All of us who knew Bill Wheeler are deeply saddened by his untimely death this week. In the small world of planners and transportation professionals, Bill stood out as someone who could articulate insightful, strongly held opinions while welcoming new ideas and different points of view. For over thirty years, first as MTA’s deputy director of strategic planning and then as its planning director, he was the intellect who helped devise and steer some of New York’s most important transportation improvements. From MetroCard to the Second Avenue Subway, Bill was integral to their planning and execution.
As the person most responsible for the transit system’s long-term vision, he had a particular connection to many of us at Regional Plan Association. He would push back at some of our more ambitious ideas, challenging us to demonstrate how we could ever surmount the political and financial hurdles that stood in their way. Yet he understood and appreciated the importance of thinking big and not accepting conventional wisdom. In spite of the intense pressures and daily political fires that came with the job, he seemed to relish nothing more than exchanging ideas about how to plan for future changes in culture, demographics and technology.
When I remember Bill, what I think of most are his curiosity and integrity. He was always eager to learn more, even on topics for which he had more expertise than anyone else in the room. And he was always a straight shooter who you could count on for honest answers. He will be sorely missed.