By Boris Kelly
15 November 2010 –
New York City commissioner of transport Janette Sadik-Khan told a Sydney forum  last week that commercial rents rose 70 per cent in parts of the city after the introduction of bicycle paths and street works designed to increase public amenity.

Ms  Janette Sadik-Khan, Commissioner of New York City’s Department of Transportation, was speaking at a City of Sydney forum on the transformation of city streets into vital public spaces.

She told the capacity audience at Sydney Town Hall that despite initial opposition to NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg’s vision for a sustainable, liveable city, public and business sentiment had changed rapidly as the benefits of urban transport transformation and streetscape amenity were recognised.

Ms  Sadik-Khan said bus travel times had been reduced by 15 per cent and there had been substantial decreases in injuries to motorists and pedestrians since the introduction of the radical changes. Traffic fatality numbers were at their lowest in 100 years, she said.

The changes included a revitalisation of iconic Times Square, turning it from a tangle of traffic to a public space accommodating pedestrian plazas and bicycle traffic. Ms Sadik-Khan pointed to the importance of separated bicycle paths in reducing traffic related injuries.

The City of Sydney has been embroiled in a public brawl over its introduction of bicycle paths with radio shock jock Alan Jones over the inconvenience and loss of business reported by some property and business owners.

Danish architect and urban designer Jan Gehl was commissioned by the council to draft plans for the revitalisation of Sydney’s streets and he had worked closely with New York on the introduction of that city’s new urban landscape projects.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore MP said New York showed that with the right planning and vision a city can balance the needs of cyclists, pedestrians and motorists.

“New York’s success is an invaluable lesson for Sydney,” said Ms Moore. “Obstacles were overcome to transform Manhattan into a pedestrian friendly public space and an economic success story. We’re also working to improve traffic flow, public transport, pedestrian, cycling and road links and secure Sydney’s position as a green, global, connected city.”

Council plans include a major reworking of George Street to accommodate light rail, bicycles and improved pedestrian permeability.

Ms Sadik-Khan said projects involving changes to vehicular access present real challenges. Delivery access to businesses was facilitated by a temporal approach to traffic management. After hours deliveries, for example, had improved efficiency for suppliers, she said.

Ms Sadik-Khan was responsible for 6000 miles of streets and highways, nearly 800 bridges, 1.3 million street signs, 300,000 streetlights and 12,000 signalized intersections, as well as the Staten Island Ferry, the nation’s busiest commuter ferry service carrying over 19 million passengers annually.

She said that Mayor Bloomberg’s imperative was to make New York the greatest, greenest city on the planet, and that the NYC strategic plan was driven by widespread consultation with businesses and residents, with a “data driven” process that closely monitored projects to assess impacts.

NSW Minister for Roads, David Borger, who sat on a panel of experts at the forum, said that although the NYC results were impressive they could not necessarily be repeated in Sydney. However, he said that his government was committed to working with council in a “civil” manner. Council recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the NSW Government to work on changes to Sydney’s inner city.  He said that it was important that change was driven by evidence based decision making processes.

Ms Moore’s plans for the city have recently come under attack.

National president of the United Retail Federation Scott Driscoll recently accused Lord Mayor Clover  Moore of turning Sydney “into some kind of quaint European village” with the staged introduction of bicycle paths and green energy initiatives such as local trigeneration systems.

However, Ms Sadik-Khan said that NYS data showed a direct correlation between increased retail sales and improvements in pedestrian amenity. She said that 54 per cent of trips in NYC were less than two miles and were best suited to bicycle transit. She added that the key to public space amenity was the provision of adequate seating.

The council is also embroiled in a backlash to its attempts to limit  trading hours for hotels in the CBD after reported alcohol related incidents and violence.