Mayor announces her choice for SDOT director: Sam Zimbabwe from D.C.

One full year after announcing Scott Kubly‘s departure, Mayor Jenny Durkan has just announced her choice to succeed him: Sam Zimbabwe, from Washington, D.C. Here’s the official announcement:

Mayor Jenny A. Durkan and community leaders announced today that she is nominating transit and transportation project delivery expert Sam Zimbabwe to be the next Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), pending Council confirmation. Zimbabwe currently serves as the Chief Project Delivery Officer for Washington, D.C.’s District Department of Transportation (DDOT), a role that unites planning, traffic engineering, transit, and capital projects.

“Sam is the right person to help build a transportation system of the future, keep people and goods moving in Seattle, and deliver on essential projects for taxpayers. For decades, our region has been playing catch-up on its transportation needs. As more public and private mega projects lead to serious traffic disruptions downtown, the next few years will be critical for creating more safe, efficient, and well-connected transportation choices that make it easier and safer for residents to get around on foot, by bike, and via mass transit for decades to come. With a number of significant projects in the pipeline, I am confident Sam is ready to deliver on investments that will help us create a city of the future,” said Mayor Durkan.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to help keep Seattle moving, build a transit and transportation system for the next generation, and deliver on projects for the people of Seattle,” said Sam Zimbabwe. “Seattle is entering a new era of transit and transportation that will require effective delivery of capital projects along with a focus on giving more people access to safe options for walking, biking, and using transit.”

Zimbabwe’s nomination comes after an extensive public input and national search process that included candidates from across the United States. Following the departure of the previous director, Mayor Durkan oversaw an extensive review and reshaping of SDOT so the department could better deliver on projects. In May, Mayor Durkan announced a search committee that included nearly a dozen business, transportation, labor, and community leaders. The search for a new director of SDOT also included an extensive community outreach process. After conducting interviews with applicants, the Search Committee submitted their recommendations for finalists to Mayor Durkan, who interviewed the finalists earlier this month.

“We are excited about the Mayor’s selection and confident that Sam is the right person to help deliver forward-thinking, accountable leadership for SDOT and to deliver on the crucial Move Seattle projects. Seattle’s transportation decisions have an impact throughout our region, and this is a critical role at a critical time. In less than one month, Seattle will enter years of transportation challenges as the Alaskan Way Viaduct closes and several other transportation and construction projects converge. At the same time, our region is in the midst of expanding light rail, increasing bus service, and building safer bike infrastructure,” said Search Committee Co-Chairs Betty Spieth-Croll, Co-Chair of the Levy to Move Seattle Oversight Committee, and Marilyn Strickland, President and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. “Through all of this, we will need to provide residents, businesses, and visitors additional options for moving in and through Seattle. We look forward to working with Sam for years to come.”

Before assuming the role of Chief Project Delivery Officer, Zimbabwe served as the Associate Director of DDOT’s Planning and Sustainability Division. Prior to joining DDOT, Zimbabwe was the Director of the Center for Transit-Oriented Development at Reconnecting America. In that role, he led planning and technical assistance projects focused on transit and transit-oriented development with local and national philanthropic foundations and public agencies around the country. He also has experience as an urban designer. He holds a master’s degree in city planning and urban design from the University of California, Berkeley, and a bachelor’s degree in urban and regional studies from Cornell University.

The photo above is from the DDOT website.

35 Replies to "Mayor announces her choice for SDOT director: Sam Zimbabwe from D.C."

  • Adam December 18, 2018 (2:52 pm)

    Good luck.  The poor guy is inheriting an absolute mess as Seattle transportation is about to get even worse.  I kind of feel sorry for him. 

  • Railroaded December 18, 2018 (3:04 pm)

    Looks like he has some solid credentials…I wish him well!

  • Eddie December 18, 2018 (3:15 pm)

    As a condition of employment, he should have to move to/commute from West Seattle beginning before Jan 11.

    • Tsurly December 18, 2018 (3:36 pm)

      No problem if done by bicycle.

      • Eddie December 18, 2018 (4:17 pm)

        Agree, Bike is best, but realistically commuting from here, even by bike would be an eye-opener. 

  • dsa December 18, 2018 (3:39 pm)

    She’s kidding right? I looked at his LinkedIn profile.  His education is Urban design, nothing transportation related to education.

    • globalgal December 18, 2018 (4:38 pm)

      I have the same Master’s degree that he does from UC Berkeley. At the time I attended (late 1980s), you could specialize in an area of concentrated studies, transportation planning being one such area. You would not necessarily cite it as part of your formal degree title. 

      • dsa December 18, 2018 (5:27 pm)

        You might cite transportation if you were seeking highly paid responsible transportation employment.

  • Jort December 18, 2018 (3:56 pm)

    If anybody was wishing for a SDOT director who would somehow magically make it easier to drive your car in Seattle, your hopes were hopelessly misplaced, since there has literally never been a city in human history that has solved traffic congestion by making it easier to drive. I look forward to seeing what Sam Zimbabwe can offer in terms of reducing or eliminating Seattle’s car-centered focus on transporting people.

    • Mike December 19, 2018 (6:04 am)

      since there has literally never been a city in human history that has solved traffic congestion by making it easier to drive”  Jort on human history.  Apparently humans came to be in 1886.

  • gxnx December 18, 2018 (4:21 pm)

    Can’t they hire someone local?Someone that commutes daily from Tacoma to  Seattle

  • Mj December 18, 2018 (5:56 pm)

    Local people qualified have innate knowledge of the mess by Kubley and likely were not interested!Sam is inheriting a mess and hopefully can make the bloated SDoT operate more efficiently, be better at incorporating input (not just listening and then ignoring) from the public and deliver projects on time and within budget.

  • TJ December 18, 2018 (6:32 pm)

    I look forward to seeing what Sam can offer in actually helping commute times for cars and stopping the insane giveaways to bikes that reduce car lanes. Especially in light of the reports of bike commuting dropping. After all, “reducing or eliminating Seatle’s car-centered focus on transporting people” is the socially engineered mindset that has helped get us to the traffic we have. His first order of business is putting the calls from the Cascade bicycle alliance and Sierra Club on the backburner

    • KM December 18, 2018 (8:59 pm)

      Here’s hoping for the exact opposite!

    • Jort December 18, 2018 (9:04 pm)

      TJ, it sounds like Zimbabwe is going to disappoint you because it is highly unlikely that he is going to be the first transportation director in the entirety of human existence to reduce “commute times to cars” by halting “giveaways” to bike lanes. I’d be happy to read any citations that you could provide that would prove me wrong, and I’m willing to wait a long time, since it’s never happened before and it’s not going to miraculously happen in Seattle. And our mindless reliance on the automobile is, itself, a product of deliberate “social engineering,” too, over the course of many decades of urban planning. Traffic isn’t caused by bike lanes — it’s causes when there are too many cars on the road. If you’d like to imagine a bike-free paradise where nary a single bicycle lane stands in the way of unimpeded motorist progress, I’d encourage you to check out the United States Interstate Freeway system, particularly the examples here in Seattle, Wash., which — oh wait — also always full of bumper to bumper traffic. But no bike lanes! And I hope the Sierra Club keeps calling, because Seattle takes climate change seriously, and transportation is Seattle’s single largest contributor to carbon emissions. Maybe we should do something about that. 

    • CAM December 18, 2018 (11:44 pm)

      TJ- What has helped Seattle get the traffic it has currently has absolutely nothing to do with bike lanes. It is entirely related to a failure by “natives” to plan for the future in terms of real mass transit options. A real train system developed 40 years ago would solve a lot of everyone’s headaches. Don’t blame the current residents/elected officials/planners for the problems that could easily have been dealt with proactively. 

  • Canton December 18, 2018 (6:34 pm)

    Anyone, has to be better than Kubly-con. Don’t understand the “extensive public input” part. Per the ST, the whole process was secret, even having finalists sign confidentiality agreements. Guess she doesn’t want another police chief hiring fiasco.

    • WSB December 18, 2018 (6:56 pm)

      Public-input phase was mentioned here earlier this year:

      • Canton December 18, 2018 (8:42 pm)

        Perhaps they were seeking input on priorities and qualities of new director, but do we know the names of anyone, besides Mr. Zimbabwe, that were considered? Perhaps, maybe someone, who has actually ever driven, biked, bused, through Seattle for a considerable amount of time. We’re there any local, qualified, candidates?

        • WSB December 18, 2018 (8:53 pm)

          Crosscut was the only publication to name finalists, several days ago. Csn’t snag the link just now b/c I’m in transit. A Sound Transit exec was one of the three they named.

        • Tsurly December 19, 2018 (5:31 am)

          The guy is coming from DC, where traffic is significantly worse and far more widespread when you include the surrounding metro area. That alone qualifies him for the job.

  • West Seattle hipster December 18, 2018 (8:20 pm)

    Good luck to him.  But, I am still disappointed Kubly was never indicted.

  • 1994 December 18, 2018 (8:25 pm)

    Thank you TJ – I fully agree. I am a former bike commuter, used the side streets & back ways and wore NEON, but life changes.

  • Kirk December 18, 2018 (10:25 pm)

    First order of business is 24 Hr N/S dedicated bus lanes on Delridge from Roxbury to bridge, 1st Ave and 4th Ave from S. Lucile to Denny. No more street storage for your cars and garbage dump RVs. 

  • AnotherCar December 19, 2018 (8:12 am)

    LOVE your comment’s Jort!!! Coming from a driver like yourself they’re really meaningful!!!

  • ArborHeightsRes December 19, 2018 (8:26 am)

    I wish Mr. Zimbabwe well in his task. Bike commuting  is easier in the north end because of the proximity to downtown, as well as multiple street level bridges. Commuting to downtown via bike from West Seattle, let alone from my neighborhood of Arbor Heights, is nearly impossible unless you are an experienced, strong rider. Metro is also a poor option because the single bus route we have available here in the forgotten part of West Seattle. And commuting via the passenger ferry, well we still have to drive and hope to find parking on Alki because the shuttle doesn’t run this far south. The hated car is still the fastest and most convenient way for those in my neighborhood to commute to any place else in the city.

  • TJ December 19, 2018 (10:01 am)

    Cam, I wasn’t talking about mass, transit and failures of “natives” to implement trains decades ago. I’m talking about the city’s crazy investment in bike lanes at the expense of vehicle lanes. Through all of this bike commuting has dropped. It will always be a drop in the bucket of commuting. Taking away lanes for vehicles, which everyone knows car commuting will continue to increase more than biking, is stupid. More proof of America’s love of cars is cities with existing light rail. Almost all are worse than Seattle on traffic. 

    • Q December 19, 2018 (12:06 pm)

      You have your friends in the thousands of cars that you’re stuck behind every day to thank for traffic, not bike lanes or mass transit. And of course if you’re in it, you’re part of the problem. Repeat: Your car is the problem, people riding bikes are helping you with the problem that you are creating.

    • bolo December 19, 2018 (9:41 pm)

      I keep seeing you say bike commuting ridership is down but by my personal eyewitness experiences (bike commuting to-from West Seattle several days a week) there are more bicyclists then ever before. More bicyclists out and about, more than ever since I started bike commuting here in 1985, do you not see it yourself? People riding mountain bikes, road bikes, electric bikes, rental bikes, there are more. Sure it’s somewhat seasonal but season for season, there are more, not less.

  • Mj December 19, 2018 (6:33 pm)

    Both TJ and Jort you both are wrong.  What is needed is balanced approach.  Bike lanes are a important component but so are heavily travelled auto truck lanes.  What has been lost in the discussion is balance.  Installing bike lanes at the expense of capacity on arterials when alternative parallel residential street options exist is questionable practice and needs to be incorporated into the discussion.The City’s failure to provide transit in many areas is also a component needing be investigated.  More midday runs in Admiral for example would make transit viable, without midday service it is not an option.

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