Eric Adams Taps Ydanis Rodriguez to Head the Department of Transportation

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
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Well, this could be some good news.

Sources have told the New York Post that Mayor-elect Eric Adams has selected Washington Heights Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez — a key supporter of Vision Zero, but also a key political supporter of the incoming mayor — to be his Department of Transportation commissioner. And advocates are cheering the move, which was later confirmed by the Adams transition team.

“In his years as Council Member Ydanis has been very committed to street safety as a goal and we are delighted by his nomination,” said pedestrian advocate and Manhattan Community Board 4 Transportation Committee Co-Chair Christine Berthet.

Danny Pearlstein of Riders Alliance says his group has long seen Rodriguez as an ally.

“Ydanis Rodriguez has been a long time champion of fairer, safer streets that work for all New Yorkers,” he said. “We look forward to partnering with him, Mayor Adams and Speaker Adams to bring about much better bus service, increase equity and reduce our carbon emissions.”

Paul Steely White, the former head of Transportation Alternatives, said he was initially “disappointed” when Rodriguez became chairman of the Council’s transportation committee in 2014 because he wanted Queens Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer to get that post. But White was pleasantly surprised on Monday.

“It did not take long for Ydanis to prove himself, and win me and others over,” White told Streetsblog. “From his unyielding support for Vision Zero and Families for Safe Streets, to car-free day and transformative projects like car-free parks and the 14th Street busway, he’s dedicated his career to leading the transition to the post-car city. I am confident that he’ll continue in that vein, and implement Mayor Adam’s vision for a most just, accessible city.”

Eric McClure of StreetsPAC echoed that.

“I’m optimistic that he will … surprise people as DOT Commissioner the way he surprised a lot of people, me included, as Council Transportation Chair,” McClure said. “There was a fair amount of trepidation amongst advocates when he got that post, and I think it’s safe to say he significantly exceeded those expectations.”

Rodriguez is well known to street safety advocates for his support for Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. Here’s a short resume:

Ydanis Rodriguez (left) with then-transportation Alternatives Executive Director (and skeptic) Paul Steely White and Council colleague Jimmy Van Bramer.
Ydanis Rodriguez (left) with then-transportation Alternatives Executive Director (and skeptic) Paul Steely White and Council colleague Jimmy Van Bramer.

As solid as Rodriguez is on the issues, he will face a huge challenge running the DOT, a vast, sprawling agency with a $1.3-billion budget that is about to take over key responsibilities over crash investigations, outdoor restaurant regulation, open streets, much bigger legal mandates for bus and bike lane construction and, most important, an imperative to bring down road deaths after the bloodiest year of the Vision Zero era. The agency is much-criticized for prioritizing drivers above all other road users. Not to mention that Adams’s electoral coalition included many drivers and placard-class members, so it’s a question of whether Rodriguez is being hired to appease or to challenge them.

“He will have to dig deep in how to achieve traffic safety by removing engineering and cultural obstacles in the agencies,” said Berthet when asked about the challenges.

McClure also suggested that Rodriguez would be inheriting a demoralized agency — something other insiders have said as well.

“It will be very important that he surround himself with smart, progressive policy people at DOT, retain the people who are doing good work now and boost morale internally, and continue to push policies that he’s embraced as Transportation Chair, like greatly reducing the number of cars in the city,” McClure said. “He’s clearly been frustrated at times by the administration’s recalcitrance on policies that the Council has advanced, and now he’ll be in a position to do something about it. I also think it’s a positive thing that there’s a well established working relationship between Ydanis and advocates, and that should help us all hit the ground running.”

In the end, most advocates believe that Rodriguez represents a solid pick because he has a good heart.

“In his time as chair of the Committee on Transportation, Ydanis Rodriguez demonstrated immense compassion for victims of traffic violence,” said Doug Gordon, co-host of the “War on Cars” podcast. “It’s that kind of empathy for vulnerable street users that I believe will inform his work at DOT in the years ahead.”

Berthet recalled that Rodriguez once asked Families for Safe Streets members to speak first at a Council hearing so that DOT officials would be in the room to hear the testimony.

“That kind of thing,” Berthet said, “is culture busting.”

Clarence Eckerson of Streetfilms put together a short montage of Rodriguez’s greatest hits: