Ydanis Rodriguez Meets the Press: What a Nice Guy (Who Didn’t Say Much)

He's the boss: DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez in his first press conference since taking the city's second most important job. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
He's the boss: DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez in his first press conference since taking the city's second most important job. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The rebel is now the Man.

Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez met the press for the first time since taking the helm of the $1.3-billion agency on Tuesday — and the new boss found himself on shaky ground, fielding questions from the city’s vaunted press corps that would have been red meat back in the days (like 19 days ago) when the then-Council Transportation Committee chairman used his position to hector the agency.

After announcing an expansion of Citi Bike’s popular free membership program for essential health care workers, Rodriguez was forced play a very different role from his former identity as the Council Member who constantly pushed DOT in epic hearings, as when he demanded 100 miles of protected bike lanes per year (up from the 25 miles the city tends to build), when he supported public subsidies for Citi Bike, when he questioned former Commissioner Hank Gutman’s qualifications, or when he transformed the public hearing process to allow crash victims’ families to testify first so that DOT commissioners would have to hear them before ducking out after their own testimony.

First, Rodriguez was asked if he signed off Citi Bike’s upcoming 3.3-percent price hike for full-price annual members. His answer was politic.

“Well, first of all, we are happy to be working with Citi Bike … to expand the mode of transportation that we have in the city of New York,” he said. “Today, we’re focusing today’s announcement, which is very important.”

“But did you sign off?” reporter Clayton Guse of the Daily News repeated.

“I have to get back to the team to see. I know that that information is something that I inherited as I got in the Commissioner role, but right now, today, we are focusing on the announcement.”

Ink-stained and pixel-pocked scribes.
Ink-stained and pixel-pocked scribes at Tuesday’s presser.

David Meyer of the Post asked Rodriguez if he would continue to push for public subsidies for Citi Bike so it could expand further (maybe even into Jackson Heights, Corona, Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst and the other half of The Bronx) faster. The answer could have been one word — yes — but Rodriguez clearly did not want to get in front of his boss (who, by the way, told Streetsblog during the campaign that he also supports public subsidies for Citi Bike):

“The focus of Mayor Adams is about accessibility, equity, safety, and reclaiming parts of the street,” Rodriguez said. “So the plan he has been working with, as you know, is the private and public in partnership with Citi Bike. We would be open to discuss any ideas, but for me, expanding Citi Bike to the underserved community is critical. We need to go back to the team. See how the plan is running right now, but I’m open and the mayor’s open to any ideas that will allow us to expand bike services invest in us, especially in underserved communities.

Streetsblog asked the follow up: “But have you and Mayor Adams at least talked about it since he became mayor?”

“I say that we are open to any ideas of how we can expand Citi Bike,” he said. “This is my second week. I’m discussing with my team how the plan is working. But we are open to any ideas, to any suggestion, anything that we need to do to be sure that Citi Bike and other bike share are expanded to every single community, especially to the underserved ones that deal with asthma, that deal with obesity who also will benefit from the service.”

Streetsblog also wanted to know of the progress of Rodriguez’s promise to bolster half of the city’s loosely protected bike lanes in his first 100 days. He’s 18 days in, so one would think that perhaps one-fifth of the promise had been kept (hint: it has not).

“Well, as you are familiar with the faces here,” Rodriguez said, gesturing towards members of his DOT executive staff. “We have the best team at DOT and they work 24/7 to be sure that I’ve been getting all the information I need as a commissioner. It is our goal to accomplish that percentage. However, we also have to go back and see how we will be able to do it. We also need to deal now with that 3 percent budget cut the agency received. However, it doesn’t matter. We are committed to get to that number, but we also have to continue to work internally and more information will be share very soon.”

Streetsblog got in one last question: Advocates want Albany to give control over speed limits and speed cameras to the city. Has the Adams administration told Gov. Hochul that it wants that control because she has long talked about how she favors local control.

“The most important [thing] from what you are asking is that when the governor and the mayor work together, as Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams are working together, we get good results,” Rodriguez said, repeating that he supports a package of bills called the Crash Victims Rights & Safety Act that include allowing New York City to set its own speed limits. “We were asking the legislature to please pass a bill. And we at DOT are also the team that supports the legislation. In our work we have presented what is important and priority for our city. Conversation is happening between City Hall, led by Mayor Eric Adams, when it comes to how we can move this city forward. And you will hear more details about that.”

So if you’re playing at home, that’s two “let’s focus on today’s announcements,” two “more details are comings,” two “I’m open to thinking about it’s” and two “My boss is awesomes.”