Bridges Burning at DOT

weinshall.jpgOutgoing Bike Program Director Rips Agency Bosses

The long-time Director of the New York City Department of Transportation’s Bicycle Program says that Commissioner Iris Weinshall and her top deputy for traffic operations, Michael Primeggia have burdened the city with unnecessary law suits and stymied the progress of the city’s bicycle programs.

"I waited for a long time for the direction from the commissioner’s office to change, or for the commissioner to be changed," Andrew Vesselenovitch e-mailed to about twenty agency colleagues and a handful outsiders on Friday, his last day at the agency. "I hope that you won’t have to wait much longer."

In his resignation letter, Vesselenovitch cites two specific examples of agency failures. First, he claims that DOT could have saved the city millions of dollars in lawsuits "resulting from the puzzling addition of unusually high expansion joint covers on the Williamsburg Bridge." Vesselenovitch says he brought the issue to the attention of Deputy Commissioner Michael Primeggia in 2003 and was told to "butt out."

The infamous "bone-breaking bridge bumps" caused serious injuries to numerous New York City cyclists and generated $10 million in law suits, one-fifth the total cost of building the the bridge’s bicycle and pedestrian paths.

Vesselenovitch also says the agency "could have produced plans for forty to fifty miles of workable bicycle lanes each year" but inexplicably only managed to install a little more than fifteen miles of bike lanes in the last two years.

At 6:05 pm on Friday, Vesselenovitch ended his five-year tenure at DOT, writing, "The motivation for my seeking to leave is not so happy for me or for the city. There is much more that the bicycle program could have done than it was allowed to do."

Vesselenovitch’s resignation and criticism arrives at the end of a month in which three cyclists were killed on the streets of New York City. In its brief, two sentence, official statement following the fatalities, DOT implied that there is little it can do to make the city’s "crowded streets" safer for cyclists.

Based on the e-mail below, the agency’s Bicycle Program Director believes otherwise:

From: Vesselinovitch, Andrew
Sent: Friday, July 07, 2006 6:05 PM
Subject: Leaving DOT

Dear All:

As many of you know, today is my last day at DOT. As many of you also know, I am leaving to pursue a wonderful opportunity to study architecture, a lifelong interest. I want to thank all of you for having made my five years at DOT and seven years in city government productive and exciting.

I would also like to add that the motivation for my seeking to leave is not so happy for me or for the city. There is much more that the bicycle program could have done than it was allowed to do. The bicycle program, for example, could have produced plans for 40-50 miles of workable bicycle lanes each year. Instead, DOT installed little more than 15 miles, total, in the last two years. We could have saved the city settlements for lawsuits (and residents injuries) resulting from the puzzling addition of unusually high expansion joint covers on the Williamsburg Bridge. I brought this to bridge’s attention in 2003 and was told by Michael Primeggia butt out.

I waited for a long time for the direction from the commissioner’s office to change, or for the commissioner to be changed. I hope that you won’t have to wait much longer.

Thank you and good luck,

Andrew Vesselinovitch
Bicycle Program Director
40 Worth Street, Room 1035
New York, New York 10013

  • Sam

    Imagine if there was a Department of Bicycling that had the power to say there was little it could do to make the city’s uncrowded streets and exclusive transit lanes more convenient for automobiles.

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  • dot

    I’d like to add that as someone who saw some of the initial northside Williamsburg Bridge bikeway designs, the specs specifically called for expansion joints that would provide the minimum disruption.

    It was only later that someone decided to change the design for reasons I can’t begin to imagine.

  • Back when I was writing a column for the New York Press I wrote a story on the bridge bumps and really did a ton of research on the issue. One of the things I heard was that someone at DOT thought that the higher expansion joints would function as speed bumps to help ensure cyclists wouldn’t ride too fast on the bridge. I only got this from second- and third-hand sources so I never printed it. If that story is true then, well, every neighborhood street that has waited five years for DOT to install a speed bump or some other traffic-calming measure would have to be envious of the bridge.

  • even more sad evidence of DOTs bias against bikes is that the long-promised Bike Station in the Whitehall ferry terminal apparently is not happening. MWA had asked 2 years ago for DOT to put us on the list of prospective bidders for operating a bike rental, secure storage (and ferry riders advocacy office) but I learnd from a DOT source last winter that the plan was scrapped — all so that the operator of a newstand could have “more storage” How pathetic.

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