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D.C.’s DOT Director talks “Transportation Freedom”

Meet Gabe Klein who was appointed new director of Washington D.C.'s Department of Transportation (DDOT) in December 2008.  With an interesting background which includes four years working for Zipcar, Mr. Klein was brought in with the idea of looking at the job from a fresh perspective (check out: Potholepalooza!) and innovating solutions to many mobility problems D.C. faces.  Right off the bat, you'll love a lot of what he has to say:

"Cars are a part of our daily life here in D.C. ...but what we want to do is try to equalize the playing field.  Encourage people to walk, to bike, to bike share; or instead of owning a car - car share."

Washington D.C. already has one of the lowest household car-ownership percentages of any major U.S. city, so actively promoting these modes is essential to helping its citizens move about with - as Mr Klein points out - "freedom".

Gabe Klein: [0:00] I think what people don't realize, is that what DDOT really does is provide people freedom in the form of transportation. And we also create beautiful spaces throughout the city and then provide the linkages between those spaces. [musical interlude]

[0:16] It's really been an honor to have this position. Before this I had my own company called "On the fly" which was an electric vehicle vending company. Before that I worked for Zipcar and helped build that business and built the Washington region. Actually before that I grew up in the bicycle business, so I spent many many years on a bike. I probably bike before I could walk. Here in the district we're blessed with a wonderful metro system and in general a wonderful public transportation system.

[0:57] This is an amazing city, it's a history city. Cars are part of our daily life here in DC. We have millions of visitors that come here every year. But what we want to do is try to equalize the playing field, encourage people to walk, to bike, to bikeshare instead of owning a car. Car-sharing. We have some wonderful programs that are very visible and we think visibility and investment are the first steps and that's why we've taken public parking spaces and given it to car-sharing companies to raise the visibility of car-sharing. Now when people visit, and they see these big orange poles on the streets, and they think about moving here, they realize that they don't need to have a car.

[musical interlude]

[1:42] We were the first city in the US to put a bike sharing system in place, we're very proud of that.

What's great about SmartBike is, it's already there. I can grab this bike and I can drive it down to my business meetings downtown, pop it into a station, go to my meeting, come back out, swipe, grab another one. It's such a great combination of technology and something that's been around for hundreds of years: [1:55] the bicycle. Is that easy or what?

Interviewer: [laughing] [2:17] OK, right.
Gabe Klein: [2:18] At this point we only have ten stations and a little over a hundred bikes, working on a program to roll out 90 more stations and have a 1080 bikes in the next 18 months. [2:29] So we're very big on multi-modalism here. There are often people actually take a SmartBike , drop it off, then come over here and hop on the Circulator bus. The Circulator bus is sort of the sexier, more fun, useful bus. The Circulator bus costs one dollar. It runs every ten minutes, so every ten minutes without fail a Circulator bus will pull up. And if you look on the side of the bus, you can tell where the bus goes.

[2:56] The idea is to circulate people around the city. We have a hub and spoke metro system. So we have central areas like Gallery Place, Metro Center, and then you have the spokes that go out on the red line, the green line, the orange line out into Virginia and Maryland. So the bus system really functions in getting people around the city.

[3:18] Hey, how is it going?

Bus Driver: [3:19] Good, how are you?
Gabe Klein: [3:20] I'm Gabe Klein. I'm the director of the Department of Transportation. [3:24] This is a hybrid electric bus. It's from Belgium and you can see it's just very clean, very clean lines, very European, very simple, pretty, durable bus. Lot of windows. It's got two entrances and exist. And then we also have off fare passes, so you can actually buy tickets to the bus before you hop on.

[3:48] One thing that's interesting about transit oriented development and the way the Feds look at it for instance is, they wanna know what your ridership is going to be. And in some places like Anacostia where we're putting in a street car line, there is not a lot of ridership. So, in that case we're saying we wanna make the investment, just like we do with the metro of 35 years ago. We wanna make the investment because we know if we do, the people will come, the development will come. The businesses will come.

[4:18] With the re-authorization coming up, we know there is a real push for cities to be able to have more impact. And in order to have more impact to potentially get money directly. But one of the great things about DC is we're doing that already because of our unique charter. We want to implement, experiment with technology, so that we can be a showcase for the Obama administration. I think cities have to be taken seriously, have to be separated. And to be honest, if we do that, the rural areas, the suburban areas, they will be better off as well.



Clarence Eckerson, Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • Lars

    This is good news. It seems that city's are starting to hire qualified and progressive stars to head their transportation depts. Good luck DC!

  • Danfield

    From what source does one find car-ownership percentages?

  • http://msftandthefuture.spaces.live.com/ Quikboy

    We need a guy like him in Houston. Obviously he's much adept at understaind a city's traffic issues. Houston is pretty much all about cars. Well except for the unpleasant Metro bus system, and the expensive MetroRail that hasn't brought that much revitality to the area because it's not long enough, and there's not great ridership on it. Bike lanes are barely existent, and you can forget about walking around.

  • Dave

    The US Census has that information: factinder.census.gov