May/June 1999, p.8

Interview: Jackson Wandres Reminisces About City Planning

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.

What accomplishments 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 alike.
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 further.
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.