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Rapper mogul Jay-Z, left, reacts with Janette Sadik-Khan, middle, department of transportation commissioner, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg, right, speaks at a press conference in New York, Thursday Aug. 7, 2008. (BEBETO MATTHEWS/AP)
Rapper mogul Jay-Z, left, reacts with Janette Sadik-Khan, middle, department of transportation commissioner, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg, right, speaks at a press conference in New York, Thursday Aug. 7, 2008. (BEBETO MATTHEWS/AP)

New York transport czar an advocate for bikes, transit, pedestrians Add to ...

So when a motorist says, ‘If you take away space it’d be congestion, it’d be chaos,’ that’s a selfish way of looking at the question?

I think we’ve proven that that’s not the case. I mean, we’ve put down 360 miles of on-street bike lanes in the last six years. We’ve put down six new [bus rapid transit] routes in the last six years. And we’ve seen traffic volumes decrease by 6.3 per cent. What you’re seeing is that people are choosing to use transportation modes that are convenient, that are fast, that are affordable.

... But you’re not going to be able to get people onto more sustainable forms of transportation if you don’t provide high-quality options. We’re not going to wish people onto buses unless they are high quality and they move quickly and they’re attractive. We’re not going to get people biking on the roads if they don’t feel safe doing so. We’re not going to get people walking unless they feel like they are being cared for and our streets are designed to accommodate them and protect them.

Imagine you’re a consultant. What would you tell Torontonians?

I make it my business not to tell other cities what to do. I do think that there are approaches that we’ve done here in New York. Looking at streets as a valuable resource that can be used [in] different ways and [for] different purposes, I think, is important and can be re-purposed to prioritize sustainable mobility. I think that’s a strong approach that could pay some big dividends.

Obviously New York is unique in North America for its density and its age. How applicable are the lessons here to less dense cities? Newer cities?

Well, I head NACTO, the National Association of City Transportation Officials. They’ve all come together with the notion that it’s time for a different approach, that the federal approach 50 years ago of designing our streets in cities as if they should accommodate an interstate network of cars ...

Sort of the Robert Moses approach ...

The Robert Moses approach. It works if you’re driving from, you know, Kansas to Oklahoma. But at this point it doesn’t work in metropolitan areas. ... NACTO is designing a new playbook for 21st-century streets to say to a traffic engineer, ‘This is how it works, here’s the standards.’ There’s a huge appetite for these different approaches – improving the safety of cities, improving the economic performance of streets, providing different options for people to get around. ...

For the first time you’ve got people moving back into cities. I think it’s a really interesting demographic change. You’ve got young families that want to stay here because they understand that it’s a more interesting environment to be in. Not spending all your time in the car, driving from point A to point B, you know, shuttling people around. And similarly, older people coming back to the city. Not having to drive, particularly as you get older, is really key. Not having to drive is a big benefit. And so, old and young, you’re seeing people converging on the city because of the inherent advantages that cities offer.

Certainly, the suburban population around Toronto is in a very tight spot as they get too old to drive. We don’t have the transit built out at this point. And ... you can’t do that in a few years.

One of the success stories in New York City over the last six years has been our Select Bus Service program, which is a version of bus rapid transit. And we’ve been able to show that with some dedication and ingenuity, a little bit of chutzpah, you can design streets to accommodate buses. Painting the lanes, using technology to enforce them better – you don’t need to have a completely dedicated median. We have bus cameras that take pictures of cars that are in the bus lane and they’re ticketed. Very effective. Keeps cars out without having to have a particular divider, which can be difficult to do in a lot of major cities. This is a very affordable way to provide very fast, almost instant, mobility to connect neighbourhoods that need those kinds of trunk lines but are not going to have a subway coming any time soon. And so, in those outer boroughs in Toronto, those outer districts and neighbourhoods, there are different ways to set up the network so that it really is as effective as it can possibly be.

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