After three months of committee meetings and candidate interviews, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Sam Zimbabwe as her nominee to be the next Seattle Department of Transportation director.

“I am very happy to introduce to you Sam Zimbabwe, who will be the next director of the Seattle Department of Transportation,” the mayor said during a Dec. 18 news conference. “For decades our region has been playing catch-up. Seattle has grown quickly, and our transportation and transit infrastructure was not ready … We needed somebody bold, who knows what a growing city needs, someone who has experience delivering big projects on time and on budget. He is the right person to help move Seattle forward.”

The Seattle City Council will consider Zimbabwe’s nomination and take a vote at a future council meeting. Durkan said they expect Zimbabwe to begin work in January.

Zimbabwe will come to Seattle from Washington, D.C., where he served as the chief project delivery officer for D.C.’s Department of Transportation.

“I come from a place where we face a similar set of growth challenges,” Zimbabwe said. “It’s something I relish and something I look forward to here. You’ll see that I have an open and collaborative leadership style. I look forward to working with everyone while we create the future of the city.”

The past year has been challenging.

SDOT began a leadership transition after Durkan was elected. The previous director, Scott Kubly, resigned after Durkan took office in 2017. Durkan then appointed Goran Sparrman as interim director. Sparrman served as Seattle’s interim transportation director in the past and also served as a transportation director in Bellevue previously. Durkan considered having Sparrman become the permanent director, but Sparrman left in August for another job. 

During Sparrman’s time at the department he led the review of SDOT and the Move Seattle Levy, which failed to keep up with promises made to the voters. Durkan then made the controversial decision to suspend the Center City Connector streetcar project.

“The first thing you have to do is admit you got it wrong,” Durkan said during Tuesday’s press conference. “The previous administration promised these projects and couldn’t deliver them. We squared with the public and said we don’t have the money to build all those projects.”

Linea Lard had been serving as interim transportation director since Sparrman’s departure.

During the conference Durkan and Zimbabwe were asked if they share the same vision for the city. Durkan said she is not relying on her vision of the city alone but believes a vision that is a “conglomeration of the people” is the best option.

“My vision is for a safe, equitable, multimodal transportation system,” said Zimbabwe. “We have to build out infrastructure that is available to everybody. Throughout my career when we talked about what we want to see … it came down to transportation choices and reliability in those choices. SDOT will need to help deliver that.”

Durkan has also been receiving heated criticism for her choice to block free-roaming bicycle companies, such as Lime and Jump, from placing scooters in the city. During the conference Zimbabwe said he wants to work with the city to find a better way to accommodate more bikes, scooters and other modes of transportation by working with Seattle residents, cycling advocates and local stakeholders.

“Sometimes it takes the department to be a humble listener,” he said.

Durkan also announced the city has sent a letter to the regional scooter companies requesting information about the number of accidents and injuries caused by the scooters, if the companies have been tracking the data.

Durkan said the issue with scooters is when users choose to use one, the rider gives up their right to pursue a lawsuit against the company if they are injured while riding. She said since the cities give licenses to these companies to place scooters and bikeshares on the city streets and sidewalks, they become more susceptible to lawsuits if someone is injured.

Durkan and Zimbabwe described Seattle as a “city under construction.” Zimbabwe said, if appointed by the council, he hopes to work for the next few years on completing the long list of unfinished projects while also making sure the “daily need of the city’s residents are met during this large transition.”