Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lessons from New York - LA Needs a Quitter!

Desperate times call for desperate measures and when New York City's Bicycle Program Director found himself alone, without support from his administration or his department, he did something brave, something heroic, something that may have been the catalyst for the change that is now the envy of the cycling world; he quit.

Andrew Vesselinovitch was the Bicycle Program Director for the City of New York, a position he found frustrating because of the failure of the City to engage in the business of supporting cyclists. He quit, offering up the specifics of his frustration and his charge that it was the city that failed the cycling community. Since then much has changed. Mayor Bloomberg now loves cyclists, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Jhan is a rock star, and Transportation Alternatives has become the model for activists.

Was Andrew Vesselinovitch's departure the tipping point? Who knows. It certainly was a display of integrity and a call for action. Here is Andrew's resignation letter.

Sent: Friday, July 07, 2006 6:05 PM
Subject: Leaving DOT

Dear All:

As many of you know, today is my last day at DOT. As many of you also know, I am leaving to pursue a wonderful opportunity to study architecture, a lifelong interest. I want to thank all of you for having made my five years at DOT and seven years in city government productive and exciting.

I would also like to add that the motivation for my seeking to leave is not so happy for me or for the city. There is much more that the bicycle program could have done than it was allowed to do. The bicycle program, for example, could have produced plans for 40-50 miles of workable bicycle lanes each year. Instead, DOT installed little more than 15 miles, total, in the last two years. We could have saved the city settlements for lawsuits (and residents injuries) resulting from the puzzling addition of unusually high expansion joint covers on the Williamsburg Bridge. I brought this to bridge's attention in 2003 and was told by Michael Primeggia butt out.

I waited for a long time for the direction from the commissioner's office to change, or for the commissioner to be changed. I hope that you won't have to wait much longer.

Thank you and good luck,

Andrew Vesselinovitch
Bicycle Program Director
40 Worth Street, Room 1035
New York, New York 10013

As for Los Angeles, we find ourselves in the midst of a budget crisis of historic magnitude. City Hall is inducing a staff exodus, offering golden parachutes so bountiful the Early Retirement Incentive Program was oversubscribed by 25%. All in an effort to lighten the City's financial obligations and to stave off financial collapse.

As City Hall engages in the re-org, City Planning and the LADOT have acknowledged that over the last 13 years, the City of Los Angeles Bikeways Department has spent $65 million, resulting in 13 miles of Bike Paths, 55 miles of Bike Lanes, and 6 miles of Bike Routes. Not much for a city with 485 square miles of land and 6500 miles of streets.

Through it all, LA Bikeways Coordinator Michelle Mowery has worked the Powerpoint circuit, delivering the infamous "Why you can't have what you want!" presentation that details 1) The lack of room for cyclists 2) The lack of political will 3) The lack of resources 4) The lack of LADOT support for Bikeways.

It may be true that LA is thin on support and resources but it is a fundamental responsibility of any professional to identify barriers to implementing initiatives and strategies for overcoming the barriers that make a job difficult. Based on results, often harsh but always fair, the Michelle Mowery does not have much to show for her 15 years of Bikeways Coordinating.

Perhaps it's time for Michelle, LA's passive Bikeways Coordinator, to do what's best for Los Angeles, to pull a "Vesselinovitch" and to turn in that scathing resignation letter calling out Mayor Villaraigosa and the City Council and the LADOT for their collective failure to perform.

I think it's worth a try!


Anonymous said...

I think the difference in New York is that it was a patronage position, appointed by the mayor. In Los Angeles, it's a staff position, with even less influence.

Perhaps the mayor needs to appoint a bike coordinator who is high enough on the totem pole to not be ignored, as they are speaking directly for the mayor. Just my $0.02

Andrew Vesselinovitch said...

Dear Stephen:

I was tickled to find this post! It would be nice to think that my leaving had a positive catalytic effect (I hope so, but one cannot be sure). I also wanted to clarify that I was a civil servant, not an appointee (as the first posted implied).


Andrew Vesselinovitch