Even before Shaun Murphy left his job as the city’s first bike-pedestrian coordinator early last year, a city spokesman told the Southwest Journal that Murphy would be replaced “as quickly as we can.”
The city is coming up on the first anniversary of that commitment next week with the position still unfilled. Although Mayor Betsy Hodges said during her 2013 campaign that she was an “early and vocal advocate for filling the job,” it has been empty for all but the first three months of her 13-month administration.
Steve Kotke admits that he’d prefer to have filled the position faster. But he said that part of the delay was thinking about where the position fit within the Public Works department Kotke runs, and part was reorganizing the department to create a new division focused on transportation planning.
Part of that long process involved considering whether the position was classified properly. Several bike and pedestrian groups have urged the city to give the next coordinator additional influence within Public Works. Kotke said he had a long conversation with Murphy about what worked and what didn’t with his position.
The job was originally conceived as the city’s point person on biking and pedestrian issues. Besides supervising a staff of three, Murphy advised city engineers on best practices and safety issues relating to biking and walking as they planned city infrastructure.
Murphy was hired in 2012, when striping ordinary bike lanes was in vogue and so he was put in the traffic division of Public Works. Now the city is moving to wider buffered bike lanes and those protected with a physical barrier. Kotke said that shifting the coordinator and his staff to the new transportation planning division means that input regarding bike and pedestrian needs will be built into road projects from the start.
The desire for more authority for the coordinator comes from a sense among bike advocates that even when Murphy agreed with points they made about improving street projects, he couldn’t always sell their suggestions within the department. “I think that there are sort of some old-guard people and culture and philosophy in Public Works,’ said Amy Brugh, board president of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. “I think that’s changing.”
One transportation engineer with considerable bike planning experience, Hennepin County’s Bob Byers, praised Murphy for his ability to serve as a communicator with council members for bike and foot traffic planning, and for heeding the concerns of engineers. “It would be nice to get someone like that in there again,” he said.
Kotke said he’s hoping to announce the new coordinator this month. Nick Mason, who chairs the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, sat in on the early round of interviews for the hiring of a coordinator, and said he’s excited by the people who were finalists for the position. “Any of those folks would do a great job,” he said.