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Worcester City Hall Poaches Longtime Brookline Planner for New Transportation Department

Worcester City Hall, an imposing Italianate building with a tall clock tower, and Worcester's Main Street on a gray December day.

Worcester City Hall and the newly rebuilt Main Street, pictured in December 2020.

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The City of Worcester has hired Todd Kirrane, the longtime transportation department administrator and planner for the Town of Brookline, to join its new Transportation and Mobility Department.

Kirrane is the newest hire in Worcester's new Transportation and Mobility Department, an office that was created earlier this year and is being led by Stephen Rolle, formerly the city's assistant chief development officer in the planning department.

"What we’re trying to do is coalesce people with perspectives in planning, engineering, and transportation operations in one department to work together and more effectively bring about change in a faster way," Rolle told StreetsblogMASS last Friday. "Our core mission is to focus on safety, transportation equity, and sustainability."

A headshot of a smiling man with trimmed brown hair, wearing a blue collared shirt and red tie.
Todd Kirrane. Photo courtesy of the Town of Brookline.
Todd Kirrane. Photo courtesy of the Town of Brookline.

Kirrane, who has served the Town of Brookline as its Transportation Administrator in the Department of Public Works for 17 years, has built a strong track record of advocating for and implementing safe streets projects.

In 2019, Brookline's Town Meeting voted overwhelmingly to prioritize safe, space-efficient, and energy-efficient transportation in its future street projects and transportation policies. The policy also calls for at least 75 percent of the town’s trips to be made by walking, biking, transit, or other electric micromobility devices (e.g., scooters, e-bikes, or electric wheelchairs) by 2050.

Kirrane embraced those goals and cited them frequently in public meetings for street safety improvements to help win over skeptical constituencies who favored the status quo.

In recent years, Brookline and MassDOT dramatically redesigned Boylston Street near Brookline Village with protected bike lanes and improved sidewalks. During the pandemic, Kirrane and his colleagues in Brookline's town government were pioneers in re-allocating street space to expand sidewalks and install pop-up bike lanes in the town's commercial areas.

And on numerous occasions, including earlier this fall on Washington Street between Brookline Village and Beacon Street, Kirrane has been able to leverage regular paving projects to make small but impactful safety improvements on the town's streets.

"He’s had a lot of success doing the kinds of things that we’re now looking to do (in Worcester)," Rolle told StreetsblogMASS. "He’s been through a lot of these steps where you’re trying to change a community’s approach to how transportation is planned and implemented."

Worcester is almost four times more populous than Brookline, and from a safe streets perspective, there's a lot more work that needs to be done there.

While Brookline has access to three branches of the Green Line and the majority of its residents live in vibrant, transit-oriented neighborhoods, many of Worcester's historically walkable neighborhoods have suffered from demolition, isolation, disinvestment, violence, and pollution caused by ill-advised 20th-century highway projects.

MassDOT crash records indicate that there have been 77 fatal crashes in the City of Worcester since 2015; in the same period, the Town of Brookline has seen just 5 fatal crashes.

To their credit, though, Worcester's leaders seem to understand that dangerous streets are incompatible with its economic development ambitions and climate goals. In addition to the new Transportation and Mobility Department, Worcester's City Hall also has a new Sustainability and Resilience Department.

Worcester is in the midst of several big-picture planning initiatives, like the implementation of the 2020 Green Worcester Plan – which calls on the city to "shift more trips from cars to transit, biking, and walking" – and the upcoming Worcester Next long-range plan.

Rolle, who is running the city's new transportation department as Worcester's Commissioner of Transportation and Mobility, says that he thinks that Kirrane's experience with public works and engineering projects will be a good complement to his own planning background.

"I was excited about how his skillset complemented mine – I’ve been working in planning, zoning, and that kind of thing," said Rolle. "He’s got this wealth of municipal experience and success with in partnership with others."

In an emailed statement to Streetsblog, Kirrane expressed gratitude for his colleagues in Brookline, and pride in what he was able to accomplish there. But he also expressed an eagerness to bring his work to Worcester.

"Worcester is an amazing place filled with a rich and diverse history, great neighborhoods, family friendly activities, performing arts programs, restaurants & nightlife, and institutions of higher learning," wrote Kirrane. "The vision that City Manager Batista, Mayor Petty, and the City Council have laid out for an active transportation system that prioritizes people over cars with a strong emphasis on safety, accessibility, and equity is something that I am excited to be a part of."

The City of Worcester is currently advertising to hire another employee in the new department – a Transportation Planning Manager. Applications are due by Friday, Dec. 23.

This story was corrected at 2:50 p.m. on Tuesday Dec. 20. Due to the editor's error, a previous version incorrectly stated that Kirrane would be the second employee of the new Transportation and Mobility Department; in fact, there are other staff in the department and Kirrane will take the second leadership position in the department.

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