Authors: Janette Sadik-Khan and Seth Solomonow (Viking Penguin, 2016)
As New York City’s transportation commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg from 2007 to 2013, Janette Sadik-Khan implemented an ambitious program to improve safety, mobility, and sustainability. During her tenure as commissioner, she became known as one of the world’s leading placemakers and helped make New York City renown for innovations in public space, urban transportation, and bike infrastructure. She is now principal at Bloomberg Associates, where she works with cities around the world on transportation policy and other issues.
In Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution, Sadik-Khan and co-author Seth Solomonow—the chief media strategist for the New York City Department of Transportation under Mayor Bloomberg—describes her many achievements. The book outlines how Sadik-Khan spearheaded a series of innovative projects to relieve the congested streets of New York City by redesigning traffic structures and implementing people-focused transportation channels.
These initiatives included installing more than 60 pedestrians plazas citywide; the launch of several Select Bus Service routes; launching the nation’s largest bike share program; and adding nearly 400 miles of bicycle lanes throughout the city. She also oversaw the publication of a Street Design Manual and Street Works Manual that define standards for creating more durable and attractive streets.
As the title of the book suggests, Sadik-Khan’s’ work wasn’t always easy. She quickly learned that, when you push against the status quo, it pushes back. So, along with her many successes, the book also covers some of her struggles with businesses and community groups who objected to several of her urban renewal proposals. Perhaps the most notable “streetfight” was the creation of a bike lane along Brooklyn’s tony Prospect Park West.
As a memoir, some sections can come across as a self-congratulatory, but overall Streetfight is an informative and illuminating look at the significant transportation changes New York City saw during the Bloomberg years. The real success of the book, however, lies in its subtitle: a “Handbook for an Urban Revolution.” In this regard, it serves as a practical manifesto to implementing sustainable and human-scale planning initiatives in other cities around the world. In doing so, Streetfight offers an empowering road map for rethinking, reinvigorating, and redesigning city streets to work better for everybody that use them.
One of most penetrating lessons comes from New York City’s extensive use of data and on using real-world practice to guide decision-making. One of the overriding mottos of Mayor Bloomberg’s office was “In God we trust. Everyone else bring data.” This data driven approach confirms that, if you know how to read the street, you can make it work better by simply reallocating what’s already there. As a result of these data-backed decisions, the changes that were implemented under Sadik-Kahn are more likely to be permanent than they might have been if based only on ivory-tower theory or planning idealism.
To this end, Streetfight is filled with instructive diagrams and before-and-after photographs of public plazas and streets that have been reworked to better serve residents. These images illustrate the broad benefit of simple ideas like creating bike lanes between the sidewalk and the parking lane, or creating pedestrian-friendly places along once busy roads.
While largely focused on Sadik-Khan’s work in New York City, Streetfight includes examples of successful interventions from around the world, including pocket parks in Mexico City and Los Angeles, pedestrian-friendly streets in Auckland and Buenos Aires, and bike infrastructure in Austin, Indianapolis, and San Francisco. The book also includes interviews from leading international experts, including Vancouver’s Gordon Price and Brent Toderian.
According to the Sinatra model of transportation theory proposed by Sadik-Khan, “If you can re-make it here, you can remake it anywhere.” Let’s hope we can continue to remake Vancouver!
Janette Sadik-Khan will be speaking in Vancouver on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. More information is available on our event page.
Yuri Artibise is an experienced community and digital engagement specialist with a passion for urban planning, public participation and social media. He is the Community Builder at Strong Towns, and a consultant working with a variety of community-oriented initiatives.