Klein, street transformer in DC and Chicago, steps down

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November 01, 2013

Michael Andersen, Green Lane Project staff writer


Gabe Klein, in May 2013. Photo: Metropolitan Planning Council (Flickr).

The official who used strong support from two mayors to catapult Washington D.C. and Chicago to the forefront of American street design announced his resignation Friday.

Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein, 42, called it “the end of my public service career for now” and told the Chicago Tribune that he plans to return to “the private sector” and start a family with his wife, who has continued to live and work in D.C. during Klein’s service in Chicago.

Leah Treat, director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation and a top Klein colleague in both D.C. and Chicago, said Friday that Klein’s signature ability has been “getting projects launched and on the ground and implemented with lightning speed.”

“I learned a lot from him in how the private sector worked and bringing that sense of urgency to the public sector,” Treat said. “The bureaucracy is basically built to say ‘no,’ and there’s no risk in anybody saying no. We were always willing to take the risk to saying ‘yes.'”

The resignation comes as another leader in the U.S. movement for better urban streets, Janette Sadik-Khan, is expected to leave her longtime post as Klein’s counterpart in New York City.

Klein was an early executive at Zipcar before being hired by DC Mayor Adrian Fenty in 2008 to run that city’s transportation department.

Under Klein, DDOT launched the trend-setting Capital Bikeshare and joined with New York City to help lead the nation in creating protected bike lanes on major streets.

The result was a rapid increase in the popularity of biking.

Rahm Emanuel saw those changes firsthand while working as White House chief of staff. When he was elected as Chicago’s mayor in 2010, he hired Klein, along with Treat and Scott Kubly, to bring their operation to the Midwest. Chicago then rapidly pursued a similar agenda, making plans to lay 100 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes, launching a major D.C.-style bikeshare system and helping that city, too, quickly make biking much more popular.

“He’s very good at defining what the goalpost is,” Treat said. “Very good at telling people what the expectations are.”

Klein will serve until the end of November.

Streetsblog Chicago reported Friday that Emanuel “will make a succession announcement after Klein leaves the post.”

The site also noted that Klein’s 30-month tenure is actually quite a while in Chicago years: he had five different precedessors over the previous five years.

Treat predicted that Emanuel’s next appointee will continue Klein’s emphasis on human-friendly transportation.

“Whoever he chooses to replace in his position will have the same philosophy and desire to push livability in the city of Chicago,” Treat said. As for Klein, she predicted: “He will continue to be a cycling advocate whatever he does.”

The Green Lane Project writes about the ways cities are building better bike lanes. You can follow us on Twitter or Facebook, or sign up for weekly emails of our latest news here.

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