Steve Weber ’91
Assistant commissioner keeps climate change on Mayor Bloomberg's agenda
by Sherri Kimmel
April 1, 2010
Steve Weber '91 worked with New York City's Department of Parks and Recreation to plan and build seven public plazas within blocks of his Department of Transportation office in lower Manhattan. Here, he sits in one of them, Hanover Square, which contains the British Memorial Garden for victims of 9/11.
An Inconvenient Truth, the Al Gore-narrated movie about global warming, had many unexpected consequences when it debuted in 2006. For Steve Weber ’91, an assistant commissioner helping to develop the transportation part of a strategic plan for New York City, it drew attention to a cause that has been his passion since his Dickinson days.
“I really believe the documentary was the catalyst—everyone recognized climate change was real, and we needed to address it,” Weber says. The film’s release marked the moment when the city adopted sustainability as the theme for PlaNYC, its plan for 2030.
“There were 126 things that Mayor Bloomberg proposed to do,” Weber recounts. Planting a million trees and developing a public plaza in every neighborhood were two examples. Weber’s team developed a proposal for a congestion-pricing program similar to London’s.
Congestion pricing calms gridlock by charging fees to drivers who enter city centers. Not only do congestion zones reduce traffic, improve air quality and cut greenhouse-gas emissions, but they provide revenue to invest in transit and infrastructure improvements.
“That was the Holy Grail for transportation planners, and my personal goal was to get to the point where public officials could discuss it in polite conversation,” says Weber. To his amazement, “Mayor Bloomberg made this his number-one issue for a year. He went all out to get the state to allow us to implement the system. It’s pretty cool when Mike Bloomberg takes an idea you’ve championed and makes it his agenda.”
The state legislature failed in 2008 to support the initiative, but Weber feels he succeeded by introducing the topic. “The instinctive reaction to something new is fear and obstruction, but after it gets defeated there are still the problems that have to be solved. I expect congestion pricing to come back.”
While he waits, he has plenty else to occupy him as he manages three units in the Department of Transportation’s planning and sustainability division. Besides a bus rapid transit unit, he manages one that studies neighborhood transportation and parking issues and another that deals with trucks.
Environmental studies at Dickinson brought Weber to his life’s cause. (He has a certificate in that area and majored in political science.) “This was in 1989 or 1990, when there was no Al Gore movie [to raise awareness],” he notes. “I took on climate change as my issue and asked, ‘How do I grab the handle?’ Transportation was the obvious thing to get involved with.”
While environmental studies fed his desire to make a difference, the management skills he learned through Army ROTC prepared him to be an effective leader.
“There is nothing like having to plan a military operation from under a poncho at three in the morning when you haven’t slept for 24 hours,” Weber explains. “If you can develop a plan that works under those circumstances, developing a plan in city government has to be a piece of cake. That has been my little secret weapon.”