Would you like to implement improvements for the place where you live? Probably not. You've likely elected politicians that work against these benefits for your fellow citizens. You may have sided with organizations and people who work to stifle, set back, or otherwise sabotage any possibility of accomplishing these benefits. You may have actively worked to deny or coverup the negative aspects of inaction--including covering up deaths or tacitly agreeing to injuries or policies that kill people. If you are a professional engineer, you may work daily, with all your skills, to make sure these improvements are never done, even using deception, false statements, false research, and illegal activities to support arguments against these improvements. (See: Confessions of a Recovering Engineer and Strong Towns). If you are a professional traffic engineer, your livelihood may very well involve inflicting death or injury on people as a result of your choices, and you actively supress, coverup, or deny these casualities (See also Dark Age Ahead and Why We Drive).
Why would people oppose the benefits of a better quality of life for people? Perhaps out of habit. Perhaps out of self-interest. Perhaps out of thinking that things have been done the same way for so long, why change them? Perhaps you assume that your fellow citizens, too, like how things are and have no desire to make changes to gain these benefits. Perhaps your political party is committed to keeping these changes from happening out of a fear that it would change the political complexion of your area. Perhaps you view the changes that might happen as so much against the way things are now that, in principle, you would not want them.
Janette Sadik-Khan and Seth Solomonow in Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution describe how a dedicated group of people in New York City improved the lives of citizens by taking full advantage of the most basic, pervasive, and successful element of transportation infrastructure ever invented: the street. Rather than accept the status quo, these leaders looked at how space was used on the street, and saw imbalances in resources dedicated to those who used the street and how resources were used to support those users. By identifying how improved street designs could make better use of the entire space of the street in safer, more efficient, more equitable, and more productive ways, the author and her team achieved remarkable things. The authors describe how their work:
- Touched off a transformation of Times Square resulted in 80% fewer pedestrians walking in harm's way in traffic lanes; reduced pedestrian injuries by car drivers by 35% and everyone--car drivers included--by 63%. Improved Times Square in the eyes of New Yorkers by 74% and gained the enthusiasm of 68% of the business owners (p. 102)
- Prioritized transit to created car-free areas, public art, and informative maps for New Yorkers (p. 134)
- Decreased crime, improved safety, smoothed traffic flow, and enabled more diverse citizens to use the public street of Prospect Park West (pp. 143-205).
- Redesigned streets to improve safety for all users (pp. 216-217) and implemented public awareness campigns that got safety messages across (p. 218), and worked to make complete streets an accepted and modern concept in street design (p. 231).
- Ignited retail sales on Pearl Street to an increase of 172% and Ninth Avenue 49% (p. 254, "Measuring the Street"). Improved retail sales increased along Fordham Road by 71% (p. 255). Decreased Union Square commercial vacancies by 49% (p. 255).
- Made improvements so that buses moved 18% faster, bus ridership rose by 12%, people biking rose by 177%, and there were 37% fewer traffic crashes with injury (p. 255).
The title of this book is Streetfight, and so the author's last chapter is cautionary: "Even when streetfights are won, we must undertake a campaign of eternal vigilance... there are no guarantees preventing the next generation of leaders from reversing the course of a city and reverting the operating code back to its default position" (p. 294). (Remarkably, the State of Wisconsin did just that--struck down a Complete Streets law, reverting to the default position of "cars first.") The author describes who opposed the street reform work: "... a small but vocal army of opponents. They were a mix of people who disliked Mayor Bloomberg and were skeptical of any government action that was environmental, healthy, or 'vaguley French'... They denounced the changes and politicized the very data that should have transcended the passions surrounding these changes." (p. 4).
Why do cities oppose or throw away opportunities to improve their citizens' lives? That is a complex question, and I think it largely has to do with entrenched self-interests and the benefits of the status quo. There are cities in the USA and througout the world where improvements have been made in peoples' lives, and it seems that those cities are already gaining enormous desirability. Indeed, these cities are so desirable that people are voting with their wallets and bidding up the prices of housing in these improved areas. Thus, the further challenge of improved streets is meeting the tremendous demand for these scarce places where people matter.
- Janette Sadik-Khan: author Web site
- People Places: Car-Free: links to help you have a car-free lifestyle.
- Fighting Traffic
- Confessions of a Recovering Engineer
- Strong Towns
- Asphalt Nation
- The Wealth of Cities
- Suburban Nation
- How Cities Work
- Global City Blues
- Get Urban!
- Dark Age Ahead
- Sprawl Kills
- A Whole New Mind.
- The Trap
- The Option of Urbanism
- The High Cost of Free Parking
- Cul-de-Sac Syndrome
- Waiting on a Train
- Triumph of the City
- The Great Inversion
- The End of the Suburbs
- Parking Reform Made Easy
- Urban Street Design Guide
- Dead End
- Why We Drive
- Why I Walk
- Where We Want to Live
- Parking and the City