Janette Sadik-Khan’s TED Talk: “You Can Remake Your Streets”

In the six years that Janette Sadik-Khan has headed the New York City Department of Transportation, streets have been transformed. Across the five boroughs, 26 acres of asphalt were converted into 50 pedestrian plazas. New bus lanes are speeding transit trips on major thoroughfares in Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island, and soon Brooklyn. The city added dozens of miles of protected on-street bike lanes — groundbreaking designs for an American city — and 350 miles of bikeways overall. The biggest bike-share system in the country launched this May, and now regularly sees 40,000 trips per day.

So what is the lesson from this new era of change on New York City’s streets?

“You can remake your streets, quickly, inexpensively — they can provide immediate benefits and it can be quite popular,” says Sadik-Khan in her TED talk.

These changes have improved safety, boosted retail performance, and elicited impressive public approval ratings despite TV and tabloid coverage that tended to be outlandishly negative. Sadik-Khan emphasized that it wouldn’t have been possible to accomplish so much in such a short time frame if it weren’t for the original stroke of genius: the decision to test things out to see what succeeds.

“The temporary materials are important because we were able to show how it worked,” she says. “I work for a data-driven mayor, as you know, so it was all about the data. If it worked better for traffic, if it was better for mobility, better for business, we would keep it. And if it didn’t work, no harm, no foul, we could put it back the way that it was because these were temporary materials, and that was a very big part of the buy-in.”

7 thoughts on Janette Sadik-Khan’s TED Talk: “You Can Remake Your Streets”

  1. For me, Janette’s kicker is: “You just have to re-imagine your streets. They’re hidden in plain sight.”

    Alas, nothing in the talk about the advocacy community that birthed many of the ideas NYCDOT has implemented so brilliantly, and that helped JSK push back against the haters.

    Consumer alert: Most of her first 9 minutes (of the 14 minute talk) concerns pedestrian plazas and other “public space” points. Bicycling doesn’t kick in until just before 9:00.

  2. Would love to see something like this implemented around Union Square/Powell/shopping area. Right now pedestrians are bursting at the seams on the small sidewalks. Same goes for Chinatown.

  3. This innovative approach at street modification has dramatically transformed our neighborhoods for the better.

    Hopefully, we will continue to experience this metamorphosis throughout the next mayoral term and beyond. Probably among the greatest positive influences to quality of life in this city in a generation.

  4. Hell, yeah. Even though I have been riding in our City since long before I ever saw a bike lane, I am stunned at the how good it’s become. The changes over the last decade go far beyond anything I could have imagined. We owe many thanks to Sadik-Khan and to Bloomberg who appointed her and stood by her.

    This is why I get so annoyed at bicyclists who break the rules! We’ve seen our City (Manhattan in particular) be transformed from jungle into wonderland, all thanks to bike lanes; and I don’t want to risk losing them.

  5. Too self congratulatory by half. We need a lot more speed bumps. Avenues as well as side streets. Please honor the memory of Sammy Cohen Eckstein and the request of his mother Amy for lower speed limits in residential areas.

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