Infrastructure & Environment

De Blasio Picks New York City Transportation Commissioner

Polly Trottenberg, a higher-up at the U.S. Department of Transportation, takes over an office that's been redefined in recent years.
by | January 2, 2014
Polly Trottenberg talks with HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013. AP/Richard Drew

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has picked Polly Trottenberg, a top federal transportation official, to lead the city's transportation department.

Since 2010, Trottenberg has worked at the U.S. Department of Transportation; in January 2013, she was confirmed as the department's under secretary for transportation policy.

In a New Year's Eve announcement, de Blasio said Trottenberg will be in charge of executing his vision for expanded bus rapid transit service in the outer boroughs, along with reductions in traffic fatalities and increased bicycling, among other priorities.

De Blasio's goals echo many of the steps already taken by the transportation department in recent years. Trottenberg reiterated the department's commitment to safety.

“One life lost on our streets is too many," Trottenberg said in a statement. "We are committed to the maxim that safety -- for everyone who uses the roads, including pedestrians and cyclists -- is our top priority."

“From improving our roads, bridges and waterways to better serve our citizens and businesses, to connecting New Yorkers to jobs and opportunities through improved high-speed bus service, to expanding biking across the five boroughs, we can have a transportation system that is safe, efficient and accessible to all."

Before joining the DOT, Trottenberg was the executive director of Building America's Future, a non-profit formed by former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that advocates for infrastructure investment

She's previously served as an aide to Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Charles Schumer (D-NY), and she's worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Trottenberg replaces Janette Sadik-Khan, who's led the city's transportation efforts since 2007 and became something of a celebrity, garnering national attention for installing hundreds of miles of bike lanes and blocking off parts of city streets -- including Broadway -- in order to transform them into pedestrian plazas. The move infuriated some drivers but endeared her to others.

She also presided over Citibike, New York's massive new bike share system.

Groups that advocate for transit and biking have already praised Trottenberg's appointment. Geoffrey Anderson, president and CEO of Smart Growth America, said Trottenberg will benefit from sometimes-controversial work that Sadik-Khan did. "Part of what Janette suffered from what the newness of all these ideas," Anderson said. "Polly's going to be a great person to keep the ball moving in the same general direction."

Paul Steely White, executive director of the non-profit group Transportation Alternatives, says the U.S. Department of Transportation has placed a greater priority on transit, biking and pedestrian safety in recent years. "Polly Trottenberg has played a major role in that shift," he said in a statement.

Her background in both management and legislation will likely be an asset in running the city's department, he added.

Marcia Hale, who succeeded Trottenberg as executive director of Building America's Future, said Trottenberg's selection was a "brilliant choice"

"She knows the system better than anybody out there could possibly know it," Hale said. "She could be a huge advocate for the city and hit the ground running really fast."

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