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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...

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