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Pete Lagerwey Dismissed as Seattle DOT Bike/Ped Program Coordinator

This news came from from the latest edition of CenterLines, the e-newsletter of the National Center for Bicycling & Walking (NCBW). My comments follow:

From Bill Wilkinson, NCBW Executive Director:

At this week’s TRB meeting in Washington, DC, I was stunned by the news that the Seattle DOT (SDOT) has removed Pete Lagerwey from the manager’s position he has held for over 20 years and assigned him to a more limited set of duties as a “Ped/Bike Planner.” At the same time, another member of the small ped/bike office staff was reassigned to the SDOT sign shop! It is not clear what prompted these actions.

As virtually everyone in any way involved with bicycle and pedestrian programs in the U.S. knows, Pete is one of — if not the premier — planner working on these issues. Over the years, he has helped lead the City of Seattle to a well-earned status as having one of the best ped/bike programs in the country. The City’s many outstanding accomplishments have Pete’s stamp all over them.

So, this sudden act by the Seattle DOT is of great concern. Have pedestrian and bicycle affairs become such big issues that we should expect to see such precipitous actions affecting those of us in the profession? I sincerely hope not.

Additionally, the NCBW has another, related concern: we selected Seattle as the host city for Pro Walk/Pro Bike 2008. Notwithstanding a broad base of support from the Seattle community for the City’s bid for the conference, it was Pete’s leadership and his program’s accomplishments that prompted us to select Seattle. What now?

In a 22 January note to Grace Crunican, SDOT Director, I wrote, “I was planning a trip to Seattle in mid-February to meet with the local host committee and to formally kick off planning for the conference. Now, I’m not sure it is appropriate to move forward for the time being.” I have not heard back from Grace, so I am writing to the City today to postpone the meeting until such time as City officials meet with us to explain what is going on, what we can expect, and to — we hope — reassure us that the City is committed to hosting the conference and that Pete will continue to lead the City’s efforts in this regard.

I was shocked by this news. I echo many of the sentiments about Pete Lagerwey that Wilkinson expressed in this announcement. Pete is an incredible guy. I’ve had the chance to work with him on a few occasions and I’ve learned many tricks and tools in bike/ped planning from him. Where Pete really excels is his ability to win an audience over, because he’s experienced so many situations and come up with innovative solutions for problems. It’s nearly impossible to argue against him because he’s probably done it successfully a hundred times before.

The best thing about Pete is not his planning skills – it’s his people skills. He is honestly one of the nicest and most genuine people I have ever met. This is why this news is so perplexing to me. I really can’t understand the demotion. It’s probably some political battle, as alluded to in this Seattle Stranger article. If so, it was a bad move because of the likely damaging effect on Seattle in the bike/ped world. Pete is so well respected.

I’m hoping the best for Pete, but he probably has many job opportunities to fall back on if need be. I’ll keep you posted on any updates.

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