The New York Times JSK Profile: Politicos vs. Progressive Transportation

Has the Times ever published a profile so singularly devoted to one city commissioner’s relationships with other public figures as this Michael Grynbaum story?

It’s not so much a profile of transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan as a 2,500-word description of her place in New York’s political firmament. The question that drives the piece forward is this: “What is it about Sadik-Khan that gets under the skin of state legislators, City Council members, and other political figures?”

A more revealing piece might have asked: “What is it about a program to make New York a better city for transit, biking and walking that gets under the skin of the city’s political class?”

New York is now seen as a national innovator in progressive transportation policy, emulated by cities all over the country. I would like to know more about why so many elected officials in this supposed bastion of progressivism are so worked up over this development, which has not really affected all that many streets. What is it about some thermoplastic stripes on a street that gives Lew Fidler such agita?

The quote that’s already sending the most ripples has nothing to do with Sadik-Khan herself, and everything to do with the program that’s advanced under her leadership at DOT. It comes from Congress member, congestion pricing foe, and once and future mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, at a Gracie Mansion dinner last year:

“When I become mayor, you know what I’m going to spend my first year doing?” Mr. Weiner said to Mr. Bloomberg, as tablemates listened. “I’m going to have a bunch of ribbon-cuttings tearing out your [expletive] bike lanes.”

The strange thing about Weiner’s wisecrack is that he’s on the record supporting the expansion of NYC’s bike network.

In 2007, while he was opposing congestion pricing, he was supporting steps (including bike-share) to increase cycling in New York to 10 percent modeshare.

In 2008, while he was toying with a run for mayor, Weiner told the riders assembled at the first Tour de Queens:

We still have to make this city a much more bike-friendly town. For every ten dollars we spend for transportation in this city, nine dollars and 30 cents goes to moving cars around, and the other 70 cents is to help pedestrians and bike riders. We need to change that.

The shout-out to better streets for walking and biking even made it in to Weiner’s proto-platform, before he decided not to make a run at City Hall:

Finally, as evidenced by my work as a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to secure millions of dollars for pedestrian and bicycle transportation options, we need to make our existing infrastructure safe and friendly for alternative modes of moving from Point A to Point B. Integrated neighborhoods — where individuals live, work and play in close proximity to one another, as Jane Jacobs once exalted — demand that we enable those who want to commute without polluting to do so safely and easily.

Interesting that the guy said something totally different at a dinner for New York’s congressional delegation. I think it says more about the audience at Gracie Mansion that night than it does about the person overseeing the changes to NYC’s streets.