"We prepare students to engage in the world that is and to help bring about a world that ought to be."
Claire Brennan ’09
Claire Brennan ’09 is passionate about making the streets of New York City safe for all road users, particularly pedestrians and cyclists. She currently works as Community Coordinator in the Bicycle Unit at the New York City Department of Transportation.
Claire had an unlikely entry into transportation advocacy. As a native New Yorker, Claire had never pursued a driver’s license. In her senior year at Connecticut College, she lived off campus with friends and would often hitch a ride to run errands. When her friends began teasing her, a stubborn determination arose. “My friends wouldn’t let me forget that I didn’t have a driver’s license, so I brought my dusty old bike from Manhattan to New London. You can go anywhere with a bike; you don’t need a car.” What began as fierce independence turned into a source of peace and pleasure. “I am never more at peace than when I am on my bicycle. A bike is an amazing tool that people of all ages and abilities can use. Once you see how liberating it can be, how healthy transporting your own body might feel, or how much cargo can actually be transported by bike, the possibilities become endless.”
After graduating from college, Claire returned to New York City and became involved in Transportation Alternatives, a non-profit organization made up of a dedicated group of volunteer advocates whose mission is to create better, safer and more accessible spaces for walking and biking. “I started collecting signatures for what we were calling the “People Way” on 14th Street. Our vision was a people-focused street that was closed to personal vehicles and that included bike lanes. There were a lot of meetings with advocates and a significant amount of time spent at City Hall, bringing our case to both local leadership and countless community members. It’s really important work and I loved working with like-minded people, but I wanted to be the person who actually made the decisions, not just advocating for them from the outside.” Her volunteer work ultimately led to Claire joining her local Community Board and completing a Graduate Degree in Urban Policy and Leadership from Hunter College.
Claire’s “stubborn use of a bicycle” later led her to her current role at the Department of Transportation. “It’s been an interesting shift from public citizen to public servant.” In Claire’s current role, she is working to create change for New Yorkers by meeting the growing demand for bicycle infrastructure and supporting the implementation ofGreen Wave, an ambitious city-wide plan to create safer spaces to bike. “A lot of the focus up until very recently has been in the city core, but now we are looking to expand the program in order to serve even more New Yorkers. We are seeing a huge surge in cycling city-wide, and we are working as fast as we can to build bike lanes in order to keep up with demand.”
Claire grew up walking to Friends and cites these early experiences as a pedestrian as having nurtured a commitment to vibrant street life. The Quaker testimony of Equality she learned at Friends has also influenced Claire’s personal sense of mission. “A big part of my role is outreach to different communities. We don’t want to just say “you need a bike lane here,” but we ask folks about how they travel, or where they think the best place for a bike lane in their neighborhood might be. The outreach component of my work has become more thoughtful and inclusive. The value of Equality, or equity, is incredibly important in my work. Everyone should be able to decide to ride a bicycle and they should feel confident and safe should they decide to ride. We are thinking about transforming the city in as equitable a way as possible.”
Though passionate advocacy as both an activist and public servant, Claire is working to bring a vision for safe city streets to all New Yorkers. “I have loved working for the city. I grew up here, I probably will never leave and I just absolutely love being able to say I work to serve the city everyday.”