The woman in charge of Downtown’s curvy streets


By Alex Schmidt

For Lori Ardito, taking a walk down the street isn’t simple. As the new Lower Manhattan borough commissioner for the city Department of Transportation, any time she’s outside is a time that technically, she can be working.

“I look up and see a streetlight. I look down and see a sidewalk. In the street there are cars,” she said. “And all are potential issues.”

Ardito, responsible for the Downtown streets below Canal St., meets with residents, businesses and politicians about their traffic concerns and puts them in touch with the right people at D.O.T. to see that work gets done.

Ardito, 45, has been with the D.O.T. since 1987 when she did analytical work for the Bureau of Bridges. Gradually, she made the transition into more operational positions, becoming Brooklyn Borough Commissioner for Transportation, a post she held for 3 1/2 years before moving to the Lower Manhattan office three weeks ago. Among many other responsibilities, in Brooklyn, Commissioner Ardito was in charge of the resurfacing of the entire borough, and oversaw hundreds of field personnel. “I guess along the way someone saw something in me that could deal with this side of things,” she said.

On a visit to her office Monday, she was working on human resources. She has made the decision to hire more experienced personnel to staff the Lower Manhattan office – project managers and construction overseers – and she was perusing résumés. Five people work in the office.

As Brooklyn borough commissioner, she worked directly with constituents. Phil Fox, a long-time Brooklyn resident and Lower Manhattan worker, dealt with Commissioner Ardito often when he was doing advocate work in his community concerning children’s safety.

“She was the point person in the borough and she was wonderful,” Fox said. “She was very dedicated to listening to what the community’s issues were and she did everything she could to implement safety changes…I was sorry to see her leave Brooklyn, but she’s a very hardworking individual and I think she’ll do well in Downtown.”

Paul Goldstein, district manager of Community Board 1 and a Seaport resident, said that while he has not yet worked with Commissioner Ardito, he expects to collaborate with her on a number of issues as he did with her predecessor, Steve Weber.

“We rely heavily on that office, they have a major role in overseeing all of the construction going on in Lower Manhattan,” Goldstein said.

For her part, Ardito sees the move to Lower Manhattan as one with new benefits and challenges. Because Downtown is so concentrated, “An advantage is that I can be hands on and I see a lot of what is going on for myself,” she says. While in Brooklyn, Commissioner Ardito dealt with 18 community boards in a sprawling geographic area, in Lower Manhattan she will be dealing with only one in a highly concentrated space.

But things in Lower Manhattan happen “on a different scale,” she said. There are more state and governmental officials, and new construction is never ending. Her position was created after 9/11 in order to specifically address the high level of repairs and construction in Downtown’s densely packed space. Commissioner Ardito is the third person to have held the post at the office, and the unstoppable pace of development, in fact, is what she sees as her biggest challenge.

“We need to be sure that the construction is being done one, safely and two, that we’re not impacting Lower Manhattan to a point of choking it. Because construction’s certainly not stopping,” she said.

There are challenges, too, with the World Trade Center rebuilding, and Ardito will be working to make the development go smoothly. She has seen some of the designs for the West St. pedestrian walkway and will be involved in making sure the crossing distance is appropriate and several lines are accessible during construction, among other issues.

The World Trade Center project aptly highlights what Commissioner Ardito sees as her greatest goal. “If I can balance what needs to get done with the impact it will have on the community,” she says, “then I will have accomplished it.”

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