No one is shaping the street-level experience in New York City more than Janette Sadik-Khan. The 51-year-old Department of Transportation commissioner belies her bureaucratic title by selling out speaking events across the planet and enjoying rock-star status among mayors looking for urban rebirth and tourists who don’t want to bother with a rental car.
Sadik-Khan is holding up her town as proof that no matter how big, a city belongs to its people. And they want it back, badly.
How She Did It
Sadik-Khan gave the world’s most iconic city back to the citizens, most recently by permanently closing parts of Times Square and Herald Square to cars, and freeing cramped pedestrians to spill off narrow sidewalks onto the empty lanes.
“The very first moment that we closed traffic along Broadway, we saw people sit down right on the asphalt,” she recalls. “There weren’t even any chairs or paint marking it as a pedestrian space. I even saw a wedding there last year!”
Emboldened by the 76 per cent of New Yorkers who approve of her feet-first “Green Light for Midtown” initiatives, she’s looking to expand temporary street closings like the popular 11-km artery between the Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park that happens on Saturdays in August.
“It’s already become a real New York tradition, just like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade,” she says.
Sadik-Khan shared her favourite places to walk in her beloved New York City:
Times and Herald Square
"I love the new plazas in Times and Herald Squares, which are incredible places to walk through now because you really have the room to take in the sights around you. And it’s not just the bright lights and tall buildings that are so invigorating, but also the sheer number of people that you see out there enjoying the space.
"Hike down Broadway from Columbus Circle to Madison Square Park. It takes you through some of the most recognizable parts of Manhattan. In addition to the new plazas at Times and Herald Squares, we have ribbons of open space—complete with tables and chairs—to guide you on your way.
"An added treat for visitors this summer will be a temporary art installation at the Madison Square pedestrian plaza called Event Horizon by world-renowned artist Antony Gormley that includes 31 life-size sculptures of the artist. The sculptures will also be on display in Madison Square Park and on nearby rooftops.
"Take a journey down Pike and Allen Streets in Lower Manhattan. Wide, landscaped medians serve as a path through Chinatown right down to the East River waterfront."
Photo: New York City Tourism
"There are also some great public spaces on Gansevoort Street that really give you a chance to relax and take in the sights and sounds of the City. A benefit of these great new spaces is that they provide room for us to add even more touches.
"This summer we will have a temporary art installation called 'Barrier' by the artistic team Type A on display in the Gansevoort Plaza until late August. The work uses traditional, urban traffic barriers in a new and thought-provoking way in contrast with the historic, cobblestoned neighborhood."
"Go for a walk across the Williamsburg Bridge. Compared to its more-famous sibling, the Brooklyn Bridge, this bridge’s footpath isn’t as busy and it’s wider in many places—perfect for a more relaxed leisurely stroll.
"You also get priceless views of the Manhattan skyline, and it takes you to Williamsburg in Brooklyn, which has countless places to visit, eat and shop."