Janette Sadik-Khan is the rock star of transportation bureaucrats, not just because she is the current Commissioner of the Department of Transportation in America’s largest city. But that has something to do with it.
Embarrassing confession: I’ve passed up the opportunity to see Sadik-Khan two previous times. I mean, how exciting could a transportation bureaucrat be? It wasn’t until I heard a real rock star, David Byrne, gushing about her in the audiobook of Bicycle Diaries that I realized I shouldn’t miss the opportunity again. And that opportunity came at the Womens Bicycling Forum.
Sadik-Khan has been at the center of PlaNYC, New York City’s mission to overhaul it’s infrastructure to make the city safer, greener, and more liveable. And because these projects are in New York City, and because the projects are showing results, other transportation bureaucrats are paying attention.
It’s harder and harder to find an American City that is not prioritizing cycling.
Here’s her full talk, via The League of American Bicyclists:
What do you do if you live in a city where your transportation department still can’t read the handwriting on the wall — the paint on the road?
It would be nice if you could force these holdout transportation officials to watch Sadik-Khan’s presentation, but there’s probably a law or something against that.
But we can fantasize, can’t we?
One of the best quotes from the video is this:
Our streets have really been in suspended animation for the last 50 years. And when you think about it, the last major change on New York City’s streets happened in the 1950s, when major avenues in Manhattan were turned from two-way to one-way. That was during the Eisenhower Administration, at a time when the country was embarking on a whole new interstate system.
And when you think about it, if you were a business that didn’t change the way you did business for 50 years, do you think you would still be in business?
Before leaving the podium, Sadik-Kahn said, “What’s good for Trek is good for America.” This was a nod to John Burke (president of Trek, who would speak next), but also a paraphrasing of the apocryphal quote, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country,” attributed to Charles Erwin Wilson, Secretary of Defense under Eisenhower.
That controversial misquote symbolized an era where business interests — Auto Industry interests in particular — wielded political power with high-handed arrogance.
Sadik-Kahn was cleverly saying that the tables are turning. John Burke was just a prop — and an out-wonked one at that.
So, Janette, if you’re reading this: I got it.
My participation in this years’ National Bike Summit was made possible by these sponsors.