Urban Affairs Reporter
Published on Friday September 21, 2012
Toronto’s transportation chiefs tend to be career bureaucrats. Chicago’s had no experience in government when he was hired in 2008 to run the transportation department in Washington, D.C.
Gabe Klein, 41, describes himself on Twitter as follows: “Transpo 3.0 visionary, pop culture junkie, entrepreneur, bike collector, Vespa lover, world beach traveler, pizza aficionado, hip hop head.” A former Zipcar executive and eco-friendly food vending entrepreneur, Klein, appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to the Chicago post in 2011, has quickly made a national name for himself by aggressively pushing for bike lanes and bike sharing, pedestrian safety measures and, in Washington, streetcars.
A condensed and reordered transcript of his Tuesday phone interview with the Star:
Q: Mayor Emanuel’s goal of 100 miles of protected bike lanes by the end of his term: Is that achievable?
Q: It’s going to happen?
Q: When we talk about bike lanes in Toronto, advocates for drivers talk about a “war on cars” — that’s one of the slogans our current mayor ran on in the 2010 campaign.
A: Ah, Mr. Ford?
Q: You’re familiar with Mr. Ford?
A: Oh yeah. People in this country are very aware of Mr. Ford.
Q: Really? I didn’t know that.
A: Well — people, I should say, in transportation circles.
Q: What do people know?
A: Well, I think people know that he ran on sort of a pro-car platform — this is what we hear in the United States — and that he sort of ran on taking things back a bit to a more car-centric type of city. Whereas the rest of, I would say, Canada and the United States, in terms of large cities, are really looking at active transportation as a key part of their mobility strategy, and I would say in terms of social justice it’s very important as well. Because one of the things that our mayor is very cognizant of is that not everybody can afford a car. We have a lot of people in this city, and across this country, that are struggling, and we want to serve all people equally, and that means giving them options.
Q: Do people ever accuse you of putting the interests of cyclists, or cyclists and pedestrians, ahead of the interests of drivers?
A: I haven’t gotten that; I haven’t heard that directly — but it’s true.
Q: Really? People in Toronto would not say something like that.
A: We have to put pedestrians first. In our new Complete Streets design guidelines, the pedestrian takes precedence. Because they have the least armour; because there are more of them than anybody else; and because we want to encourage people to be pedestrians and feel safe.
Q: Your new pedestrian plan talks about reducing vehicle speeds in some locations. Do you believe that speed should be reduced?
A: Yes. The data says that if at 40 miles (65 km) an hour a car hits you, there’s a 90 per cent chance you’re gonna die. And if it hits you at 20 (30 km/hour), there’s an 80 per cent chance you’re gonna live. So it’s important when looking at these issues to be very data-focused. We set a goal in our two-year plan to eliminate all traffic fatalities in 10 years. And to do that, you have to reduce speed. In an urban environment like Toronto and Chicago, speed is unnecessary. The signals are timed, right? There are stop signs every few blocks. You can go as fast as you want. You’re not going to get there any faster.
A: You will see elements throughout the city. A traffic circle — you may call it a roundabout, or roundaboot, up there — that’s not something you want to put everywhere. What’s appropriate in a residential neighbourhood around a school is totally different from what’s appropriate downtown. We’re very sensitive to that.
One of the things we realized is that everybody’s a pedestrian at certain times in the day. People use different forms of transportation at different times. Like for me: I rode my scooter to work today. Yesterday I biked to work. Tomorrow I may walk to work. And the next day I might take transit. I like to try to do all those different things to get a perspective from those different modes. I think that the tension that people talk about is a little overplayed; it’s almost trumped up a bit by the press or whatever. I think people ultimately just want as many options as possible that are safe and healthy — and, hey, maybe even fun — when they’re getting around.