In a recent interview with Grist, Janette Sadik-Khan, the commissioner of New York City’s Department of Transportation, discusses her recent (and radical) efforts that have reshaped the city’s streets as we know it.  Even if you don’t know her name, you’ll recognize some of the initiatives she’s spearheaded since taking office in 2007, such as: pedestrianizing Herald Square and Times Square, and the addition of hundreds of miles of bike lanes (much to the chagrin of others).

The seeds for these transformations began when Sadik-Khan met with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his senior staff to discuss PlaNYC: “[It] became a game plan for how we look at our streets, so that we are designing greener mobility into our street grid. We are looking at our streets differently, and treating them as the valuable public spaces that they are.”

For Sadik-Khan, “safety and sustainability are deeply intertwined. You can’t get people to ride a bike if they don’t feel safe. You can’t get more people onto a bus if they feel like the streets are dangerous. They go so deeply together. I can’t wish people onto bikes or buses or trains. I have to make the streets be as safe as they can be so people feel comfortable in them.”

As projects like these dramatically change the dynamics between pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers within the physical environment, a project titled Give A Minute tackles the civic sector.  Taking the convention of the community board meeting, it turns it into a more accessible, populous-oriented medium of communication.  The founders, Carol Colleta of CEOs for Cities and Jake Barton of the design firm Local Projects, came up with the project when Colleta approached Barton about starting a project to invigorate public participation in America by using technology (read their interview with Urban Omnibus). 

Since community board meetings are primarily attended by those who are already intensively informed and revolve around critiquing a proposal, Give A Minute “[lowers] the barriers for entry” by focusing on a “positive collective change”.  In Chicago, Barton and Colleta have collaborated with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) to ask everyone the question “Hey Chicago, what would encourage you to walk, bike or take CTA more often?”  Using social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as mobile apps and texting, it creates a more open and immediate forum.

How Give A Minute will take the public responses and turn them into visible results is the next step that still requires experimentation: “I think it will be on a city-by-city case…Based on our work in Chicago, I think the cities understand what’s required to make the system feel functional and responsive and that will be built into future partnerships.”

Colleta says something that echoes Sadik-Khan’s sentiment that safety and sustainability go hand-in-hand: “Simply asking people in Chicago about what would make them walk, bike or take transit more often will, we think, encourage them to walk, bike and take transit more often. It really is that obvious.”