Former Boston CIO named ‘chief of streets’
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu on Tuesday named Jascha Franklin-Hodge, a former citywide chief information officer, as her new “chief of streets,” a position that oversees the local public-works and transportation departments.
The Cabinet-level role has broad oversight of Boston’s roadways, from pedestrian access and bike lanes to the planning of transit and trash-pickup routes. In addition to working with city departments, the chief of streets also acts as a liaison between Boston City Hall and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which runs regional mass transit, and the Boston Water and Sewer Commission.
In a press release, Wu, who was sworn in as mayor on Nov. 17, said Franklin-Hodge had “expansive vision, organizational expertise, and commitment to delivering change.”
Franklin-Hodge served as Boston’s CIO from 2014 to 2017 under Mayor Marty Walsh, who is now the U.S. labor secretary. During that term, Franklin-Hodge oversaw the development of digital service delivery, the establishment of a chief data officer and analytics team and an overhaul of Boston.gov.
After leaving Walsh’s administration, Franklin-Hodge worked as a consultant for Remix, the digital-mapping firm that has since been acquired by Verizon and the transit-planning software company Via. In October 2019, he was hired as executive director of the Open Mobility Foundation, a nonprofit group that develops open-source mobility tools.
In a phone interview, Franklin-Hodge said his new position with Boston will have a broad purview in figuring out how to make the city’s streets safer, while also optimizing the deployment of service vehicles like snow plows and garbage trucks and expanding transit options.
“It represents a holistic way of looking at how different departments come together to make sure our streets are safer and create high-quality public space,” he said. “It all sits on a foundation of high-quality traffic services. People everywhere drive in the streets we give them. When we give them wide roads that encourage speeding, they speed.”
Franklin-Hodge also said Boston has “lots of work to do” in cutting vehicle emissions, building out its bike network and expanding fare-free transit. One of Wu’s first actions as mayor was to seek the elimination of fares on three popular bus routes, an initiative he hopes to firm up and expand after he joins Wu’s administration in January.
And while running the city’s streets is a shift from his background in municipal IT, Franklin-Hodge said data will crucial in developing policy and implementing road improvements.
“I think my background will bring a unique perspective,” he said. “Data has a role to play in signal timing, better enforcement, the creation of pop-up bike lanes and temporary bus lanes. That said, data does not build curb ramps or make cyclists feel comfortable in a high-speed area.”
Before his first stint in municipal government, Franklin-Hodge was the founder of Blue State Digital, a digital strategy and fundraising company that works for Democratic Party campaigns, including former President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 runs.
Walsh created the chief of streets position in 2015. The role was held first by Chris Osgood, who had run the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, a City Hall research and development unit. Osgood stayed in the chief of streets office until last March, when Acting Mayor Kim Janey, who stepped in for Walsh after his confirmation as labor secretary, named Osgood as her chief of staff.
While Franklin-Hodge returns to city government in a new role, Wu is still looking to appoint a full-time IT chief after the resignation last month of David Elges. Alex Lawrence, the former chief of staff of the city’s Department of Innovation and Technology, is serving as interim CIO.