Boston’s Chief of Streets Chris Osgood, the leader of the Walsh administration’s transportation and public works departments, will take a new job as the chief of staff for City Council President Kim Janey when, as expected, she becomes the acting mayor later this year.
Mayor Walsh created Osgood’s cabinet-level position, which oversees the city’s Public Works and Transportation Departments, in 2015.
During his tenure, Osgood participated in the development, release, and early implementation of the Go Boston 2030 plan, the city’s comprehensive transportation plan that aims to reduce car use, air pollution, and the risks of car crashes.
And while advocates had expressed some frustration with the city’s slow start in implementing that plan, the pace picked up considerably during the last two years of Osgood’s tenure: the Boston Transportation Department and Public Works Department added new staff, reconfigured miles of city streets to create new dedicated bus lanes and protected bike lanes, and dramatically expanded the network of city-owned Bluebikes stations.
“There are things I would have liked to have been done differently over the last six years, but I think that’s much more of an issue with the Walsh administration in general,” said Stacy Thompson, executive director of the LivableStreets Alliance (Thompson also serves on the StreetsblogMASS board of directors) in a phone interview on Monday. “Chief Osgood has been one of the city’s most well-liked and effective cabinet members, and I can’t think of a better person to shift into an incredibly challenging role, during a pandemic and with the uncertainty about what comes next with the new (mayoral) administration.”
“I’ve often seen Chris Osgood as an ally in the department – he really gets the systemic change that needs to happen,” said Becca Wolfson, the executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union (and another StreetsblogMASS board member) in another phone interview on Monday. “I don’t think he’s had the backing (from Mayor Walsh) to do the sort of big overhauling of the department that needs to happen… the people who haven’t wanted to change have been able to maintain the status quo, and as an advocate, that’s been frustrating.”
It’s not apparent who would lead Boston’s transportation departments in Osgood’s absence. Gregory Rooney, who leads the Boston Transportation Department, has been an “Interim Commissioner” for nearly two years, since former Commissioner Gina Fiandaca departed in early 2019.
Leadership vacancies in Boston’s transportation bureaucracies could present some political risks to some major infrastructure projects in the city’s pipeline – perhaps particularly for projects (like the Melnea Cass Boulevard redesign and the Summer Street bus rapid transit corridor) that seek to reallocate street space away from motor vehicle users to benefit pedestrians, bikes, and transit.
But Wolfson takes comfort in the fact that Osgood would be promoted to an even more influential role in a Mayor Janey administration.
“I really believe that Osgood believes in the work he’s been leading, so I don’t seem him letting the department just fall to the wayside,” said Wolfson on Monday. “The fact that Council President Janey has picked him for this role looks like a sign that transportation issues will be really important to her administration. I’m an optimist, so I believe that they’ll bring in strong leadership and won’t let those departments fall into a vacuum.
Osgood’s departure is predicated on the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of Mayor Marty Walsh, who has been appointed to be President Biden’s new Secretary of Labor.
If Walsh leaves for Washington, Council President Kim Janey would step into his office until this November’s election, when voters will choose a new Mayor for the next four years.
A Boston Transportation Department spokesperson did not immediately respond to a Streetsblog request for comment. This story will be updated if and when they respond to the inquiry.