Shifting Gears at DOT

 

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DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan bicylcing to work during her first week on the job

Crain’s New York reports that the earth is shaking below Dept. of Transportation headquarters at 40 Worth Street:

Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s new transportation commissioner, politely says she’s building on the foundation left by her predecessors. In fact, she is shaking it. A month into her job, she’s advancing ideas that the department has long rejected, from residential permit parking to banning cars from Central Park to the mayor’s revolutionary congestion pricing plan.

Ms. Sadik-Khan knows she can’t merely reform the Department of Transportation’s policies. She has to change its very mind-set, because staffers have long seen their mission as moving as much traffic as they can, as fast as they can.

Overcoming such entrenched thinking is an immense task, as Ms. Sadik-Khan, 47, knows from experience. As a DOT staffer in 1991, she answered Mayor David Dinkins’ call to reduce congestion by writing a plan for East River bridge tolls. The idea was predictably unpopular and died quickly. Ms. Sadik-Khan’s abandoned report sits on a shelf in her unglamorous 10th-floor office at 40 Worth St., a reminder of what happens when policy meets politics.

After leaving city government, she worked as a senior vice president at engineering giant Parsons Brinckerhoff and before that as a transportation official in the Clinton administration.

This time, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has vowed to fight for congestion pricing regardless of the political cost, which is why Ms. Sadik-Khan is in the hot seat. “When I talked with the mayor about the possibility of joining the agency, I did talk to him about wanting to do congestion pricing, moving forward with bus rapid transit, taking a greener approach, looking at complete streets, a revitalized bike network,” she says. “I very much see working toward a greater, greener New York as the new mission.”

She speaks of redesigning the city’s streets for pedestrians, bicyclists and buses. That’s what Jon Orcutt from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Andy Wiley-Schwartz from the Project for Public Spaces and traffic consultant Bruce Schaller have advocated for years. The department had never listened, but Ms. Sadik-Khan not only heard them, she hired them.

At 40 Worth St., you can almost feel the foundation rumbling.

Photo: DOT press office

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