“If you can change the street, you can change the world.” 

In this post, we’ve put together the best Janette Sadik-Khan quotes.

Janette Sadik-Khan was Transport Commissioner for New York City. In her time she made major changes to the city’s streets. And she began to get people to see this public space in a new, more sustainable way. We’ve compiled her classic words of wisdom. 

 

On the role of city streets:

“Creating streets that are safe, navigable, and accessible for everyone—no matter their age, income, or physical ability—is one of a city’s most important, yet most overlooked, responsibilities.” 
“Investing in safe, diverse, and walkable streets is an investment in communities, and helps make neighbourhoods worth living in.” 
“Jane Jacobs said it best: Sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city’s wealth of public life may grow.” 

“Streets are the front yards for city dwellers and the quality of a street and the variety of its uses relate directly to its livability for everybody.” 

 

On how streets have been neglected:  

“Our streets have been in this kind of suspended animation. They’re seen as there for all time. The result is that you’ve got dangerous, congested, economically under-performing streets. That strikes at the heart of the liveability and competitiveness of a city.”

“Our streets hadn’t changed in 60 years. I mean, if you didn’t change the way you did business or your major capital asset, you wouldn’t still be in business.” 

 

On the potential of streets:

“In New York, we fundamentally rewrote the operating code of the streets, not with mega-projects and billions of dollars, but by adapting the space that was already there.”
“There’s so much more to a street than how many cars it can process, from the economic opportunities it offers, to what choices people have for getting around.”
“Reclaiming road space for bikes, pedestrians and buses isn’t a mere amenity, it’s an infrastructure and economic investment whose effects are felt far beyond the lane.”
“Building better streets for walking, biking and buses is absurdly cheap compared to the billions of dollars American cities spend annually on replacing aging roads and new light rail lines.”

“It’s possible to change your streets quickly. It’s not expensive, it can provide immediate benefits, and it can be quite popular. You just need to reimagine your streets. They’re hidden in plain sight.” 

 

On transportation:

“Transportation is a prism for understanding the city and designing its future.”
“Streets are where life and history happen, and that places transportation at the cultural, social, and political center of cities.”
“Transportation is not an ideology, it’s not a left or right thing. It’s about taking a look at the capital asset we have and using it in the most effective way possible.”

 

On pedestrians:

“Turn street space into seat space. Streets that give people chances to stop are good for walking and business.”
“Everyone is a pedestrian at some point.” 

 

On cars:

“In the United States we spent the last century building our cities around the car, but we damaged our cities in the process and we’re really getting diminishing returns on that investment.”
“If city residents don’t have a choice but to drive everywhere then our cities don’t stand a chance of surviving in this century.”
“Driving isn’t a law of nature but a human decision based on options.”  
“Our streets for too long have just been looked at as a place to move cars as fast as possible, from point A to point B, or to just serve as parking lots. And these cars basically sit on the side of the road unused 98 percent of the time. That’s not a really good use of one of the most precious resources a city has: its streets.”

“Our streets for too long have been looked at as a place to move cars as fast as possible or to just serve as parking lots.”

 

On car parking:

“We created places where people wanted to be, instead of places that people wanted to park.”
“Taking away a parking space is not for the faint of heart.”

“Taking away a parking space is like taking away someone’s firstborn.” 

 

On traffic congestion:  

“If building roads actually resulted in less traffic, then surely after sixty years of interstate highway construction we would all be cruising at highway speed.”

“You can’t build your way out of congestion. It’s like dealing with obesity by loosening your belt.” 

 

On congestion pricing:

“By charging motorists the true cost of their trip and investing the revenue in more and better transit options, cities can level the playing field and provide better choices for getting around.” 

 

On bikes:  

“Biking is not alternative transportation. It’s basic transportation.” 

 

On bike lanes:

“If you want to build a better city, you can start by building bike lanes.” 
“Bike lanes were 99 percent of our headlines, but only 1 percent of the budget.”
“The way we look at the health of our bike lane network is how many women and children are using the lanes. Our goal was to create a safe and connected bike network.” 

 

On attitudes toward cyclists:

“Never underestimate the anger directed at bicyclists. They ride too fast, terrorizing pedestrians. They ride too slow, dangerously obstructing drivers. They don’t wear helmets or reflective bike gear, jeopardizing themselves. They look ridiculous riding around in those helmets and reflective bike gear, more like Mad Max marauders than human beings. They shouldn’t ride in streets which are hostile, car-only zones. They shouldn’t have their own lanes because there aren’t enough of them to take away space from cars. Yet there are so many of them that they’re running down pedestrians and therefore shouldn’t ride on sidewalks.” 

“Where bikes are perceived as a nuisance it’s often just a symptom of outdated street designs.” 

 

On safety: 

“If there’s a war on cars, why are pedestrians the ones who are disproportionately paying with their lives? Traffic deaths aren’t unexpected, random episodes, they’re the inevitable, systemic byproduct of roads designed to move cars at all costs.”
“If transportation were any other field, 33,000 annual deaths would be a national public health crisis and people would lose their jobs.” 

 

On changing streets:

“People take their streets very personally. They treat every parking space like it was their first-born child.”
“All 180 acres of streets that we gave back to people on foot and people on bikes and transit was a hard-fought battle.”
“Changing course from car-based to people-based cities in this century will require leadership and decisive action.”
“It wasn’t really about the engineering of the space, the real battle was about the culture — about changing the hearts and minds of New Yorkers, of changing their minds about who their streets were for.”

“When you adapt the street, people adopt it. It’s almost like it’s always been there. You go to some of these plazas now and people have forgotten the way it used to be.” 

 

On making changes quickly:

“Transforming a car-clogged street into inviting shared space doesn’t always require heavy machinery, complicated reconstruction, or millions of dollars. Planners can reorder a street without destroying a single building, double-decking a street, or building a streetcar, light rail system, or highway interchange. It can be accomplished quickly by using the basic materials that every city has access to—in New York City’s case more than six thousand miles of streets—and the basic stock that all city transportation agencies already have in their supply depots or available through existing contracts. Yes, I mean paint.”

“You can paint the city you want to see.” 

“A lot of cities are wary of trying things, as they’re afraid they might not work. But there’s a lot you can do with paint, and planters and stones from old bridge projects. We closed Broadway from Times Square in a few months using only the materials we had in the transportation department’s arsenal.”
“You can change a street on a trial basis using materials that are easily adjusted or can be removed if it doesn’t work out. It’s available and it can be done.” 

 

On measuring streets:

“Data can help move transportation from anecdote to analysis—and to street designs determined by effectiveness instead of the influence of constituencies opposed to them.”
“Data is critical to winning public buy-in.”
“For so long the way we measured our streets had been about the flow of traffic, how fast was traffic going, which ignores all the other ways a street is used.”
“Without data, cities are driving blind.” 

 

On the importance of sustainable streets for business:

“Next to safety and mobility, which should be the first considerations, the economic power of sustainable streets is probably the strongest argument for implementing dramatic change.”
“It doesn’t take an economics degree to understand just how much pedestrian space can contribute to the bottom line of local businesses.”
“Building streets that make it easier to get around and make the city more attractive is a key economic development strategy for New York.”

“Cars don’t shop, people do.” 

 

On learning from other cities:  

“There’s no patent on pavements. If you see something good elsewhere, copy it.”
“I think it’s important that cities share best practices.” 

 

On the future of cities:

“Forget autonomous vehicles and ride apps. Bike lanes, transit and safe walking infrastructure are what really tie the city together.” 
“Designing streets for people, that make it easier to bike, easier to walk, and easier to take the bus — that’s the kind of recipe for the future success of cities.” 

“No matter how you slice it, a driverless car is still a car. An electric car is still a car. An e-hail car is still a car. All the techie fairy dust in the world can’t turn cars into the liberators of all the street space they dominate.” 

 

On New York:

“There are  8.4 million people in New York and I sometimes felt there were 8.4 million traffic engineers.”

“If you can remake it here, you can remake it anywhere.” 

Thanks for reading our best of Janette Sadik-Khan quotes.
Check out our profile of Janette Sadik-Khan. You can see what she did in New York City in her time as Transport Commissioner and why it matters. 

 

Phil Stubbs

Blogger, Podcaster, Producer at The Environment Show

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