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Gabe Klein, Architect of DC’s Bike Progress, Is Chicago Bound

2:14 PM EDT on April 19, 2011

Chicago Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel has snapped up Gabe Klein, former head of the District Department of Transportation in Washington, to head up his transportation team in the Windy City.

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Klein earned a reputation as a transportation star in the nation's capital, helping put Washington on the national map as a leading bike- and transit-friendly city. During his tenure, he oversaw the creation of the country's largest bike sharing system and built DC's first separated bike lanes. Klein was also instrumental in helping move forward a streetcar system for the District, and under his leadership, the city pursued a wide-ranging parking reform effort [PDF].

The hiring decision signals Emanuel's commitment to making Chicago a world-class biking city, one of his campaign promises. Emanuel has also made transit the centerpiece of his proposed transportation plan. According to the Washington Post, Klein turned down offers to run state DOTs before accepting Emanuel's offer.

Klein was ousted in the political shuffle when Vincent Gray took over the Washington mayoralty from Adrian Fenty in the fall. His ascension to the top transportation spot in the nation's third-largest city is unusual -- DOT chiefs rarely leap from one city to another. Emanuel's decision to hire a well-known DOT leader from another city speaks to the newfound emphasis on transportation policy in urban politics, and the star quality that some innovators in the field have attained.

In a statement on his blog, Klein said he was excited to help make Chicago a leader in progressive transportation planning:

This is an opportunity to continue public service in the 5th largest urban economy in the world, for a leader every bit as reform-minded and results oriented as former DC Mayor Adrian Fenty; to make Chicago an example nationally for innovation in transportation and public space, and most importantly, to positively impact quality of life for the 2.6 million residents of Chi-town.

According to Erik Weber at Greater Greater Washington, "Gabe Klein was the poster child for Fenty's reliance on fast-acting, agile agencies that were willing to push new policies quickly into fruition, evaluate them on an interim basis, and, assuming successful outcomes, work quickly to push for broader implementation."

Klein, whose résumé includes a stint as an executive at Zipcar, based many policies on the principle that people shouldn't have to own their means of transportation. He advocated for car-sharing, bike-sharing and transit in order to reduce household transportation costs.

DC active transportation advocates already miss Klein. Chicago is luck to have him.

Hat tip to Alex Goldmark at Transportation Nation for the breaking news on the Klein hire.

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