Philly Office of Transportation celebrates five years of forward movement

 Rina Cutler, deputy mayor for transportation and utilities checks her phone in the first ever

Rina Cutler, deputy mayor for transportation and utilities checks her phone in the first ever "E-Lane," a designated lane for distracted pedestrians on April 1, 2013. (Emma Jacobs/WHYY)

The Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities turns 5 this month. The office was created by Mayor Michael Nutter as a hub for city government agencies managing streets, energy and public transit in Philadelphia.

The office is celebrating with a month of events geared to the young, the hip and, yes, the nerd.

There will be a story slam about journeys, talks on bike sharing and airport luggage handling over drinks. This week, the city is spinning transportation-themed tunes on WXPN.

 Deputy Mayor Rina Cutler says she wants to draw back the curtain on what her office does with these presentations.

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“Like the life of a bag at the airport — not the ones they lose, generally — but the ones that really go through the whole system, because on the technical side the airport is actually pretty fascinating,” Cutler said. “People don’t really get in the weeds on that stuff.”

First Person Arts will host the night of storytelling. Karina Kasala said working with the transportation office seemed like a natural fit.

“Getting from point A to point B,” she noted,” has been the inspiration for some amazing stories in literature and film.”

“What nerd doesn’t like buses and transportation?” said Michelle Bland. She helps run NerdNite, which will host the talk about baggage handling at the airport.

“I’m mystified about what happens behind the scenes, so I can’t imagine there aren’t other people who feel the same way,” Bland said.

Cutler said she hopes some new fans will become part of the office’s ongoing constituency in planning for what she calls “new Philly.”

“The census data tells some amazing stories. And one of the things it’s telling us is that less people own cars. Less people drive cars. People want different ways to be able to be mobile. They want a sense of community,” Cutler said. “They care about public spaces.”

The spotlight on the evolving work of the Office of Transportation and Utilities was not conceived as a pitch for more funding — but in the long-term, having people excited and engaged about an office with a very dry name can’t hurt.

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