Help Wanted at DOT: Creative Thinkers Encouraged to Apply

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Chairman of the City Council Transportation Committee, John C. Liu, praised outgoing DOT commissioner Iris Weinshall and called for an innovative thinker as her successor.

You’ve already weighed in
on what you’d like to see in the next DOT commissioner. Now members of
the City Council and Transportation Alternatives have weighed in too,
with a press conference yesterday highlighting qualities they would like to see in the city’s next Transportation Commissioner. Here is Council Member Yassky‘s press release.

Council Member David Yassky
(D-Brooklyn) and transportation advocates today urged the Bloomberg
Administration to appoint a new Department of Transportation
commissioner with the credentials and experience to tackle the traffic
congestion and pollution problems that are plaguing New Yorkers.

"This
City has been fortunate to have such a hard-working DOT commissioner in
Iris Weinshall for the past five years," Council Member Yassky said.
"But now that she is moving on, we must look toward the next five years
and beyond and choose a commissioner who will tackle our quickly
increasing environmental and transportation challenges. Our next
transportation commissioner will be making decisions that will effect
the health, business and general quality of life of all New Yorkers,
make sure she or he makes the right ones."

Council
Members and advocates called on the Mayor to meet his 2030 PLANYC
sustainability goals by appointing a DOT commissioner with a mandate to
reduce automobile traffic while improving surface transit, walking and
bicycling options.

"There is so much a transportation
commissioner could do to improve the quality of life of New Yorkers by
reducing traffic and encouraging transit use," said Gene Russianoff,
senior attorney for the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign. "We need a
dynamic leader – like Commissioner Thomas Frieden has been in the area
of health – to improve air quality and neighborhood life by taming city
traffic."

"Commissioner Weinshall has steered the Department for many years and her shoes will be hard to fill," said Council Member John C. Liu,
Chairperson of the Transportation Committee. "New Yorkers need a
Transportation Commissioner who can get up to speed quickly and also
change the internal inertia that sometimes dampens
innovation, especially if we are to truly create a system for the free
flow of people and goods in the City."

"It is crucial the
Administration selects a new Department of Transportation commissioner
who will make pollution, traffic congestion and parking issues a
priority," said Council Member Bill de Blasio. "The next
commissioner will play a vital role in making sure the City reaches its
future goals of increasing and improving our transportation
alternatives."

  • Urbulance

    Can we get a new City Council Transpo Committee Chair as well?

  • rhubarbpie

    I’ll second that!

  • JK

    My hats off to TA for organizing this so quickly and getting prominent councilmembers to speak so forcefully. The mayor elevated transportation as an issue in his sustainability speech. This event helps keep it there.

    We have a seemingly rare window to see many good things get done relatively quickly. The mayor’s Olympics/WS Stadium obsession, SI Ferry crash, 9/11 and the commissioner churn at DOT, were huge distractions from achieving a 21st Century transportation agenda. Now, the mayor himself is framing transportation as one of the key issues deciding NYC’s future. It’s clear the advocates sense the possibility, hopefully City Hall does too.

  • anonymous

    9/11 was 5+ years ago, the ferry crash was 3+ years ago (and no one above middle management was held responsible) and “the commissioner churn at DOT”, if that means turnover of commissioners, was pre-Weinshall, meaning 6 and a half years ago. So how did these things distract from a transportation agenda over the past few years? Other than covering her butt on the ferry crash, why wasn’t Weinshall framing the agenda all this time?

  • JK

    Weinshall never had the policy chops or vision to “frame” an agenda and it’s unlikely her successor will either. The basic issue is that the mayor doesn’t seem to have a lot of interest in transportation issues, and Doctoroff was engrossed with the Olympics, West Side upzone or Ground Zero until recently. (Really, the Olympics were the transportation agenda.)

    Even the strongest DOT boss doesnt hold the transportation reins in NYC, the mayor does. EDC,DCP, NYPD, MTA do not report to the DOT commissioner. (SBloggers grant the DOT commish much more power than most political observers. DOT is considered a 2nd or 3rd rank agency by most.)

    The implicit question is that given City Halls lack of interest couldn’t much more have happened with some leadership from Weinshall? YES! Some observers feel Weinshall essentially gave control of the agency to traffic engineers after the SI Ferry crash. There’s no doubt she was looking for another job for quite awhile. Either way, she is out of here and City Hall is signaling interest in traffic and transportation. Opportunity knocks.

  • MOLA

    Seems to me if IW could be DOT commish, maybe Councilperson David Yassky would be a good DOT commish! DY is very bright and knows how to hire even brighter people and understands ennviro issues as well or better than most in CH and the CC. Finally, as with most positions of high power, he fulfills the requirement of being a lawyer who understands law and the bureaucracy.

  • Anon

    DOH was never a very high-powered agency. Look what Freiden managed to get done in that job. The problem here is, exactly as JK says, that we have had seven years of a DOT commish without the policy chops or vision to even know what needs to be done other than keeping traffic flowing freely. I reject the claim that DOT couldn’t have gotten much more done in IW’s time. She failed.

  • Sopke

    Frieden is great, but DOH was destined for big things from day one. Bloomberg has been interested in public health for decades. He’s given tens of millions to Johns Hopkins and other leading public health programs and initiatives. If Bloomberg was half as interested in transportation as he is in public health you would have know it a long time ago — and the commissioner he appointed would have reflected that.

  • anonymous

    Weinshall’s staff are telling people the new Commissioner should be First Deputy Judy Bergtraum. They say Iris did a good job, so her deputy is the logical choice. Everyone else in DOT is keeping their fingers crossed that it’s anyone but Bergtraum.

  • JK

    Joan McDonald makes far more sense. Weinshall’s staff probably don’t have new jobs lined up yet. Fortunately, the decision is being made by Doctoroff and Bloomberg and not by Weinshall’s staff.

    It would be very disappointing if Bergtraum is installed. It would indicate a mayoral punt on livable streets issues. Somebody needs to stir up some pro-McDonald rumor mongering. Anonymous, you seem to know the rumor circuit, how about making a couple of calls to City Hall?

  • xue

    i would think that it would do a lot for DOT morale, not to mention confidence in their leadership, to have somebody with at least some transportation or planning in their background as commissioner

  • A. Dotmolsky

    “i would think that it would do a lot for DOT morale, not to mention confidence in their leadership, to have somebody with at least some transportation or planning in their background as commissioner”

    It would do a lot less than you think. DOT’s Traffic division is the smallest operation in the agency. Street Maintenance, Bridges, and Ferries are have bigger headcounts, and people in these areas are unimpressed with traffic engineering or planning as a credential.

    On the narrow question of what would make people at DOT happy, given the amount of damage done by people with vision (or visions, in at least one case), the best things for morale would be:

    Don’t reorganize the agency yet again;
    Don’t fire too many people;
    De-politicize career paths;
    Don’t micro-manage.

    People want to be able to do their jobs without too much interference and with _some_ expectation that competence will be rewarded and incompetence punished. Vision is nice, as long as it has some basis in reality, but not necessary.

    What many posters here don’t seem to realize is that policy debates are very much at the margins of the agency’s business, and always will be because DOT is a maintenance agency, not a development agency. A small number of congestion/sustainability initiatives find their way into and out of DOT, and the DOT commissioner can act as an advocate for some positions, but DOT is really not in a position to _do_ a whole lot becuase of the way the money in the region lines up. Most of the thoughts on these threads would be much better directed toward the Mayor, the Governor and people in the authorities than any DOT commissioner. Even Joan, who is very nice, capable person.

  • jk

    A. Dot these are a quality insights.

    However, if maintenance is all DOT can aspire to, it should be disbanded and replaced by an infrastructure maintenance agency — a position advocated by former commissioner Lou Riccio and adopted by Giuliani. Many of us think that would leave us even worse off than we are now. Maybe we should rethink this.

    DOT can do better. There are many things within DOT’s power that are essentially free, and politically non-controversial. Many have been listed on these pages and by Transportation Alternatives. But here are a couple:

    -The DOT commissioner could use their position to raise the level of public knowledge and debate about transportation and traffic — and create political space for more action. Currently, the advocates, business and city council are the transportation dialogue.

    Among many other things, DOT could co-promote forums like the one conducted by Scott Stringer in 2006. (In the early 1990s DOT hosted a three day traffic calming forum at NYC that was attended by hundreds of people.)

    – Issue a new design template for city streets that finds a new balance between motor vehicles and pedestrians and cyclists. When streets are reconstructed (currently 90 lanes miles a year)they would, depending on desired use and volumes, include features like neckdowns, raised medians and raised crosswalks.
    – Promote widespread, substantial traffic calming as part of Safe Routes to Schools.
    – Ensure pedestrian median refuges are protected by walls or bollards, like phone booths.
    – Encourage car-free Central and Prospect Parks.
    – Encourage street pedestrianizations and experiments where the community support exists.
    – Promote rational on-street parking policies within NYC govt and media and business.( Granted this would require political capital, but it’s a must.)

    I’m sure Sbloggers could add many additional inexpensive and politically realistic things.

  • Disband DOT

    Giuliani and Riccio were right about DOT.

  • crzwdjk

    Sure, the DOT is a maintenance agency, and so can only control relatively small details of the whole big picture. But details count too! There are many things that are well within the DOT’s power to do that would provide small, incremental improvements to the streetscape and the general environment of NYC. Replacing the “temporary” sidewalk extensions in places like Times Square with permanent ones would be a start, and painting bike lanes in major corridors could be helpful too. “Bus Rapid Transit”, in the form of segregated bus lanes, are also within DOT’s power to implement, though it would require some cooperation from the MTA and NYPD. These aren’t huge policy things, not nearly on the scale of a 30 year sustainability plan, these are just small shifts in the way the DOT does business, and the right person in charge can make them happen.

  • the wizard

    All this talk about Iris having been such a hard-working, effective commissioner is rubbish. Has everyone forgotten about the horrific SI Ferry accident and the role that Iris’ appointees played in this debacle. Without the teflon shield provided by her husband, the Senator, Iris would have been summarily fired! Now the question is what will happen to the young, inexperienced crew Iris brought over and put in
    top management positions with salaries to match? Like Chuck’s nephew who she arranged to be a Boro Commissioner and then moved to an even higher position at the TLC? Or what about Chuck’s dentist’s daughter who was put in a redundant position to justify a salary increase and then given a soft and
    safe landing at yet a higher salary in the Mayor’s office? How about the creation of an Assistant Commissioner for Street Furniture in DOT for another Iris crony. How about the others who’ve benefitted by a meteoric rise because of nepotism or “loyalty” to Iris and Chuck? What good people will Iris replace at DOT to provide a soft landing for her cronies as a departing gift?

    As far as a new Commissioner, Primeggia hardly meets the criteria of a creative thinker that is needed at DOT. I say give it to Joan McDonald!

  • am retarded

    I love your inside information “wizard” but you forgot a couple. The neighbor in Bridge Preventive Maintenance appointed Deputy Director and the Head of Fleet Services from DCAS she brought over to name a few that I also hope do not have a safety net because of their arrogance!

    Her inside cronies are all over the place and good people were sacraficed at their expense.

    Bring back Lou Riccio and create another division to worry about traffic congestion and rapid transit. DOT should just focus on repair of roadways & bridges.

  • TJ

    Irais Weinshall presdied over the deadliest accident in the NYC transportation Department and walked away unscathed.

    She should have resigned from her position.

    Now, she’s moving into another cushy job at CUNY. How did she get that job? Was there a panel with multiple candidates or was this a “no-bid contract” based on politics?

    If anyone knows the answer to this, please e-mail me or post on my blog ASAP. If this was cronyism we should stand up against the elites.

    I believe she should turn down the CUNY job until these questions are a matter of public record. Welcome to Sunshine Week.

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