The de Blasio administration has tapped Brooklyn Navy Yard Board Chairman and de Blasio donor Henry Gutman to lead the Department of Transportation, following former Commissioner Polly Trottenberg’s departure last year to join the Biden administration.
Gutman, a lawyer who also sits on the board of Brooklyn Bridge Park, will head the department for the final 11 months of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s term, during which he said he is committed to installing 10,000 new bike parking racks across the city, and staying committed to its open-streets program.
“The mayor and I believe if you give people more and better alternatives to car culture they will use them,” Gutman said. “Safe and equitable bike parking is a major part of that equation.”
A recent Transportation Alternatives report found the city has failed spectacularly in keeping up with the demand in bike parking as cycling has skyrocketed during the pandemic. The goal of 10,000 new racks is far more ambitious than the city’s previous goal in fiscal year 2020 of just 1,500 bike racks, which they failed to meet even half of, installing only 642 racks.
Gutman, other than serving on the mayor’s panel to address the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, does not have any experience as a transportation planner but has been a donor in local political races for decades, donating $18,375 to de Blasio’s campaigns through the years according to campaign finance disclosures.
Gutman will take the reins from acting DOT commissioner Marget Forgione, a veteran of the department who will stay on as first deputy commissioner. When asked why Forgione was not elevated to lead the department, de Blasio said Forgione “did not desire” the role of commissioner.
When asked why he appointed a non-transportation professional to run the department, the mayor defended Gutman’s record.
“I’ve seen him deal with very thorny situations and really tough community dynamics and find common ground and move an agenda forward, but always with a sharp equity lens,” the mayor said. “When I have someone who I know, I trust, I’ve seen in action, that’s the kind of leader I can depend on to make things happen.”
City transportation gurus called Gutman a strong choice to lead the department but said he must aggressively commit to expanding the city’s bike and bus lane networks.
“The next DOT Commissioner must embrace, without reservation, that people and public transit are more important than cars and parking,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Danny Harris. “This means building more protected bike lanes, dedicated bus lanes, and open space for community use.”
The de Blasio administration is scrambling to cement the mayor’s vision zero legacy during his last year in office. The mayor’s goal of bringing traffic deaths down to zero has stalled in recent years as road deaths have climbed, with 243 people killed on New York City streets in 2020, marking the deadliest year since the mayor announced his signature street safety plan in 2014.
Street safety advocates expressed hope that Gutman would be able to bring the program back on track.
“Commissioner Gutman is an experienced leader who can get Vision Zero back on track,” said Amy Cohen, co-founder of Families for Safe Streets. “This must include restoring funding for the program, along with funding for the Dangerous Vehicle Abatement Program and the Streets Master Plan.”
This story first on our sister publication brooklynpaper.com.