Why We Should Care What Gabe Klein Says


Klein talks Capitol Bike Share in 2009 when he was still
Commissioner of Washington, D.C. DOT

The Urban Land Institute and Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti are bringing Gabe Klein to Los Angeles this week to discuss his experiences bringing bike share systems to Chicago and Washington, D.C. The presentation is on Friday from 1 pm to 2:30 pm in Room 350 at City Hall.

Gabe Klein doesn’t quite have the name recognition that Janette Sadik-Khan does. While Klein led departments of transportation  in Chicago and Washington, D.C., it’s hard to match the media profile Sadik-Khan earned as both a Livable Streets hero and the foil of conservative tabloids.

So it is that even though Klein’s profile compares well with Sadik-Khan’s, his speech this Friday isn’t quite getting the rock star coverage that hers did when she spoke at the Street Summit in 2010…even if Klein did launch two successful bike share systems in two major American cities.

But for those that don’t know, here’s why we should care very deeply about Klein, a man that Chicago Streetblog’s John Greenfield once called Klein the best department head in Chicago beyond just what he has to say about bike share. Greenfield also conducted an excellent interview on Streetsblog with Klein after his resignation was announced.

But let’s start with bike share.

In Chicago, the Divvy system now boasts over 3,000 bicycles at 300 bike-docking stations, providing more than 600,000 trips and 1.5 million miles. In D.C., the District Department of Transportation launched the largest bikeshare program in U.S. in less than 1 year. It has since been surpassed in size by Citibike in New York City.

In Chicago, Klein was a key player in beginning to complete Mayor Rahm Emanual’s campaign promise of “100 miles of protected bike lanes” in his first term. In less than a month after taking the helm at Chicago DOT, the first protected bike lane was in place. While cyclists are all very excited about the buffered lane with plastic dividers through the second street tunnel, it’s not quite as exciting as the protected lane on Chicago’s Kinzie Street.

In addition an expanded  bus rapid transit system, the Chicago Riverwalk expansion and construction of the Bloomingdale Trail is already underway. Greenfield reports that Klein left behind a legacy of many less glamorous accomplishments, “from publishing new CDOT guidelines on multi-modalism and sustainability, to launching automated speed cameras. I contacted a number of heavy hitters in the local transportation scene to get their take on the commissioner’s departure.”

Klein’s legacy at the D.C. Department of Transportation is just as impressive. In addition to bicycle share, Klein modernized the city’s bus routing and fleet and expanded the city’s bicycle network in addition to the launch of D.C. Bikeshare.

In short, Klein is every bit the star that Sadik-Khan is. In 2010, she spoke to a pair of packed houses and met privately with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa shortly before the City of Los Angeles began painting bicycle lanes and holding CicLAvias. Hopefully, Klein’s visit brings similar results.