Monday, December 13, 2010;
JUST AS Michelle A. Rhee changed the course of education in the District, so did Gabe Klein redirect its transportation policy. As transportation director, Mr. Klein aimed to make the city more livable by giving people more options in getting around. His departure has some worried about the future of his progressive policies, but we believe their success will make it hard to turn back.
Mr. Klein announced last week that he received a termination letter from Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray and that, accordingly, in January will leave the post he has held for 22 months. Mr. Klein was upbeat, saying - quite correctly - that the incoming mayor "has every right to put somebody in that he thinks fits with his vision for the city." More to the point, he was optimistic about prospects for smart-growth policies that were pursued during Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's administration. These include an emphasis on pedestrian safety, expansion of the downtown Circulator bus service, the trolley project and, perhaps most notably, the encouragement of cycling as an alternative through the bike-share program and construction of more bike lanes.
Some of these policies and the vigor that went into their implementation were unsettling in a city used to a more staid and reactive transportation department. No one likes to have to pay more for parking, but there are sound reasons to discourage driving. It's been unfortunate that these sensible ideas in urban planning - many conceived well before Mr. Fenty took office - got caught up in an acrimonious debate about race and other divides that cleave the city. Mr. Klein said he was more aware of an age divide, and it will be up to his successor to try to ameliorate those tensions. For starters, we would suggest a greater emphasis on the responsibilities of cyclists, both to prevent tragedies like the recent death of an elderly man hit by a biker and to prevent the kind of backlash against cycling that has occurred in other cities. Police should enforce the traffic laws, which apply to bicycles as well as cars.
Mr. Gray has given no clue as to who will replace Mr. Klein. It's encouraging, though, that he has expressed support for the transportation approaches fostered by Mr. Klein. Significantly, funding for the H Street-Benning Road streetcar project was protected even as the council made painful budget cuts last week. If the appointment is of the same caliber as his choice of Allen Y. Lew for city administrator, there will be good reason to be upbeat.