Last night was a night of tough decisions. ArchNewsNow threw its tenth anniversary party at the Center for Architecture and DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan gave the Mumford Lecture at City College—on opposite ends of town at the same time. Impossible to do both, our Publisher Diana Darling partied down with ArchNewsNow and we headed for the Mumford Lecture, sending hearty congratulations to ArchNews editor Kristen Richards. Despite missing the party, the trip Uptown was well worth it…
The event got off to a slightly late start. City College’s urban design director, Professor Michael Sorkin couldn’t resist announcing that the transportation commissioner was stuck in traffic. Like so many Sadik-Khan events, high-ranking officials, like City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden, sat alongside bike-helmet-in-hand supporters. “She has reimagined our streets as places rather than appliances,” Sorkin said by way of introduction.
At the podium Sadik-Khan was her usual irreverent and direct self, giving more of a presentation than a hard-core academic lecture. She tossed off casual tidbits of advice to students (practicing judo with your boss is a good way to release inter-office tension—she practiced with a former boss, not her current one). At another point when an audience member asked about the city’s plans for public restrooms she deadpanned, “Starbucks.”
But on the subject of safety she was dead serious. She said that until the current administration, “Our streets were looked at through a 1950s ethos” of a car-centric culture. “We’re one of the premier walking cities but it’s often dangerous to walk,” she said. The commissioner quoted Mumford who called car accidents a “ritual sacrifice in worship of speed.” Though fatalities in the city are at their lowest level in 40 years, she still sees a need for more “retrofits” of the streetscape. To that end the DOT is developing wayfinding signage for pedestrians that will be launched next year. The commissioner concluded by pegging sustainability to safety: “We can’t get people on bikes unless they feel safe.”