NYC: Transport chief pushes more livable city, but faces anti-rail BRT “booby trap” – From the Light Rail Now Folks


Ominous news for the Fraser Valley efforts to reinstate the interurban, as it seems New York City’s transit planners are going against the world trend in building with LRT and instead is planning for Bus Rapid Transit or BRT. What a coincidence that TransLink’s new CEO, comes from New York City and its long established transit bureaucracy. Is the fix in to build BRT into the valley instead of light rail?

Proposed BRT in New York City - compare with LRT grassed ROW's!

Proposed BRT in New York City - compare with LRT grassed ROW's!

Light Rail Now! NewsLog
2 July 2009
Updated 2009/07/02

NYC: New transport chief pushes more livable city, but anti-rail “BRT” campaign could be “booby trap”

New York City: For at least three-quarters of a century, this and other great American cities have catered to private automobile transportation at the expense of pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit riders. Now, in New York at least, this may be changing.

Janette Sadik-Khan, appointed head of the NYC Department of Transportation in 2007, is revolutionizing the way a city, and especially New York City, can approach transportation particularly by spearheading an effort to make the streets of New York livable by adding bike lanes throughout the city, setting aside areas for people to walk and sit, and designating lanes for bus transit.

Sadik-Khan created “Summer Streets”, whereby Park Avenue between 72nd Street and the Brooklyn Bridge was shut down for three weekends during the summer and completely taken over by … people. Amazing!

These measures are part of a strategic plan the department produced called “Sustainable Streets.” According to Sadik-Khan, transportation departments have traditionally been focused on moving vehicles around, and she believes their new goal should be to provide the highest quality of urban life. She says that we need to take a “fresh look” at our streets and streetscapes and how we use them.

All of the measures implemented so far have resulted in widespread enthusiastic response by the public.

Streetfilms has put together the following video interview to highlight what she has done.

Ironically, although Sadik-Khan is chairman of the strongly pro-light rail/pro-streetcar orgainzation Reconnecting America, she’s gotten ensnared in a major offensive by the “Bus Rapid Transit” (“BRT”) wing of the highway/motor vehicle industry (and within the Metropolitan Transportation Authority) to push “BRT” throughout NYC to some extent, in opposition to rail transit alternatives, including the Second Avenue Subway project. Despite the solid successes of electric light rail transit (LRT) just across the Hudson River in Newark and the Hudson-Bergen LRT system serving New Jersey communities such as Bayonne, Jersey City, Hoboken, and Weehawken and, indeed, the phenomenal successes of new LRT starts in cities like Minneapolis, Charlotte, and Phoenix (in contrast to the comparatively lackluster performance of new “BRT” operations in several cities) a propaganda blitz has been under way in NYC to portray rail transit as largely a failure, and “BRT” as some kind of phenomenal savior of the American transit industry (a reverse-image fantasy backed by a barrage of fabricated claims and largely imaginary “facts”).

Thus, despite Sadik-Khan’s progressive roots and instincts, and her commendable efforts to “pedestrianize” New York’s streets and nudge the city toward a more human-friendly (as opposed to car-friendly) environment, this latest battleground in the Transit Wars could tarnish her reputation and compromise her vision. In other words, the”BRT” campaign might represent a serious booby trap. The bigger picture here is yet another confrontation between the old-line, Robert Moses-era ideologicial commitment to rubber tires and petroleum propulsion vs. the specific benefits and advantages offered by electric light rail, especially streetcars as Reconnecting America has communicated so well, with Sadik-Khan’s leadership.

Now, many transit advocates who recognize the proven capabilities of rail believe that, in NYC, Sadik-Khan needs to take a firm stand on the side of rational, 21st-century public transport planning. This means diplomatically or otherwise fingering the fatuous claims for “BRT” for what they are, acknowledging the drawbacks of “BRT” with respect to the heavy demands of a mega-city’s traffic corridors, and presenting both surface light rail/streetcar and grade-separated rail metro (i.e., subway) public transit as the right fit for NYC’s needs in these kinds of high-volume central-city applications.


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