This book brings to mind an earlier tome called The Pedestrian Revolution, where the argument for car-free zones is shown to be feasible and profitable. However, The Pedestrian Revolution was written 40 years ago, a time when living in the city wasn’t the vogue. Much of Janette Sadik-Khan’s Street Fight has to do with modern issues of overcrowding and high fuel costs. Not all of her examples are from NYC; she includes Medellin, Colombia, as an example of non-automobile services. That unfortunate city, better known for cocaine, now has cable cars and escalators to get people up the hills. Instead of a two hour bus trip down the winding mountain roads, it’s a ten minute walk to the cable station, twenty minutes down to the city, and a ten minute bus ride to work. Medellin sits at the bottom of a valley, so more cars would equal more smog (like LA, Santiago De Chile, Beirut, Mexico City, etc) and even if the cars go electric, who can afford one anyway? The cable cars and escalators are an alternative to moving everyone to “affordable housing” in an unfamiliar neighborhood.
Sadik-Khan explores the no-car solutions worldwide, and outlines the benefits; you get less smog, shorter commutes, lower fuel costs, decreased traffic, and if you increase the landmarks, navigation becomes easier. She also discusses the many sacrifices to me made, such as when 1st Avenue in Manhattan got a bike lane. The Avenue, once a five-lane road, is reduced to only three car lanes; one for bikes, one for buses, and three for cars. While cars end up with fewer lanes and parking, she’s not terribly sympathetic; most of the cars on 1st Avenue are commercial, and few New Yorkers can afford a car anyway.
The author devotes a chapter to the anti-bike lane people, such a Toronto’s mayor Rob Ford (given his girth, he could use a bike) and doesn’t turn them into villains. Not everybody wants to ride, like the grocery magnate John Castimatides, who has the money to get driven to work daily, and like Rob Ford, would benefit from a few rides. Sadik-Khan does, however, criticize the anti-bike people with regard to their attitude to casualties. When a cyclist gets run over, they’re likely to say “he deserved it,” but when a cyclist hits a pedestrian, they’re up in arms.
The earlier book by Jane Jacobs is mentioned in Street Fight, along with the changes that did not happen as a result. Robert Moses becomes the villain in this book, because it was Moses that pushed for car accommodations and not pedestrians. Maybe this book is really about the change from the city-to-suburb-to-city change in today’s world? Perhaps the number of young people putting off marriage influences the desire to live in cities? This book is one of several pro-urban arguments that have hot the bookshelves in recent years, the most recent one of which was Never Built Los Angeles. It turns out that LA had many planned neighborhoods proposed in the 1950’s, all of which had a rail link, and none of which were taken seriously. But given 30 years of “the freeway is a parking lot,” maybe it’s time?