Full interview of Gabe Klein from my Architect’s Newspaper article


Transportation commissioner Gabe Klein cycles to work on Michigan Avenue. 

I wrote an article about myriad transportation projects and initiatives in Chicago for Architect’s Newspaper, a magazine based in New York City. It was published last week online and in print (in the centerfold, no less). My original article was over 2,500 words, but only 1,600 words fit in the print version. I will be publishing additional details from the interviews I conducted for the article and about the projects it mentions.

The first is my interview with transportation commissioner Gabe Klein, conducted over the phone on January 19, 2012.

How will things change for pedestrians?

My philosophy in addressing needs is that you have to look out for the most vulnerable users first. In many times, there’s a trickle down effect. We want Chicago to be a walkable, livable city. We also want it to be a bikeable city, but walkable first. I think there was a push in the past to make it so that cars moved as quickly as possible. Back then, cities lost their self-confidence and catered to the transient drivers who passed through [emphasis added]. You cater first and foremost to the people who live here, not just the people who work here. I think it’s an indicator of cities, how walkable it is.

There’s slowing traffic down, responsible driving by livery drivers, there’s signage (that’s appropriate), there’s enhancing and activating public space, there’s widening of sidewalks when possible. When there’s a new project, you address it as a complete street and not focus on a single mode. It’s a multi-prong process that involves designing, marketing, and running a safety program differently. Some of my focus areas are reengineering, education, and enforcing.

Enforcement plan is still in the works. We [CDOT] have targeted campaigns. We’d like to see traffic safety to be more baked in to what officers do every day in the streets. My conversations with the Super [Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy] have been very positive, and it’s just a matter of putting together a program with the traffic team. [And then] expanding from the traffic team to the thousands of the officers.


A poster in the pedestrian safety campaign depicting an injured girl. Michelle Stenzel, who took the photo above, critiqued this campaign in January

There are people working on a scramble. We’re looking for locations for a pilot. [I never followed up with him on this.]

How are things changing for drivers?

We are looking at all of these projects as safety projects. When we take away a lane (for sidewalks, or bike lanes), we also redo signals. We’re going to do a big investment on traffic signals: optimization, tech upgrades.

The traffic tracker beta. We programmed it in-house. We’re going to be adding cameras, and it auto-tweets. It took second place at the ITS World Congress (without a lot of bells and whistles). It uses GPS on the buses. We can eventually use taxi GPS [the new taxi regulations require that GPS be added to taxicabs].

Information is probably as important as infrastructure upgrades.

Last but not least, we plan on doing more paving than we’ve done in the past few years. Leveraging the work of the utilities, maximize the taxpayer’s investment for safe road surfaces.


Start by repaving Milwaukee Avenue. And start enforcing pavement repair after utility cuts are made. It’s in the Bike 2015 Plan and the Tracker notes the bikeways are not repaired

[How’s the pothole killer?] It was a learning experience. They’re pretty complicated to operate, but our people got the hang of it. It’s nice to have something in your toolbox and get more pothole fillers on the street quickly, after a bad winter. Also something beneficial for arterials and high traffic streets and the pothole be filled more quickly. I look at this as an enhancement to what we already do, which I think is done pretty well.

How are things changing for bicyclists?

You’ll see some pretty dramatic physical changes in the streetscape. We’re definitely focusing on high return, low cost investments we can make quickly. Make it safe to ride bikes, but also provide bikes for them to ride. Bike lanes, bike boulevards, buffered, protected bike lanes, bike sharing. I think it’s gonna change… I think it will turn on the light bulb for a lot of people to move from recreation to transportation cycling. (It can be a pain sometimes, not feeling safe, carrying a lock, finding a place to lock your bike. We’re going to remove the obstacles for people: “I think I can ride a bike home, because it’s right here, I don’t have to carry a lock, and it’s free”. It’s a seamless transition between modes.

One of the things I think people will be impressed [with bike sharing] is from a marketing and economic standpoint. Bike sharing is a product we didn’t know we needed, but we’ll not be able to live without it. We’re in the throes of that. We’ll have an announcement sooner than you think. [The announcement still hasn’t come.]

How are things changing for transit users?

I consider them pedestrians for the most part, although with bike share I think that will change. We’re going to make it safer for people to get to transit, and we’re going to enhance transit options and the experience.
We just announced several things. Particularly the Washington/Wabash [station replacement], from an architectural viewpoint, they’re going to be raising the bar. It’ll be a signature station. So there’s that investment, and there’s the new station at Cermak on the Green Line at McCormick Place.

We are viewing bike share as a transit project, and not a bike project. First of all, there’s outreach to the public. And also planning so there’s a lot of modal connectivity with bike share, bus, and rail.

Jeffrey Boulevard is BRT-light. Our first foray into BRT, but we’ve done some intensive planning on the east-west corridor. It’s going to give us a great opportunity to really create a complete street. Including a bus lane, not necessarily high speed, it’s not subject to the slowdowns that cars are subject to. [See the CTA’s website on the Jeffrey Boulevard bus rapid transit project.]


A BRT station in Cleveland, Ohio. One feature of bus rapid transit systems is paying your fare before boarding, to speed operations. Photo by Sean Bender. 

Other questions

[What about Union Station?] I was on the board of the DC station. We created an intercity bus terminal on one of the low-usage parking decks. We’ll look at how we can incorporate Megabus.

[What about the Fast Forward Agenda?] We’re in the final iterations of that. Sometime in February.

[On project tracking] I want to create a dashboard of projects we’re working on that’s updated once a week. Here’s the Washington, D.C. dashboard. [It features] milestones, budget, documents. I’m really big on transparency and good communication. When I left DC, our FOIA requests were dramatically lowered.

We also talked about specific projects, like the Logan Square traffic circle community plan, the Lawrence Avenue road diet and streetscape, the Milwaukee/Wood/Wolcott intersection, and parklets. I will be discussing these in future articles.

6 thoughts on “Full interview of Gabe Klein from my Architect’s Newspaper article”

  1. I’m glad to hear that Klein is pushing for better enforcement. I’d much rather see police officers spend time writing tickets for actions that endanger others, rather than for silly things like expired stickers. Just yesterday I saw a cop writing a ticket for a vehicle temporarily double parked on my low traffic residential street. The vehicle wasn’t blocking traffic, and sometimes double parking to unload is a necessity in this area due to very limited parking that’s often taken up by people visiting nearby churches and businesses. While this harmless action got police attention, just down the block there are cars ignoring pedestrians in crosswalks and the police do absolutely nothing about it.

  2. Start by repaving Milwaukee Avenue. And start enforcing pavement repair after utility cuts are made.

    Enforcing pavement repair is critical.  Also, I’m pushing for better standards for ADA curb replacement projects.  I’ve seen lots in our neighborhood in the past 2 years that were poorly done and already growing baby potholes – right in the turning zone at corners.  See pictures of this and other problems here.

    1. I think pavement repair (the lack of) is more important than pothole repair. The city already has a decent program to receive reports of potholes and fix them. But it has no such program to ensure that contractors and utility companies are resurfacing to standards. 

      Another thing to figure out is what are those standards? I presume they are as good or better than the surround pavement. 

      I started writing about this topic in this article, but I realize that I never finished pursuing it. 

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