All Transportation is Local

Jon Orcutt

The other day I got a chance to sit down for a cup of coffee with Jon Orcutt.

Since 2007 Jon has been New York City’s Department of Transportation Policy Director. He was hired by Janette Sadik Kahn, the city transportation commissioner credited (and in some circles blamed) for transforming a city once outright hostile to bikes to one that made rapid progress in becoming a bike friendly city.

He recently took some time away from Gotham to speak to Trek employees in Madison at an annual internal meeting the company has to talk about innovation.

This cover of City Cyclist shows TA actions to reclaim the bike path on the Queensboro Bridge South Outer Roadway: a weekly march across the bridge and a banner hung from the roadway viewed from First Avenue. Photo from Streetsblog NYC

Orcutt came from the activist ranks. Before taking his job on the inside he ran the Tri State Transportation Campaign. That group advocates for more transit funding and less road expansion. Prior to that Orcutt was the former Transportation Alternatives executive who in 1990 was arrested for blocking access to the Queensboro Bridge.

He was definitely a bold and pointed hire. When I asked him what Sadik Kahn wanted him to accomplish, he answered with dead pan humor, “She hired me to overhaul transportation policy in the city of New York.”

Well, ok. No pressure there.

He’s done okay so far. Since 2007, bike counts in New York are up two and a half times. He attributes part of that to the launch of bike share last year, which had 7.5 million rides on the blue CitiBikes.

“But that succeeded because of huge amount of protected bike lanes,” Jon explained. In fact, 400 miles of bike lanes have been added in the last six years.

And while he credits the leadership of Sadik Kahn and her boss Mayor Michael Bloomburg, Orcutt says that the new Bill de Blasio administration is continuing the work started under the former mayor.

I asked him for one take away message from the talk he was about to give.

“The lesson I learned in advocacy is to always be in the right room. These days the right room is in city hall, it’s in the mayors office or in other influential city offices. The right room is not in Washington, DC. All transportation is local.”

Music to my ears. Jon Orcutt might be working in the biggest city in America but his message works everywhere: all transportation is indeed local.

Protected bike lanes like this one on 9th Avenue have reclaimed the mean streets of New York City and turned them into green streets. Gotham now has more than 600 miles of bike lanes and plans for up to 1,800 miles.


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