Iris Weinshall is a vice chancellor at the City University of New York and a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation. Weinshall was appointed commissioner by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani on September 8, 2000 and left the post on April 13, 2007. She is married to New York Senator Chuck Schumer.
She served as Senior Vice President of the New York State Urban Development Corporation, where she oversaw the development and implementation of the State's overall economic development program. She then held the position of Regional Vice President of Integrated Resources, Inc. where she structured limited partnerships for property acquisition and operation. She then served as President of the Financial Services Corporation, a nonprofit organization which functioned as the financing arm for the City's economic development initiatives.
From 1988-1996, Weinshall served as Deputy Commissioner for Management and Budget at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. Before becoming DOT Commissioner, she served as the First Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.
Tenure as NYC DOT Commissioner
Iris Weinshall was appointed Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani on September 8, 2000. Commissioner Weinshall was one of a handful of Giuliani department heads to be reappointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Queens Boulevard Weinshall's DOT made efforts to reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities on New York City's most dangerous street. By slowing traffic, changing traffic signal timing and adding new signage and pedestrian fencing, pedestrian injuries and fatalities were substantially reduced.
To enhance traffic flow in the city's most congested area, Midtown Manhattan, Weinshall and Mayor Bloomberg announced the 2003 THRU Streets Program. This program, which prohibits turns off of designated streets between 3rd and 6th Avenues, has reduced cross-town travel times by 25% and increased vehicle speeds by 33%. Weinshall considered this project one of her agency's most ambitious and successful projects. Pedestrian fences were installed near Rockefeller Center to separate traffic. Larger street signs to provide better visibility to drivers also promoted the usual goal of the department, "to keep the traffic moving" as she often stated it.
During her tenure at DOT commissioner, Weinshall prioritized traffic flow. One such initiative was installing pedestrian fencing to restrict pedestrian movement to increase automobile throughput in the densest part of the borough. Her attempt to increase vehicle flow through historic Park Slope, Brooklyn by making several avenues one-way was abandoned after hundreds of residents packed a meeting to argue that the plan would jeopardize pedestrian safety by encouraging speeding.
During her nearly seven-year tenure, the department also took important steps to rehabilitate and better maintain the city's bridges and roadways. Close to $3 billion was spent on rehabilitating the city's East River bridges and, thanks to new incentives clauses for contractors, much of the work was completed ahead of schedule.
In addition to her role as DOT Commissioner, Weinshall was appointed by Mayor Bloomberg to the Taxi and Limousine Commission and also served as the Special Transportation Advisor to the Mayor. She was responsible for shaping a transportation strategy for the city and guiding the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.
On January 29, 2007, Weinshall announced that she was stepping down as DOT commissioner and would take a job as CUNY's Vice Chancellor for Facilities Planning, Construction and Management. Her last day as commissioner was April 13, 2007. She was succeeded by Janette Sadik-Khan.
Staten Island Ferry
The Staten Island Ferry system transports 65,000 passengers a day on the five-mile ride between St. George Terminal on Staten Island and Whitehall Terminal in Manhattan. The boats operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and have been a vital municipal service since 1905. During Weinshall’s tenure, DOT has taken a number of steps to modernize the Staten Island Ferry service. In February 2005, Weinshall joined Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg at the opening of the new Whitehall Ferry Terminal in Lower Manhattan. Later that year, in May, DOT celebrated the grand opening of the renovated St. George in Staten Island. Since 2004, DOT has also introduced three new, state of the art ferries: the Guy V. Molinari, John J. Marchi, and most recently the Spirit of America. The $40 million, 310 foot vessels were built by the Manitowoc Marine Group in Marinette, Wisconsin and replaced the Kennedy class ferries, which have been in operation for more than 40 years.
The normally low profile job of DOT Commissioner came into the spotlight following the 2003 Staten Island Ferry crash that killed 11 passengers. After the deadly crash, Weinshall came under harsh criticism for allowing patronage relationships to compromise the safety of the ferry operations.
Since 2003, DOT has made significant progress to enhance safety on the Staten Island Ferry. In April 2004, Weinshall appointed Captain James C. DeSimone, a 30-year maritime industry veteran to serve as Chief Operating Officer for the Staten Island Ferry and shortly thereafter appointed Margaret Gordon a maritime safety and security expert to serve as Executive Director of Safety and Security at the ferry. In October 2005, after a year long effort to develop and implement a comprehensive safety management system for the Staten Island Ferry, the American Bureau of Shipping presented the Department of Transportation with a "Voluntary Document of Compliance Certificate" for the DOT Staten Island Ferry Division and "Voluntary Safety Management Certificates" for all operational ferryboats. The New York City Department of Transportation is now the first ferry operator in the United States to voluntarily comply with this internationally accepted safety regime.
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Not long after she assumed the post of NYC DOT commissioner, the issue of Queens Boulevard came to the forefront. For decades, Queens Boulevard had been the most dangerous road in New York City. During the period 1950-2000, over 27,000 people were injured on Queens Boulevard. From 1980-84, 40 people were killed on a 2.5 mile length section of Queens Boulevard. From 2002-04 there were 393 injuries and eight deaths. Queens Boulevard became known as the Boulevard of Death in the media, and the community began an outcry to make the road safer. New York Newsday and the New York Daily News got into a circulation war on the issue of the Boulevard of Death, and the DOT was under pressure to take action. Weinshall implemented pedestrian improvements on Queens Boulevard, including longer pedestrian crossing times, a lowering of the speed limit from 35 mph to 30 mph and the construction of new pedestrian median refuges. The safety improvements have proven successful, without the predicted backups.
The Hudson River Greenway, a project of New York State Department of Transportation and Hudson River Park rather than NYCDOT, was improved. DOT installed bike lanes linking the East River bridges and Downtown Brooklyn, which is home to a growing cycling community. In 2006, Bicycling Magazine named New York one of the top bicycling cities in the United States.
Andrew Vesselinovitch, former Bicycle Program Director at DOT, resigned in 2006, accusing Weinshall's DOT of foot dragging on bicycle safety and deliberately sabotaging fixes to known hazards on the Williamsburg Bridge. Vesselinovitch claimed that Weinshall prevented him from installing bike lanes, and that First Deputy Commissioner Michael Primeggia told him to "butt out" when he attempted to fix bumps on the Williamsburg Bridge that were costing New York City millions in lawsuits. Following Vesselinovitch’s departure, Weinshall appointed Ryan Russo as Director for Street Management and Safety, overseeing the department’s bicycle and pedestrian initiatives. Russo previously worked in DOT’s Brooklyn Borough Commissioner’s Office where he developed and implemented a number of cycling and pedestrian safety improvements in Downtown Brooklyn.
After Weinshall's departure, her successor at DOT, Janette Sadik-Khan, installed over 200 miles of bike lanes in a 3-year period, compared to Weinshall's single-digit lane miles towards the end of her tenure. In her new position at the City University of New York, Weinshall has largely steered clear of New York City transportation policy issues—until the redesign of Prospect Park West in the spring of 2010. Opposed to the installation of a bicycling facility on her own street, Weinshall helped to organize a group calling itself Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes (NBBL) aimed at removing the bike lane.
- Cardwell, Diane. "Transportation Chief Takes a CUNY Post", The New York Times, January 30, 2007. Accessed October 27, 2007. " New York City's transportation commissioner, Iris Weinshall, is leaving her post to become a vice chancellor of the City University of New York, officials said yesterday."
- Keep the traffic moving
- "Auto Asphyxiation: Car is King at the DOT.". New York Press. March 9, 2004.
- "DO FENCE THEM IN: Barriers halt Fulton Mall jaywalkers". New York Daily News.[dead link]
- "Board votes down one-way proposal". The Brooklyn Paper. March 17, 2007.
- Staten Island Ferry Crash Remains a Puzzle, Gotham Gazette, November 2003
- "Report Rips City Commish & Aide in Ferry Tragedy"
- "Boulevard of Death claims another victim"
- Bicycle Tsar Quits, Saying Goal To Increase Safety, Lanes Is Stymied, New York Sun, July 24, 2006
- Pedal Politics, New York Times, August 20, 2006
- Karni, Annie; Fagen, Cynthia R. (March 28, 2010). "School for scandal: $afety net at CUNY for fallen city bigs". New York Post.
- "Former City DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall opposes Prospect Park West bike lane". New York Daily News. July 2, 2010.