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Pittsburgh’s Director Of Mobility Will Take A Job With The Biden Administration

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA
Karina Ricks came to Pittsburgh in 2017 as the city's first director of the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure.

A key member of Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration has taken a job with President Biden’s Federal Transportation Administration, according to a release from the city.

Karina Ricks came to Pittsburgh in 2017 to direct the then brand-new department of mobility and infrastructure, or DOMI. DOMI acts as a sort of clearinghouse and convener for all of the entities that touch the city’s streets, and also creates policies for how Pittburghers navigate the city.

Ricks said it’s difficult to leave her work in Pittsburgh, calling it “an incredible city.” 

“It’s a city where people do pull together, they do work together despite differences,” she said. “They’re willing to try things out to see if [it] might be better.” 

Peduto said in the city’s release that Ricks “established a structure in DOMI that brings vision and energy so that our infrastructure not only meets the demands of today, but is designed thoughtfully, inclusively, equitably and sustainably.”

During her tenure DOMI set a series of goals to guide the department’s work, from adopting Vision Zero, which says no one dies or is seriously injured while traveling, to aiming to ensure every resident can access fresh food within 20 minutes without a car.

Ricks oversaw initiatives to stabilize landslide-prone hillsides as well as the city’s more than 700 sets of steps, update thecity’s bike plan, better coordinate street management, and generally make it easier and safer to navigate the city without a car. She also presided over the city’s often divisive efforts to connect Oakland to Hazelwood.

Since 2017 DOMI has grown by nearly 30 percent, Ricks said. That long-term investment means the city has a dedicated team of safety engineers as well as people working to address how new technology affects the city, she said. 

“Things like autonomous vehicle testing in our city, what we do with other forms of emerging mobility like the scooters or, in the not-too-distant future, aerial deliveries or aerial travel that we really need to plan for,” Rick said. 

Looking forward, Ricks said safety and climate change will be the two biggest issues facing the city. People continue to be struck by vehicles and injured or killed. 

“We really, really need to get very serious on our definition of safety,” she said. “How valuable is human life, and what are we willing to set aside in order to preserve the lives of our neighbors?”

Twenty-five percent of all car trips in Pittsburgh are less than one mile. Ricks said the city could dramatically reduce car emissions if officials continue to make it easier and safer to bike or walk instead of drive. 

At the Federal Transit Administration Ricks will be the associate administrator for research, innovation and demonstration. Her focus will be to ensure people in urban and rural America have access to equitable, efficient, and sustainable travel options, according to the city’s release.

Ricks’ last day will be Sept. 24.

A city spokesperson said it has not yet been decided who will lead DOMI until the next mayor’s administration takes office. Peduto is expected to submit a recommendation to council next week.
*This story was updated at 3:08 p.m. to include comments from Ricks.