Grace Crunican, Seattle's transportation chief, has resigned and will become a consultant.

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Grace Crunican, the embattled director of the Seattle Department of Transportation, announced today that she will step down to start her own consulting company.

Mayor-elect Mike McGinn said he has asked Crunican — who came under fire for her handling of last December’s snowstorms — to stay on until he has selected a new transportation director. That appointment will be subject to City Council confirmation.

McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus declined to say whether McGinn asked Crunican to resign. McGinn takes office next Monday.

Crunican, 54, has worked for the city for eight years, moving here from Oregon, where she headed the Oregon Department of Transportation.

“After eight years as the director of transportation, it is time for me to pass the reins to a new leader,” said Crunican said in a statement. “It’s been a great run for me and the entire SDOT team. I move on with a real sense of pride about our accomplishments on so many important transportation issues.”

In a statement, Mayor Greg Nickels said he considers Crunican “the finest local transportation director in the nation.”

He added, “She made sure pedestrians and bicyclists had an equal voice in all our transportation decisions and filled almost half a million potholes.”

Under her leadership, the nine-year Bridging the Gap program was started, delivering in its first three years 97 lane-miles of repaved roads and 54 blocks of new sidewalks, according to the city.

But Crunican was harshly criticized for what many viewed as a botched response to Seattle’s December snowstorms. Much of the city was left paralyzed by icy, rutted streets.

An investigation found workplace problems involving Paul Jackson Jr., the former street-maintenance director who had been promoted into his job by Crunican, despite documented problems with his management style. Jackson, who had no experience directing a winter storm response, was in charge at the time.

In a department release announcing Crunican’s resignation, officials said, “though the department did not meet the public’s expectations during the two weeks of snow and ice in December 2008, a new winter weather response plan and Street Maintenance division director are ready for the cold weather season, and have already been tested by icy streets this month.”

As head of SDOT, Crunican helped create the Bicycle Master Plan that has already built more than 90 miles of bike lanes, and drafted the Pedestrian Master Plan.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com