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A ride-or-die Eric Adams campaign surrogate scored a powerful post overseeing NYC’s streets, but so far that has meant taking a back seat to the mayor’s bureaucrats.
- Three-term City Councilmember from the 10th District, representing Washington Heights, Inwood, and Marble Hill
- Chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee
- Unsuccessful candidate for New York City Public Advocate and Congress
- New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner
Eric Adams did not have a more loyal supporter on the 2021 campaign trail than Ydanis Rodriguez. The three-term, Dominican American City councilmember from Washington Heights was seemingly at every press conference Adams held, touting Adams’s ability to dance merengue, attacking his rivals’ records on public safety, and, according to political reporter Jeff Coltin, having a hand in the catchiest song of summer 2021 (seriously).
Sometimes, Rodriguez got a little too carried away in his public role as one of the Adams campaign’s most pugnacious allies. “Kathryn Garcia no es una Latina,” Rodriguez said at one rally, as the Democratic primary race began to tighten. After Rodriguez made that pronouncement, Adams had to smooth it over with a New York Times reporter: “I want to be clear that it is not my quote that Kathryn is not Latino.” (Garcia’s ex-husband is Puerto Rican, and she has said her children are half Puerto Rican.)
When Adams secured victory, he made Rodriguez his Department of Transportation commissioner. Unlike some of the most effective DOT Commissioners in the previous two administrations, Rodriguez isn’t a formal policy expert but the former chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee. For a guy who once claimed that he needed his annual municipal pay bumped up to $175,000, being DOT commissioner is a sweet gig. Not only does it come with a $243,171 salary, which is around $15,000 shy of the mayor’s, but it’s a position that is vested with real power.
Unlike so many other aspects of New York City life that are entrusted to state lawmakers in Albany, our municipal government has vast authority over City streets. In his eight years as City Council Transportation Committee chair, Rodriguez helped pass substantive street safety legislation, and often pushed the de Blasio administration to be bolder, including advocating for the implementation of the Streets Master Plan in 2021, which set specific, ambitious, legally mandated benchmarks for safety infrastructure over a five-year period. During Rodriguez’s tenure in the council, traffic deaths and injuries fell significantly and reached a historic low in 2018.
What did Commissioner Rodriguez do with his newfound power? So far, not a whole lot.
As many outlets—notably Streetsblog, the CITY,and Hell Gate—have chronicled, Rodriguez’s DOT is constantly undermined by the Mayor’s Office. Specifically, the mayor’s chief adviser, Ingrid Lewis-Martin, has watered down or canceled numerous street safety projects at the behest of business interests, essentially taking years of work put in by DOT civil servants and throwing it all in the garbage. When Lewis-Martin herself isn’t keeping the DOT in check, other Mayor’s Office employees apparently are, including Tiffany Raspberry and a civil servant named Richard Bearak, a former director of land use under Borough President Adams. Despite having no formal transportation policy experience, Bearak is tasked with reviewing the agency’s plans before they’re implemented. (City Hall told Streetsblog that Bearak gives “valuable, informal advice.”)
“If Ingrid’s the king, he’s the right hand of the king. He is there to do her bidding,” one City official told Streetsblog of Bearak. “He only was going to raise the concerns that you’re going to hear from car drivers. He’s never been on the pro-pedestrianization, pro-bike lane side.”
But if the commissioner is upset by any of this, he’s not showing it—perhaps out of that same loyalty that helped get him his job. He has been sensitive and responsive to criticism from potentially powerful allies to the mayor. When film studio honcho Tony Argento called a “town hall” meeting to voice opposition to a road diet on McGuinness Boulevard, one that the DOT had spent more than a year mapping out and getting feedback on, Rodriguez himself dutifully showed up, giving the gathering his imprimatur.
At a City Council oversight hearing in September, councilmembers asked Rodriguez for updates on those five-year Streets Master Plan benchmarks—the City must create an average of 30 miles of protected bus lanes, 50 miles of protected bike lanes, 500 pedestrian signal upgrades, and other improvements, every year from 2022 through 2026. Rodriguez declined to provide any, perhaps because the Adams administration continues to lag far behind on meeting those goals, especially on the creation of bus lanes.
Most importantly, traffic deaths have crept up over the past several years, and Rodriguez’s boss “doesn’t give a shit,” one City Hall source told Hell Gate this fall.
A month after an NYPD tow truck driver struck and killed seven-year-old Kamari Hughes in Fort Greene at an intersection with poor visibility this past October, the Adams administration announced it would “daylight” improvements at 1,000 intersections across the city, making it easier for drivers and pedestrians to see each other. But if Adams’s DOT under Rodriguez can’t be trusted to keep its bus and bike lane promises, why should New Yorkers believe them now?
DOT officials declined to comment on the record, but said they would continue issuing annual updates to the Streets Master Plan in January, and that the administration’s previous success with improving intersections overall showed that it could meet its daylighting goals.
- Max Politics Podcast: City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez on Backing Eric Adams & The Path Ahead | Gotham Gazette
- ‘Just Keeping the Lights On’: Low Morale, High Staff Vacancy Rate Hobble Department of Transportation | Streetsblog
Last updated: 12/18/2023
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