Lian (Harvard GSD M.Arch.I)

I graduated in 2013, but still blog here once in a while.

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    Live Blog: Janette Sadik-Khan, Comissioner of NYC Department of Trasportation

    By Lian Chikako Chang
    Sep 15, '11 4:30 PM EST

    Hi Archinect,

    Janette Sadik-Khan, the New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner, is speaking in Piper as part of the 'Roadmap to Sustainable Infrastructures & Green Cities Conference.'

    image [Photo from]

    6:38: It's a pretty full house in Piper tonight. Sadik-Khan is as popular as Herzog + de Meuron or Bjarke Ingels, it seems.

    6:42: Aaron Naparstek, founder of, is making introductory remarks. In 1970, before Sadik-Khan, "New York city streets were run by an 80 year old traffic engineering mindset." The head of DOT then told him that "my job is to keep the traffic moving."


    "We were stuck in gridlock, literally. Janette Sadik-Khan changed that. ...She immediately began engaging communities and implementing long-sought ideas." Many of these were done with quick and cheap materials, so that they could be changed or torn up as necessary; experiments on NYC's streets was no longer a drawn-out, multi-year process.

    Naparstek tells us that this change hasn't been uncontroversial: at various NYC papers, Sadik-Khan is known as Janette "Sadist" Khan or "that crazy bike lady."

    6:50: Sadik-Khan takes the podium.

    Her goals: Delivering more reliable point-to-point transportation, and creating safer streets. NYC's streets, designed after a 1950s car-centric ethos, weren't designed to take the kind of mixed traffic that they deal with today. A recent guerrilla art project divided a sidewalk into two lanes: one for visitors, and one for residents. And people followed it! [Laughter.]


    "New Yorkers like to get around fast, so someone who is meandering and holding things up--that bugs up." But injuries to pedestrians have gone down 35% and to drivers by 65% after more space was made on major streets for pedestrians and non-motorized traffic.

    When we're talking about sustainable infrastructure, we need to think about people. "It's not surprising that when we put out chairs and tables, people immediately use them. When we put out orange pylons, people instantly materialize; it's like a Star Trek episode." "And for the first time, Times Square made the list of the top ten retail locations in the world according to Cushman & Wakefield."

    7:00: "And with no offense to Facebook, city streets are the original social network. It's been a wonderful thing to see people [out enjoying the streets]."

    "But we have to do better. NYC has the distinction of having the largest bus network and the slowest bus speeds; one of [my colleagues] says that the only way to get across town is to be born there." [chuckles.]

    "Travel speeds and ridership are both up by 20%" where bus lanes have been introduced. On-board fare collection, multi-door loading... "I really drool when I see [these buses], which means that I'm really a transportation geek."

    "Biking is a great fit with the city's topography." More than half of all bike trips in the city are under 2 miles. "But the key is safety; protect[ing] cyclists is what it's going to take to get people who aren't athletes." The row of parked cars is a safety barrier for cyclists. Traffic goes up by 50 to 200% when there are bike lanes. Cycling has doubled in the city since 2006. And it's not a major construction project: it's basically done with paint.

    image [before]

    image [after]

    Traffic injury rates are at the lowest that they've been in 100 years in New York, but there are still over 4000 fatalities a year.

    7:05: "And yesterday, we announced the start of NYC's bike-sharing program. It will hit the streets next summer with 10000 bikes: more than in any city except Paris and a couple of cities in China." And the head of the bike share company is in the house tonight.

    "How do we get all of this done? ...I have the great fortune of working for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who I think is the best mayor in the country, if not the world."

    7:10: "New Yorkers have 1/3 the carbon footprint as the average American. So those of you who are keen about saving the planet, you should just move to New York City."


    "My point in underscoring the policy framework in these documents is that if you really want to make change, [these are the kinds of goals to think about]. LEED works best as an incentive in a market-driven system, but infrastructure is developed by governments for billions of dollars, and I believe that for infrastructure, it's better to design it [in the best way] from the start, rather than [counting up points] after the fact."

    DOT is developing new standards, which are gathered in a book they call the 'Street Design Manual.' Not all of the innovations are visible: for example, NYC has the highest usage rates of recycled asphalt.

    7:15: "NYC DOT is larger than 2/3 of state DOTs in the country, so I have access to incredible engineers, managers, lawyers...[chuckling in the audience]...yes, lawyers: I'm a lawyer, and I know some, too."

    Sadik-Khan has also been involved in the "National Association of City Transportation Officials." "Even Portland has had problems" when trying to introduce innovations to their public.

    "But I really don't thing we're going to see the major progress that we need to see until a planner can pull a book off the shelf about how to design [these kinds of projects] without being subject to liability and funding concerns."

    Done. Short and sweet.

    Whoops! Fire alarm! (Are the first years messing up on the laser cutters?) Guess it's over. It's too bad, because the talk itself went down so smooth--just a simple infomercial with some uncontroversial and positive tidbits--and I think they real hay would have been made in the question period. Anyways, at least I get to have dinner this way.

    image [People were getting autographs despite the fire alarm.]


    Thanks for reading!

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About this Blog

This blog was most active from 2009-2013. Writing about my experiences and life at Harvard GSD started out as a way for me to process my experiences as an M.Arch.I student, and evolved into a record of the intellectual and cultural life of the Cambridge architecture (and to a lesser extent, design/technology) community, through live-blogs. These days, I work as a data storyteller (and blogger at in San Francisco, and still post here once in a while.

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