Q and A with Toronto’s new General Manager of Transportation Services

Q and A with Toronto’s new General Manager of Transportation Services

Barbara Gray was hired in November 2016 to be the City of Toronto’s GM for Transportation Services. In Seattle she was Deputy Director of the Department of Transportation. dandyhorse caught up with her for a quick Q and A on a rainy day in April, which made us think of Seattle.

How will you apply what you’ve learned in Seattle to Toronto’s streets? What do you consider your biggest successes in Seattle?

I hope my experiences in Seattle will add value to the good work that is already underway.

Seattle and Toronto have many similarities—certainly Toronto is a much larger city—but both have narrow rights of way, lots of interest in walking, cycling and transit and a mix of both urban and suburban scaled land uses. Having said that, I truly believe that all solutions are local so while I have many interesting experiences from working in Seattle for nearly two decades, they may or may not work to improve Toronto's issues. The things I am most proud of in my time in Seattle are:

  • Developing the City's first on-line street design standards manual
  • Leading the effort to develop a trees and sidewalk operational plan
  • Managing the Seattle Pedestrian Master Plan (2009)
  • Delivering the US's first Complete streets ordinance and working to align the City's transportation department to deliver on Complete Streets
  • Creating the Access Seattle construction coordination program
  • Mentoring and coaching staff to meet their professional goals and improve Seattle's transportation organization

What’s it like putting together a Pedestrian Master Plan? (Tell us a bit about your process in the case of Seattle.)

The Seattle Pedestrian Master Plan is a long-term action plan to make Seattle the most walkable city in the nation. We adopted the first plan in 2009 and are in the process of finalizing the first update. The overarching goal of the plan is to make Seattle the most walkable city in the nation.  More specifically, the plan established the policies, programs, design criteria, and projects to improve pedestrian safety, comfort, and access in all of Seattle’s neighborhoods. Through the Pedestrian Master Plan, Seattle also focused on making its transportation system more environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable.

The initial planning process took two years and involved working with many stakeholders including the general public, business owners, people representing the disability community, cyclists, transit riders, pedestrian advocates, public health professionals, youth, seniors and our elected officials.  We had an Advisory Group that met monthly to review key aspects of the plan and provide feedback and guidance along the way.  The plan was both a policy document and an implementation tool and was based heavily on data to set the context and focus on key objectives.  Seattle looked to many partners during the development of the plan and worked to build strong relationships with public health providers, law enforcement, schools and senior organizations. 

Ultimately, the Pedestrian Master Plan helped improve communication and coordination both within the City agencies and with the public, created new and revised policies related to pedestrian safety and design, created a framework with which to prioritize investments in new infrastructure and identified funding partnerships to pursue in order to deliver on the plan's vision.

What’s your first priority once you arrive at city hall?

To learn more about the people and the way things work at the City. Understand how work gets done and decisions are made.

Focus on creating a reliable and safe trip for people-regardless of what mode of transportation they choose.

What do you think is the best way to measure the success of a bike lane?

If people use it -- that means it is in a convenient place, likely connects to a network and places people want to travel to, and it feels safe to them.

Gray was hired November 2016 and this short Q and A is from April 2017.

 

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