DOT Commissioner Update

JanetteSadikKhan.jpgSources say that Janette Sadik-Khan (left) is a top candidate to replace Iris Weinshall when she resigns on April 13. Sadik-Khan met with Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff this week to talk about the job.

A senior vice president at Parsons Brinckerhoff and former Director of the Mayor’s Office
of Transportation for New York City during the Dinkins Administration, Sadik-Khan would be an ideal candidate for the job, though, to be successful in the post it is clear that she would need a strong reform mandate from the Mayor and the political cover to shake things up.

Sources are also saying that Judith Bergtraum (right), DOT First Deputy Commissioner and a key Weinshall aide (she’s also the daughter of local education legends Murry and Edith), has been ruled out as a possible replacement for Weinshall.

  • Andy

    Aaron, Do you know if Bob Kiley was ever in the running? And I’m also interested as to where you got this info.

    Also, as a way to kick off discussion, does Sadik-Khan have to chops to ennact the more ambitious aspects of Bloomberg’s 2030 plan?

  • ABG

    If Sadik-Khan headed the MOT, then she supported the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming study that got killed by Mike Primeggia, right?

    I’m trying to find some of her extensive writings. So far Google Scholar has only come up with this article by her husband (who thanks her for helpful comments). I like his thinking; if she thinks like him then she sounds promising to me:

  • ABG
  • Let us not waste a great candidate in an ill defined mission at the New York City Department of Transportation.

    As any good executive recruiter will tell you, the focus should be first on what is the job?

    This is not obvious. During the hearings on Intro 199-A, the excellent bill requesting DOT to track congestion data and report on indicators, Ms Weinshall made a fundamental point: there are a lot of agencies involved in commuter travel time and she does not supervise most of them. In three words”not my job”. The job needs to be redefined as “Transportation Services”. New Yorkers want a fast, reliable, convenient and inexpensive transportation service to go from point A to point B. In order to do so, the Head of Transportation Services must be empowered to implement new mechanisms to optimize all the city transportation infrastructures that currently provide disjointed portions of the service. Service delivery credentials will have to take precedence over transportation technology expertise in ranking the candidates for the job.

    No less important are the boss’ goals. After all, Mayor Bloomberg, not Mr Doctoroff or the Commissioner, sets the policy. Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Doctoroff have to jointly come clean on what their goals are for transportation in the city. The candidate has to agree with it or his/her life will be miserable and his/her carreer compromised.

    Then, what are the resources? Will the city consecrate the necessary budget to transportation? In the last five years, the Mayor has made his priorities clear: education and health. While the city council has pushed on affordable housing in proximity to the job–an essential policy to reduce overall transportation needs–no one except for Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has yet championed transportation as a major initiative that ought to receive privileged funding. The budget flexibility dictates the level of candidate chosen.

    Last, what is the timeline? The Bloomberg administration will be out by the end of 2009 so this is essentially a two and half year job.

    Should the best candidate waste time on a two and a half year stint, to work for a boss that does not share his/ her goals, in a job where neither the budget nor the organization allow for what the customer demands?

    What New York City must embrace in its PlanNYC long-term sustainability plan is a major policy and organizational change at the DOT. Otherwise, let us just put a caretaker in the job and save our brightest for 2010.

    Christine Berthet
    Co –founder of Chekpeds

  • ABG

    Good points, Christine, but here are the two main things I want from a DOT commissioner:

    1. Don’t build any more pedestrian-unfriendly streetscapes.

    2. Don’t block traffic calming, and keep your underlings from blocking it.

    How bright or great do you need to be to do those things? The city isn’t going to have a Commissioner of Transportation Services without essentially dismantling the MTA, and I don’t see that happening in 2 1/2 years.

    Also, if I’m not mistaken, Weinshall was first appointed by Giuliani, and kept over by Bloomberg. If we get a good DOT commissioner in there, there’s a chance she or he will be kept on by Mayor Stringer or Mayor Brewer, right? If he or she doesn’t burn out first, I guess.

  • nimbypimby

    Mayor Brewer? Mayor Stringer? You’re not that delusional, are you? Maybe instead of arguing about who the next DOT commissioner should be, you all should go out to Bay Ridge or Staten Island or Hollis HIlls and start working to convince those people that congestion pricing would be good for the city and good for them. Rather than denying political realities, you should get out there and change them.

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    Thats what I thought when I read the Stringer-Brewer reference. At first I thought it was a joke, but then I guess I wasn”t looking at the Manhattan centricity of it all. Its a big city.

  • Frank

    puh-lease, nimby. your name says it all. people in the neighborhoods you list are never going to vote against their own cheap and easy motoring interests. better bus service, better biking and better ped spaces funded by something like congestion pricing is going to have to be imposed on these constituencies. dot forces things on communities all over the place all the time. heck, the nyt has a story today about dot forcing a road widening on a neighborhood without taking into account any of the “political realities”:

  • Well, you are right ABG, small things can be done right away. Here are three for you :
    dedicated pedestrian intervals at ALL intersections (red light for turning cars)
    aggressive gridlock enforcement
    aggressive honking enforcement

    by agressive , I mean towing the cars on the spot . this is so much ore a deterrant than ticketing .. People do not mind paying fines , what they really fear is losing time and being inconvenienced .

  • nimbypimby

    Do you realize how much of a bigger deal congestion pricing is than road widening? Any idea what it would be like to take on the populations of every borough other than Manhattan and maybe the Bronx? Rather than whining about DOT and pretending you’re doing something, get out there and get the mayor at least some political support for congestion pricing.

  • Screw brooklyn and Queens if they don’t want east river tolls. There are 3 entry points into Manhattan CBD:

    1. New Jersey: Spitzer and Corzine just need to ask the Port Authority to step up their efforts. No action from city hall required…

    2. North (60th Street) This would be pretty popular in even the places it would most effect – Northern Manhattan and the Bronx because traffic mostly comes through these areas from Northern Jersey, Connecticut, Weschester and Rockland…only the state legislature would stand in the way of this one.

    3. East River (QBB, W’Burg, Manhattan & Brooklyn Bridges) – This is where the real opposition exists as far as I can tell. Fine, let them stew in their own traffic jams on the entry points to their bridges, but don’t let them prevent the rest of us from reducing unwanted and unnecessary traffic flowing through our neighborhoods.

    Let’s do the Hudson River and 60th Street first and then show the success of the program.

  • ABG

    Wow, there’s some unfriendly assumptions going on. And strong words: “delusional”, “Manhattan-centric”? You must have gotten hyped up on the Curbed flamewar.

    Bay Ridge, huh? Well, before I wrote “Mayor Brewer,” my first thought was “Mayor Albanese,” but he seems to be keeping a low profile these days. Yes, I was partly joking, but I don’t think it’s too early to start thinking about who we want to support for mayor in 2009.

    As for “Manhattan-centric,” no, Nicola, I mentioned Stringer and Brewer because they’re some of the electeds who’ve been particularly friendly to livable-streets issues. Not Marty Markowitz or John Liu or David Yassky.

    I live in Queens and I know several of the elected officials from my area. Some of them might be able to get elected mayor, but I don’t know if any of them would be progressive enough to appoint someone like Sadik-Khan, or strong enough to give her the support she’d need to effect real change. Oh, and I am working (to the extent I have time) to lobby my local leaders for congestion pricing. But as you say, Pimby, it’s a delicate issue. In any case, I was talking about traffic calming as falling squarely within the DOT’s area.

    Christine, I agree with what you wrote. LPIs are great; we’ve got them on Queens Boulevard now, and they really help. Neckdowns/bulbouts is another good starting point. But enforcement (post-Giuliani) is an NYPD issue, which is the point of your Weinshall quote, and Ray Kelly hasn’t resigned.

  • Frank


    do you really think a majority of voters are going to rise up and demand congestion pricing? not gonna happen. is that how we got the smoking ban?

    the funny thing is that the mayor already does have tons of political cover to begin to make major changes in transpo policy (hell, he doesn’t even have a transpo policy).

    there was that poll a while back showing that new yorkers are more open to a congestion charge than either london or stockoholm voters were before those cities started their congestion charges. you’ve got the big business community, the bid’s and tons of neighborhood groups rallying around these issues. the political desire is there.

    the problem is that this mayor doesn’t seem to care about these issues. making matters worse, for the last x years we’ve had a DOT commish who believed the job was nothing more than to just keep the traffic moving (while not killing too many pedestrians). nyc’s DOT has not been capable of exerting vision or leadership in the way that the dept of health has been. granted, if mayor bloomberg cared about the issue, DOT would probably be stronger. but let’s not pretend there’s going to be that much more of a mass movement in nyc in favor of better buses, safer biking and more expensive motoring than there already is. to a certain degree, it’s something that’s going to have to be imposed by good govt willing to expend political capital. when it’s done and we have a better city for it, a majority will like it.

    DOT and the Bloomberg/Doctoroffs do heavy-handed, top-down, for-the-greater-good projects against the will of nyc communities every day. so, in some ways, a little paternalism is no change at all. the end product would be something other than a sports stadium is all…

  • Glenn, tackling the Hudson first is a great idea because on these crossings the volume of car commuteres in INCREASING , while it is decreasign everywhere else . (stats courtesy of NYMTC) .
    Second because in the Lincon tunnel there is already congeston pricing! very small differential but a true beginnning . We should capitalize on that ..
    Third because their tolls today are 30% cheaper than the East river ones ($ 6 roundtrip versus $ 9 on East river) .
    This would be a good battle , since it could be justified on equity and test further the congestion pricing concept ..

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    I don”t think delusional is too strong a word for people who think you “just do” a thing like congestion pricing and I don”t think Manhattan-centric is too strong a concept for people who think North in NYC is 60th street.

    Look who ran for Mayor last time. Weiner and Ferrer. Weiner has come the closest to supporting congestion pricing and he is still pretty far away. He supports it for trucks. Its an easy out, lots of the truckers are from Jersey so in a way its a tax on Jersey. And he dovetails it with support for the freight rail tunnel Cong. Nadler has been working for about a century.

    Ferrer, another story altogether, once told me he favored eliminating the tolls on the Verrezano. He said, “What the hell, when I”m in Kansas I drive for free, why shouldn”t they drive for free when they are here.”

    And, we got Bloomberg, who, even as a lame duck, hasn”t had the political stones to do it, even though I really think he knows it is good policy.

    I agree with the posters above who progress a concept of building political juice from the base to bring the politicians along. If you don”t the neighborhood papers, the clubhouses and the AAA will continue to “drive” the agenda. Assume lower Manhattan (lower than 60th at least) loves the concept. Where does that leave the other 90% of the voters?

  • ABG

    Niccolò, that’s a pretty broad brush. We were talking about traffic calming when you called me “delusional,” and you raised the issue of congestion pricing. In the context of tolling the entrances to the Manhattan business district, Glenn was perfectly justified in talking about 60th Street as “North.”

    And yes, both Ferrer and Weiner were lame on livable streets issues, but I’m not convinced that the Democrats will necessarily wind up with such lame choices in 2009. It’s possible that as long as the Queens clubs are so powerful, and they’re run by people like Weprin, Katz and Sears, that we’ll wind up with Mayor Weiner.

    But to get this away from congestion pricing again, I think there’s a lot that someone like Sadik-Khan could do within the DOT’s current mandate, on issues like traffic calming. It would require a mayor who’d support the Commissioner in disciplining DOT engineers and bureaucrats who object to pedestrian-friendly policies, but I don’t think that that is delusional. For example, hasn’t Weiner started listening to Estelle and Norbert Chwat about Queens Boulevard?

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    I’m not sure which rope you are hanging me with. I jumped into this debate only concerning the politics of it all. And “delusional” didn’t enter in my response except to quote someone else. Of course, compared to the Battery, 60th is way up north, but in my view pretty much the center of the whole thing. I know that much of the congestion pricing fantasy (obviously I don’t think thats strong a word because inside our present NYC politics it is) involves pricing south of Central Park.

    I think “comical” was my original feeling with regard to Mayors Stringer and Brewer. I don’t think thats a strong word at all, I was laughing at the thought. I still am.

    A lot of the debate on CP comes down to who gets to do it. I’d like it on my block, and I would have liked it on my block when I lived in Brighton Beach. Everybody wants it on their block. And thats the way I think you have to sell it politically. And if you don’t sell it politically guess what? It doesn’t exist.

    We already have some bridge and tunnel pricing, and on the NY thruway and in Jersey, some road pricing. There are lots of infrastructure needs that can only be met through pricing of the space. My favorite is the Gowanus Expressway. Falling down daily, constant rebuilding, artery to Staten Island, Broolyn and the rest of the city needs it tunneled when it is ultimately rebuilt.

    There are several good designs, designs seem to be a dime a dozen. All of them can be paid for by pricing the roadway, none of them can be built without it. Bay Ridge and Sunset Park are very much in favor of one of the tunnel options, yet no politicians are connecting it to the greater road pricing issues and are instead reflexively opposing congestion pricing.

    The politics of transportation require a city-wide approach, something absent in a lot of the thrust on this wonderful site, which comes off as “Manhattan centric” and void of any citywide politics. And, consensus in NYC must be reached before you can push anything through Albany and the Port Authority.

    Not even a lame duck Mayor can even propose congestion pricing. Maybe that is best. Were he to, the Council would throw it back in his face. And, it would become more of an issue in the next mayoral race. And, to the extent it is an issue in the next mayoral race it will only be who opposes it more.

    I’d like to see Sadik-Khan as the next Commish but thats where the great person theory grounds on the shoals of practical politics. Koch came the closest to tolling the bridges (I know it was before EZ Pass). By the next time he ran for office he wasn’t even painting the bridges. He said famously at the time, “bridges don’t vote”. I think that remains the prevailing political wisdom twenty years later.

  • And here I thought the blog was too Brooklyn-centric.


    * Brooklyn (84)
    * Manhattan (78)
    * Out of Town (80)
    * Queens (14)
    * Staten Island (4)
    * The Bronx (9)

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    No Aaron its not the blog that is too centered on anything, I think you hit the drum in the right place. Its the politics of congestion pricing, maybe we should call it the politics of decongestion, that is fatally centered in Manhattan. Which, I guess, figures. It is after all the most congested. Your readership-writership numbers are interesting though. Looks like the outsiders are leading the pack here. Where do they come from, Levittown?


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