Jackson Wandres Reminisces About City
While on staff at the NYC
Department of City Planning (DCP), Transportation Division Project Manager
Jackson Wandres spearheaded the agency's creation of the Citywide Bicycle
Master Plan, the New York Cycling Map and the 1999 Bicycle User Surveys and
other key studies. As he prepares to leave the agency, he took some time to
fill us in on the state of planning for cyclists in NYC. Jackson, both a bike
commuter and a category three racer, is that rare combination of avid cyclist
and a skilled planner. His contribution at the Department of City Planning
will be missed by the bicycling community.
during your two year tenure at DCP make you most proud?
The widespread distribution of the cycling maps. The work I did to raise
awareness for cyclists' issues at higher levels, especially helping to win
additional Federal funding for new projects and making sure that funded
projects were designed and constructed to the highest standards possible.
What did you expect to happen that hasn't?
I thought more bicycle lanes would have been installed.
What happened that surprised you?
I never thought I would see Joe Rose [the Commissioner of the Department of
City Planning] on network television saying that in ten years you will be able
to ride your bike around the perimeter of Manhattan.
The City has said that it has a goal of institutionalizing bike and pedestrian
planning. How would you say it's going?
They have made a lot of progress, but still have a long way to go. Too often
bicycle projects are viewed from a safety point of view. Bicycling projects
should be viewed more from an ecological and quality of life point of view.
What are the top three things that the City should do to help cyclists?
The City needs to make a serious commitment to constructing the entire bike
network and start enforcing laws to protect cyclists. The City needs to
demonstrate that it recognizes the benefits of cycling and visibly and
publicly encourages it. The City also needs to enforce the Vehicle and Traffic
Law equitably for all transportation modes - motor vehicles and bicycles
What are three "realistic" things the City could do to help
cyclists in next five years?
What can happen in the next five years is influenced more by political will
than anything else. The political climate for bicycling as it currently exists
is discouraging. The City could easily implement major portions of the bicycle
network. High priority bike lanes should be implemented where needed most. But
this is tricky to do because to make room you have to pit bikes against cars.
If bicycle lanes aren't appropriated, then traffic-calmed routes can be
created, speeds reduced and enforcement increased. The City currently shows a
lack of will but, if they chose to, resources could be allocated, deadlines
could be set, etc. Bike parking could be institutionalized in new
developments. Through work with zoning resolutions, this could happen. Joe
Rose gave a long speech about the need to make substantial revisions to the
zoning resolutions, so DCP is thinking along those lines. It needs to make
sure a requirement to provide bike parking is part of those revisions.
As an everyday cyclist over the years what changes have you noticed?
It feels like more people are riding bikes for commuting reasons. People seem
more prepared and deliberate. Cyclists have evolved. More take it seriously
and have taught themselves to be good at it. People that the current
administration would consider to be average or "mainstream" people
have discovered the advantages of cycling to work. Ten to fifteen years ago
you saw people that could be considered eccentric people riding around. In a
city that has done next to nothing to encourage and promote cycling over the
past 20 years, to see that change occur naturally over time despite conditions
that have remained static or declined is a good reason to promote cycling even
How much of the hold up for bike stuff is money related?
None at all. Money is rarely the issue. There is money available for whatever
the City decides to build. Cycling infrastructure has to be deemed worth the
expenditure of resources. Government bureaucrats assume that people who want
bike facilities make up a small percent of the population, so it is deemed an
ineffective, inefficient use of politicians' and bureaucrats' time to address
those issues. If you demonstrate a great safety benefit, people in power are
more likely to respond.
The Mayor has said, "We don't need planning." Is he right?
Yes and no. Many things get planned unnecessarily. Projects get unnecessarily
delayed because there is a fear of doing the wrong thing. This bureaucratic
fear is crippling because meaningful steps forward require taking risks. There
are often common sense solutions that simply need to be implemented. The City
is erring on the side of conservatism. For example, the City's stand on
Prospect Park is a weak one. The City is unwilling to test out new ideas, even
in places where they are so obviously right.
What is your advice to TA?
It appears that T.A. and the city agencies with which they deal find
themselves as opponents. This causes name-calling like the cartoons in the T.A.
magazine (see T.A., Jan/Feb 1999, pg. 8). I understand the criticisms, but
what ends up happening is that the gap grows bigger. More constructive
criticism will create a much more productive working relationship.
Name-calling really does piss people off. T.A. needs to reserve that kind of
criticism for when a really horrendous offense has been clearly demonstrated.
By the same token, people in the City government are too thin-skinned.
Unfortunately, people take bad reviews personally and cop an attitude,
revealing an inability to take the heat. Both sides need to make an effort to
work together. Also, the magazine has the tone of disapproval - yes, I agree
that the higher-ranking bureaucrats need to do more. But the magazine should
do more to acknowledge that the people in the middle are trying their best.