Can Tom Maguire Become San Francisco’s Transportation Rock Star?

Maguire to become interim director of an agency in crisis. No pressure Tom.

SFMTA’s Tom Maguire with his wife Amy and daughter Addie during a remembrance walk for victims of road violence, 2016. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
SFMTA’s Tom Maguire with his wife Amy and daughter Addie during a remembrance walk for victims of road violence, 2016. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

The Board of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is tapping Tom Maguire, director of the agency’s Sustainable Streets Division, as interim Director while they look for a permanent replacement for outgoing director Ed Reiskin. Maguire will take over on August 15.

From the SFMTA Board’s announcement letter:

Tom joined the SFMTA in October 2014 after serving as Assistant Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation. In this capacity, he managed Bus Rapid Transit, sustainability and resiliency programs among many others. Since joining the SFMTA, Tom has led the 900+ person Sustainable Streets Division, which operates, engineers, designs and plans the city’s traffic, parking, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and provides transit security and parking enforcement.

Back in 2014, Streetsblog and advocates were excited to get Maguire, a lieutenant of New York DOT’s Janette Sadik-Khan. Sadik-Khan said this about him at the time:

From rolling out the fastest bus routes in New York City to devising groundbreaking parking policies, Tom Maguire worked on some of the most innovative changes to New York City streets over the last eight years. But the Big Apple’s loss is the Bay Area’s gain. With his one-of-a-kind mix of creative policy skills, technical expertise and political savvy, there’s no one better equipped to deliver world-class streets and chart San Francisco on a course to safer, more sustainable future.

But the concern, even then, was that without support from the late Mayor Ed Lee and the Board of Supervisors, and without a strong director at SFMTA guiding him, Maguire wouldn’t have the same success in San Francisco.

Advocates say that’s exactly what happened.

“He’s been a smart, capable and effective lieutenant at the SFMTA, and previously in NYC. But judging by track record alone, since Tom arrived in 2014 we haven’t exactly had stellar results on safe streets, better transit, or new mobility” wrote Seamless Bay Area’s Beaudry Kock, in an email to Streetsblog. “Tom clearly has all the chops and experience to do a great job, but I suspect he’s being thought of as a safe pair of hands during the leadership search.”

“Tom’s a bureaucrat, which means he is a survivor and the opposite of someone willing to make bold moves. As the long-term search continues, I hope it will be guided by the urgency conveyed in Mayor Breed’s recent letters to SFMTA leadership calling for more accountability, better service delivery, and faster safety improvements,” wrote another advocate close to the goings-on, who spoke with Streetsblog on condition of anonymity.

Kock added that he wants the agency to consider a different kind of official for the permanent replacement for Reiskin–maybe someone from overseas, who can bring new ideas. “For example, some of the private sector leaders on transit at Keolis (Clement Michel), TransDev (Mark Joseph) and RATP Dev (Blaine Rigler), people who bring valuable experience from operating and improving transit systems around the world and aren’t as tied down by old assumptions of how public transit ‘should’ be operated.”

Nevertheless, this is Maguire’s chance, his 15-minutes of fame, say the advocates, to surprise everyone and make a big difference–especially if Mayor Breed’s support continues.

“I hope that Tom, in an interim role, can implement the organizational changes (restructuring teams, re-prioritziing efforts, hiring necessary staff) to implement our new rapid, VisionZero, near-term safety projects,” wrote People Protected Bike Lane advocate Matt Brezina. “This involves converting unprotected bike lanes on dangerous high-injury streets like Ocean, Bayshore, Valencia, Embarcadero to protected bike lanes in months not decades.”

“I’ve been impressed by his thoughtfulness, openness to feedback and retrospection of street safety issues. I could see him backing more aggressive and innovative street safety initiatives now that Reiskin is out and the Board is very supportive of Vision Zero safety improvements,” wrote advocate and Streetsblog contributor Kyle Grochmal.

Nobody, however, thinks Maguire is going to have an easy time, even with that all-important political support.

“MTA leadership involves a daily operational challenge–running the region’s busiest and complicated public transit system whose operations are mostly mixed with auto traffic, and managing traffic too,” wrote Livable City’s Tom Radulovich in an email to Streetsblog. “The day-to-day can become all-absorbing… However if you neglect the strategic you’re bound to fail.”

Brezina just hopes Maguire can make some incremental progress, such as by hiring more painters. “Our SFMTA paint shop builds all this near-term infrastructure, and they are deeply understaffed from everything I hear from engineers and planners.”

“I wish him all success–it’s a challenging job,” said Radulovich.

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