland:  the regional growth boundary has teeth.  The region has therefore a robust transit system with incredible perform of the network. They extended MAX to the airport using a  P3.

She also noted that there are three different entities in New York and they don’t have common fare system.

11 – The questioner came from Ladysmith where, he said,  no-one rides – they are afraid.  How do we get the sceptics to use bikes

The NYC Summer Streets program includes bike teaching and gave away 25,000 helmets. They introduced weekend walks programs. However it is recognized that “etiquette” and “New Yorkers” are not often in the same sentence and  traffic signals are treated as suggestions.

12 .  Can you speak more about metrics and agencies – 3 Es [effectiveness, efficiency – there seems to be many suggestions for the third] pedestrian safety

“I’m big fan of pilot” – communities know their streets better than anyone else. You can use paint to produce some sidewalk extensions and use potted plants to impose a quick traffic calming scheme. In 1990 it was 365 pedestrian deaths a year. We now make more interesting places which send different cues to drivers that slows them down.

15 – Tell us more about covered bike shelters

The rain in Vancouver is a myth –  just like in Portland. It is something you tell people to try and stem the influx.  More is better. But also you need to look at  connectivity – fill in the network , and protected bike lanes. We both need a  bike share program.  Each city has to make strategic choices and in our case the is now increasing  bike parking in buildings.

3 Responses

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  1. Was Charles Gauthier, chairman of the downtown BIA (and dead set against less parking and pedestrians streets) in attendance??

    A very interesting post. If N.Y. can do it, why not Vancouver??

    Red frog

    October 21, 2009 at 11:32 am

  2. […] reliable. And with only slightly more effort it becomes “the surface subway” that Janette Sadik-Khan spoke about this week. And a bus service can get introduced a lot quicker and cheaper than a subway […]

  3. […] as usual, a summary from the Scribe of Richmond, Stephen […]


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