5 inspiring women working to change the way we travel

To follow International Women’s Day, this month’s blog celebrates a handful of women making a real difference to the way people travel.

Janette Sadik-Khan

Janette (pictured above) was commissioner of the New York City department of transportation under Mayor Bloomberg from 2007 to 2013. In that time she turned their priorities around and focussed investment and activity on people and how streets could better serve them.

During the six year period she oversaw the addition of nearly 400 miles of cycle lanes and some of the first parking-protected cycle paths in North America – providing a demonstration of how protected cycle lanes could be quickly, cheaply and effectively delivered on typical American multi-lane streets.

But it wasn’t just cycling that benefitted. Janette spearheaded the creation of more than 60 public plazas across the city including the famous Broadway and Times Square projects that unlocked new public space in the heart of the city by removing excess lanes of traffic.

Her TED talk charts the story of the transformation she led, while this Street Films video tracks New York’s the metamorphosis of the big apple’s streets and spaces.

Anne Hidalgo

The first female Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has much in common with the women in this blog – turning traditional approaches to transport and street space around and with a clear mandate, having been elected with 55% of the vote.

Like Sadik-Khan, Hidalgo’s approach is straight talking. She banned cars from the banks of the Seine last autumn to open up new cycleways and public space as part of her objective to reduce car space by 50%. According to CityLab by 2018, the entire bankside flanking the Louvre and Tuileries Gardens will be private-car free, with space for cycling, buses and taxis only. Last spring, Hidalgo outlined plans to dramatically rationalise the amount of traffic in some of Paris’s most iconic public spaces, opening up the space to people.

Having handed over so much of our space to traffic in the last five decades, undoing this in the way Hidalgo is, requires real strength of will, which she is clearly not short of. The scale and ambition for Paris feels unrivalled in other global cities, despite New York and London’s recent successes.

Lucy Saunders

Despite being a public health specialist, Lucy holds the Transport Planner of the Year title from the Transport Planning Society and has other awards from international UITP (Union Internationale des Transports Publics) and the UK Chartered Institute for Highways and Transportation – all in recognition of her work to put public health at the top of the agenda for transport authorities.

Working across the Greater London Authority and Transport for London (TfL), Lucy wrote the world’s first health action plan for a transport authority and led its implementation. In recognition of this work, the new Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is in the process of adopting a ‘Healthy Streets Approach’ setting aside around £2bn towards its delivery, shifting TfL priorities towards health outcomes rather than the old ‘smoothing traffic flow’.

Lucy advises the World Health Organisation and the UK government departments for transport and health and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and is a fellow of the UK Faculty of Public Health. Starting out with a degrees in geography and public health Lucy is a key part behind the scenes of London’s ongoing transformation.

Daisy Narayanan

Only 10% of practising engineers in the UK are women, and while Daisy isn’t an engineer, she is an urban designer that manages a team of engineers and projects managers who are helping to transform Scotland’s built environment for walking and cycling. A rarity in a sector dominated by men.

Daisy is Sustrans Scotland’s deputy director for built environment but for more than six months has been stepped up to lead as acting national director, not only overseeing around £40m worth of investment in cycling and walking projects across the country last year but balancing the diverse needs of a range of stakeholders with ease. Over the past three years in particular, Daisy has been raising Scotland’s ambitions and standards in both place-making and cycle way design with Scotland’s local authorities, national parks, community trusts, ScotRail and Scottish canals.

On top of that Daisy oversees the Community Links Plus design competition, which last year awarded Glasgow City Council with significant funds to transform the built environment for walking, cycling and public transport along a key corridor into the city and get Scottish local authorities thinking seriously about the transformative potential of active travel.

Her disarming calmness in heated council or town hall meetings mean Daisy has persuaded more than most local community groups and councillors to back schemes and compromise where needed.

Rachel Aldred

Rachel’s workload appears to be a conveyor belt of research and insight. She has, and continues to have a major impact on road safety, and active travel policy, particularly in London where she is a Reader in transport at the University of Westminster and trustee of the London Cycling Campaign.

To take just one example, we’ve long known that ‘perception of safety’ is a key barrier for cycling and Rachel’s ‘Near Miss project’ developed a methodology for capturing those scary moments and starting to unpick both where they happen and why. This is helping to improve the effectiveness cycle design guidance and road danger reduction policies. Her recent work looking at parents’ attitudes to cycling with children has revealed the types of cycle routes suited to families, and helping to tackle the major gender gap in everyday cycling.

In recognition of this and many other countless strands of her work on cycling, she was awarded the ESRC Outstanding Impact in Public Policy Prize in 2016. Progress named her in the 1,000 Most Influential Londoners.

Active Travel has the potential to bring about some of the biggest benefits from transport. This is recognised and championed by these five women and if many more of the men in power recognised this, the UK health, wealth and wellbeing might also be in a slightly better place.

Photo by New York City Department of Transportation 

Nicholas Sanderson

Nicholas Sanderson

Senior policy officer, Sustrans

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