Kate Ascher: New York City’s Next DOT Commissioner?

works_kate_ascher.jpgSources say that Mayor Michael Bloomberg will name the replacement for outgoing Department of Transportation commissioner Iris Weinshall later this week. Word has it the job may be going to Kate Ascher.

Ascher currently works as executive vice president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation. She received her M.Sc. and Ph.D. in government from the London School of Economics and her B.A. in political science from Brown University. Prior to her job at EDC she served as assistant director of the Port at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. 

Ascher is also the author of one of my favorite books about New York City, The Works: Anatomy of a City. The Works diagrams, illustrates and lays bare the vast array of interconnected systems required to keep New York City up and running.

Read into this what you will but The Works very first chapter is called "Moving People" and the first section of that chapter is "Streets." If you didn’t know any better, reading that chapter, you’d think that New York City’s Department of Transportation is actually the Department of Reckless Driver Enforcement, Pedestrian Safety & Traffic Calming.

While the chapter offers no description of Midtown gridlock piling up at the Lincoln Tunnel, there’s a two page spread on traffic cameras and red light cameras even though, at the time Ascher must have been writing the book, there were only 50 functional red light cams in the entire city. The two page lay-out on sidewalks and pedestrians goes into great detail about Pedestrian Level of Service, a grading system that I’ve never heard anyone at DOT refer to in all of my years of working on Greater Downtown Brooklyn transportation issues. And the full-page spread on traffic calming includes illustrations of chicanes, raised crosswalks, diagonal diverters and a few other traffic calming measures that I’ve seen in Berlin and Berkeley but never in New York City (and certainly not on Third Avenue in Brooklyn).

So, who knows? Maybe Ascher doesn’t realize that these great pedestrian-oriented ideas are actually only a pretty minor part of DOT’s operations as things currently stand. Or maybe this good stuff would emerge as the focus of an Ascher DOT. Either way, her book is great. Here are some illustrations from The Works

works_tc.jpg

works_peds.jpg 

 

  • Sounds really promising.

    My only nit-picky comment is about Pedestrian Level of Service: I’m not sure the analogy to traffic LOS holds up here, since emptier sidewalks aren’t necessarily better that busier ones (especially in terms of vibrancy and safety).

    Of course, any focus on the pedestrian realm is welcome.

  • A. Dotmolsky

    So first it was Joan MacDonald, then it was Janette Sadik-Kahn, now Kate Ascher. What I surmise from this is that someone who contributes to Streetsblog sits outside Doctoroff’s office and thinks every woman who walks in is being interviewed for the DOT Commissioner spot.

    Having no inside information on this particular horse race, I can’t help but think of the Crain’s article a couple of weeks back that said all the high powered names being bandied about (including two of the above) aren’t interested because they all earn more elsewhere.

    The only inside information I’ve got is that DOT Commissioner is a pretty unappealing job for anyone actually wants to do something about mobility in NY, be paid a salary commensurate with his/her market value, or avoid being sucked into a scandal not of your making.

    What do you think, oh person who sits outside Dan’s door?

  • Funny – some of us downtowners were talking recently about PED LOS and VEHICLE interference (after sitting through DOT’s testimony on Intro. 199 and the subjects of LOS and PED interference).

    I agree – the PED LOS should not be measured just by density, it is also affected greatly by activity (it is impossible to move through the jam created by SoHo’s vendors, for example).

    High-quality illustrations in Ascher’s book – they sure might look nice if they were implemented in real-life, don’t ya think?

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