Andrew Stober isn’t exactly a household name in city politics. But government types, journalists, and anyone interested in local transportation policy knows him well. As chief of staff for the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, Stober was the guy who oversaw — and explained, again and again — the latest bike-, train- or bus-related initiative on Mayor Nutter’s plate.
Now 36, Stober has left MOTU behind in order to run as an at-large independent candidate for City Council. Here, he talks about connecting trails, getting more women and children to ride, and why he maybe wouldn’t “go to war” over certain bike lanes.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
To many people, you were essentially the face of MOTU for five years. What was that like?
One of the things I’ve loved about working in transportation is that you have no choice but to get to know the entire city. From the least fortunate person to the most privileged person, the systems that MOTU is responsible for touch the lives of every Philadelphian every day, and you have to know how the systems are working in every part of the city.
What’s the hardest part about educating the public about worthwhile transportation investments?
To have the public see the benefits before they can experience the benefits. This is true for lots of issues, but particularly for transportation. You’re worried about what you’re going to lose before you can experience what you have to gain. The other hardest part is having people understand just how long it takes to get big things done.
In this city, it’s been mostly the executive who has led the charge to develop bike infrastructure and promote cycling. How do you imagine City Council playing a larger role?
I don’t think we should diminish the role that Council has played, both for the positive and the negative. Readers of SPOKE will be familiar with some of the various obstacles that have been put up by councilmembers. But you also have councilmembers like Mark Squilla, who put in the Complete Streets ordinance and really helped to push some of these issues.
“The next phase is to put in infrastructure and create the environment that puts more women on bikes and puts more kids on bikes. That’s how we know we’re being successful.”
I want to be a vocal advocate on Council for safe and convenient transportation options for all Philadelphians, and make sure there’s a voice on Council that’s thinking about those issues and holding the next administration accountable for making streets safe for all users, regardless of what mode is right for any given trip.
Do you have any specific bike-related policy or investment ideas?
More broadly, I’m trying to bring the Vision Zero concept to Philadelphia and make sure that we are making engineering, enforcement and education investments that make it safer to travel around. On the bicycle side of things, that’s likely to mean looking for opportunities to connect bike lanes, working to expand and fill gaps in the bicycle-pedestrian trail network, and hopefully working to expand the Indego program.
With other, admittedly more pressing issues — crime, schools — coming before City Council all the time, how do you keep transportation on the agenda?
One of the nice things about transportation is that it impacts everyone in the city. One of the challenges that education faces is that if you don’t have children in the schools, it’s not directly impacting you, and you kind of have to bring the public along to see the importance of education. But transportation is part of everyone’s day, and having transportation options is something that people value.
The debate over the 22nd Street bike lane alerted many cyclists to the idea of councilmanic prerogative [the unwritten rule that district councilmembers have the final say over any and all development in their districts]. Do you have a position on that?
The reason councilmanic prerogative exists is to ensure that the interests of an individual neighborhood are protected by the elected official most accountable to that neighborhood. My view is that, by and large, that ought to be respected. But it’s not to say that there aren’t occasions when perhaps a councilmember is not acting in the best interests of their neighborhood for whatever reason, and that a councilmember at-large shouldn’t try to circumvent that informal system, whether it’s introducing a bill to make something happen or trying to bring others to vote against [the district councilmember]. I do think that, for something like bike lanes, that’s frankly not the kind of thing that’s worth going to war over.
The expansion of the city’s bike network under Mayor Nutter and the launch of Indego are two major factors that signaled Philadelphia’s ascendance as a bike city. What’s the next major step in making Philly a safe, easy place to bike?
The next phase is to put in infrastructure and create the environment that puts more women on bikes and puts more kids on bikes. That’s how we know we’re being successful. We already do better than other cities on those fronts, at least. But [we can improve] through some good infrastructure, and also good enforcement that keeps everyone safe.
What are some specific things that get more women and children on bikes?
Protected bike lanes. Further expanding and filling gaps in our trail network, so you can do much of a trip in an off-road environment. Improving driver behavior generally. Having stricter enforcement of the most dangerous driving behaviors just makes everybody feel safer. One thing I’ll add is that I would like to see serious, ongoing enforcement of the most dangerous cycling behaviors.
Photo by Dan Lidon