Scott Kubly, director of Seattle’s transportation department, resigned Friday, about two weeks after new Mayor Jenny Durkan took office. Goran Sparrman, a former deputy director of SDOT, was named interim director.
Scott Kubly, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) director who spearheaded the passage of the city’s largest-ever transportation levy and pushed to increase the use of mass transit, resigned Friday.
Mayor Jenny Durkan, who took office late last month, announced the resignation and said that Goran Sparrman, a previous deputy director of SDOT, will become interim director.
“In a time of unprecedented growth, Scott set the stage for a significant increase in multimodal investments in our city, which will have an impact for decades to come,” Durkan said.
“Goran is a well-respected leader and has immense experience as an engineer, manager and planner in our region — I know he will execute over the months to come on my top transportation priorities.”
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Sparrman was also the interim director of SDOT (and a candidate for the permanent position) in 2014, when Mayor Ed Murray took office. He was the director of transportation for the city of Bellevue from 1998 to 2011, when he left to become a deputy director at SDOT.
Since 2014 he has worked for Parsons Corp., an engineering and construction firm.
Kubly, whom Murray chose to lead SDOT in 2014, was recently a finalist to be the city manager of Austin, Texas, but was not chosen for that position.
A Durkan spokeswoman said that Kubly’s resignation was a “mutual decision.”
With oversight of the city’s streets and sidewalks, about 900 full-time employees and an annual budget of well over $400 million, SDOT is one of the most visible and important departments in the city.
Kubly had previously served as deputy director of the Chicago Department of Transportation and as an associate director of the Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C.
He has spent his time at SDOT working to make Seattle an easier city for people to get around in without a car, as a booming population and limited street space has made driving in Seattle often a plodding and maddening experience. He helped pass the 10-year, $930 million Move Seattle levy to fund street and sidewalk improvements and transit projects.
“As congestion increased we maintained or improved transit’s performance by rolling out new service, big improvements like transit lanes on Westlake, and small improvements to give buses the advantage,” Kubly wrote in an email Friday.
Seattle, during Kubly’s tenure, has seen continuing declines in rates of drive-alone commuters to booming downtown neighborhoods, with travelers increasingly turning to transit.
“The goal,” Kubly said earlier this year, “is all of the new growth being accommodated by modes other than driving.”
Still, Kubly leaves SDOT at a perilous time. Downtown traffic, already heavily congested at times, will get worse in the coming years as a series of megaprojects — mostly not SDOT’s doing — further constricts limited street space.
Construction of a new Washington State Convention Center will kick buses out of the downtown bus tunnel. A new streetcar line will tear up First Avenue. Alaskan Way will be rebuilt and the Alaskan Way Viaduct will be torn down. Colman Dock will be rebuilt.
“Our region has been trying to catch up to its transportation needs for decades, and 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,” Durkan said.
“With a number of significant projects in the pipeline, the next leader must be well positioned to deliver on investments, improve bus service, effectively implement light-rail expansion, and prioritize our maintenance backlog,” she added.
Known during his time in D.C. for his work on streetcar and bike-share projects, Kubly led similar efforts in Seattle. The city has launched construction on a new First Avenue streetcar to connect the two existing lines in South Lake Union and on First Hill.
That streetcar was one of two projects that Kubly identified as vital when he took over in 2014. The other was opening light rail to the University of Washington, which Sound Transit did last year.
Kubly paid a $5,000 fine for failing to recuse himself from work related to Pronto, Seattle’s since-shuttered bike-share system. Kubly had previously been president of the private bike-share company chosen to run Pronto.
But since then, bike share has blossomed in Seattle as Kubly’s department allowed private, stationless bike-share companies to operate freely on city streets. Those bikes are operating on a trial basis through July.
While many have praised the bike-share program as a new, low-cost way to get around (and one that the city didn’t have to pay a dime for), others have complained about improperly parked bikes littering the sidewalks. It will be up to Kubly’s successor to propose a permanent solution.