Below is a joint letter from Seattle’s Transportation Advisory Boards, which was sent to Mayor Durkan last month.  As the search for a new SDOT director stretches on, we thought our readers would be interested in what the advisory boards want to see from the department going forward. – ed. 

As members of the Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board (SPAB), Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board (SBAB), Seattle Transit Advisory Board (STAB), and the Seattle Freight Advisory Board (SFAB) we would like to congratulate you on your election as mayor and anticipate many positive and challenging transitions for Seattle in the years to come.

A new director of the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will have a significant impact on the modes of transportation that we each represent and as such we hope to weigh in on the nationwide search. We hope you will consider our positions and concerns in choosing the next SDOT director. These advisory boards decided it would be more beneficial for you to receive a collaborative letter, as we are not simply modal silos, but passionate Seattle residents who desire a safe and efficient city that accommodates and embraces all modes of transportation.

We have compiled a list of key values and experience that we would like see reflected in the new SDOT director. Many of the values listed below drive our own commitment as volunteer stewards of the city’s alternative transportation and freight transportation advisory groups. Webring a diversity of skills, backgrounds, and expertise, and reflect the diverse community of people trying to move safely and easily around Seattle.

All four boards have highlighted a desire for a new director with experience in:

  • Equitable and data-driven decision-making,
  • Coalition building, and
  • Thorough and efficient implementation of safe streets policies.

Thank you for your consideration and please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions.


Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board (SPAB)
Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board (SBAB)
Seattle Transit Advisory Board (STAB)
Seattle Freight Advisory Board (SFAB)

Desired Experience and Values for New SDOT Director


  1. Demonstrated experience with operationalizing equity. SPAB members identify a lack of consistency in pedestrian safety improvements in low income communities and communities of color. (e.g. some streets have flashing lights, signs and striping, some have one of them, and others have none).
  2. Broad vision for a multi-modal and safe city. SPAB members request that newleadership at SDOT must consider the city’s transportation networks in sync with othersocial and health issues, such as the Race and Social Justice Initiative, ending homelessness, youth access to open spaces, and seniors to comfortably access naturalareas or community resources. New leadership must also consider the city’stransportation networks in sync with other social and health issues, such as the Race and Social Justice Initiative, ending homelessness, youth access to open spaces, and seniors to comfortably access natural areas or community resources.
  3. Broad vision for a multi-modal and safe city. SPAB members request that new leadership at SDOT prioritize the comfort, safety, and mobility of people walking even in the face of competing desires such as moving vehicular traffic quickly using adaptive signals.
  4. Experience in efficient project delivery. The Move Seattle transportation levy is off track. The new SDOT director should be confident creating an agency that can deliver projects on time and on budget, and be able provide leadership to find solutions to complete the promised voter approved list of projects.


  1. Broad experience implementing a wide variety of mobility solutions with a diverse set of community groups. STAB members request that the new SDOT Director emphasize the importance of all modes playing an important role in creating a safe, complete transportation system.
  2. Strong operations and personnel management experience. We believe Seattle has a clear vision for a safe, interconnected city and funding to bring that promise to fruition.
  3. STAB members hope the new SDOT Director will have skills to unite the department to fulfill the promises made the Move Seattle Levy.
  4. Strong commitment to equity and accessibility to all users. STAB members would like the new SDOT Director to have successfully increased transportation equity in a past role, experience that we hope could inform how SDOT moves the needle on improving transportation equity in Seattle
  5. Strong political experience and relationship building skills. STAB members hope the highly political SDOT Director position is filled by someone who can quickly understand Seattle’s politics and work to build consensus among stakeholders.


  1. Commitment to implement priorities of the Bicycle Master Plan in a timely manner: promote ridership, safety, connectivity, equity and livability for all ages and abilities.
  2. Demonstrated ability of coalition building around competing transportation interests.
  3. Understanding of the importance of upholding commitment to Vision Zero principles.
  4. Previous experience managing the unique needs and issues of rapidly growing urban areas.
  5. Commitment to Seattle Climate Action Plan of zero net carbon emissions by 2050.


Questions to Ask SDOT Director Candidates:

  1. Like many urban cities, Seattle has a range of transportation modes all competing within a limited right of way. How have you worked toward, and what are your strategies for coordinating and setting priorities for multi-modal transportation investments? What strategies have you deployed to keep all modes safe while keeping all modes viable. How will you manage and structure your teams to make sure all modes have adequate advocacy?
  2. Seattle enjoys a unique position along a global trade route with well-developed transportation infrastructure. How have you worked, or how will you work to preserve the jobs and economy that relies on this interconnected and intermodal network to ensure the region’s’ economic vitality? What would be your priorities for maintaining and preserving this system to keep it viable into the future?
  3. Like many urban communities, Seattle is challenged with growing income inequality that has led to affordable housing and homelessness challenges. Our two large Manufacturing Industrial Centers are critical for providing family wage jobs. These centers are supported by rail and roadway and port infrastructure. How can we make sure these facilities are maintained at a level that keeps manufacturing and industrial centers viable and resilient for the future?
  4. What is your approach to data driven and performance based decision making. Vancouver B.C.’s clogged freight transportation system adds one billion dollars a year to infrastructure costs? What freight performance measures are you familiar with and what measures would you apply in Seattle? How would you utilize real economic factors in establishing priorities for infrastructure investment and development?

14 Replies to “What Seattle’s Transpo Advisory Boards Want From a New SDOT Director”

  1. Of course the boards set up to advise on specific modes want a focus on coalitions – because we have a transportation department driven by mode-focused coalition politics rather than multi-modal public policy. The very nature of our advisory system, divided by mode, reinforces that mentality. There is no transportation system advisory board that focuses on what’s important in transportation – how to integrate modal solutions into streets that support communities and work for everyone, and a transportation system that’s well managed.

    What we need in the transportation director is an insistence on competence and best practice instead of on modally-focused ideologies. SDOT needs to focus on the public, not just on modal advocacy groups any longer. All the modes have value, and it’s stupid to continue arguing about which ones are best, or whether their users are more moral. Professionalism is in locating the right mix of modal solutions where each is most effective and making the process transparent.

    1. Quasimodal: amen. The Kubly SDOT did not seem to well-integrate the several modal plans. We may be better off with more specialization among arterials. It is quite difficult to provide priority to multiple modes between the curbs. Not to mention the important arterials without curbs and sidewalks at all.

    2. The modal orientation of Seattle’s approach to transportation issues is a big structural problem and the advisory committees validate that. Thanks for mentioning that!

      I’d much prefer a sector or district planning focus. I think that we need these plans more than modal plans. Our public rights-of-way everywhere are limited and changing their function always creates winners and losers. Neighborhoods deserve multi-modal discussions about their issues — and not some citywide advocate determining what’s best for them when those advocates don’t live there.

      I’ll add that I’m not suggesting a small area approach as in past plans. I’m suggesting larger sector-wide planning — such as having West a Seattle or SE Seattle in one or two plans each.

    3. While the boards are defined by mode (in the creating legislation), the members of the boards are very aware of the multi-modal nature of our city’s transportation system. I’m the chair of the Ped Board, but regularly bike to work and take transit several times a week for other trips. Many other members of SPAB also bike or take transit often. A friend on the Bike Board drives for Metro part-time.

      The co-chairs of the boards try to stay in sync about projects or issues that come up in our meetings to avoid giving conflicting recommendations to SDOT. The last thing any of us want is a fight over priorities between peds, bikes, and transit over allocation of right of way, and I think we’d agree that the modal silo approach taken by SDOT in the past was not an effective way to make it easier and safer for people to travel around the city without a car.

      Neighborhood level advocacy can certainly be difficult for boards that are stewards of a citywide plan, but when we’re recruiting new members every year we try to get some geographic balance among the board members. I know that improving SDOT’s outreach and communication with the neighborhoods and communities where they’re doing work is a priority for many members of SPAB, and we also have public comment at the beginning of every monthly meeting to hear from people and help inform our recommendations.

      1. Rob Johnson looks to be quite young, and hasn’t been on the City Council all that long. From the map of District 4, it looks like the kind of place where transit-friendly zoning has never even been tried before.

        But comparisons between automobile use in European cities and ours have to consider one fact: There, the only mode of transportation that cannot actually move is the private car.

        Even- or especially- without regulations, it would not take very many cars to block the whole place solid. Depressing confirmation: in Southern Sweden, where there are wide enough fields for wind turbine farms (with no indication cows are afraid of them)-they’re starting to get suburbs, malls, and parking lots.

        Our problem is that none of our land-use is anywhere near unusable enough with a car that people will get serious about land use and travel modes. Read someplace that main reason New York City’s first subway was dug so fast in 1904 was that at rush hour, Broadway was so packed with pedestrians that none of them could move, let alone walk.

        Doesn’t mean we don’t do what we can now. But wouldn’t take it as hostility that we’re slowed by resistance. At the rate our population is increasing, however badly distributed…time is on our side. So best use of time is to be ready to elevate, dig, and plan for when Eastern Pierce County becomes the new Connecticut.

        True, Mercer is already an Island. But sense that it could be at least decades there before first resident says “Dat is da stoopidest ‘ting I eva hoid in my life!” Good predictor for when a subarea is ready to feed peanuts to the pigeons on the platforms.


      2. That’s lip service to multi-modalism. Each modal plan has goals and biases for that mode. Interest groups for that mode are the most heavily involved, and often are the ones that advertise meetings and surveys.

        Sorry, but that member awareness excuse is a surface excuse for a much deeper structural problem.

  2. “SPAB members request that new leadership at SDOT prioritize the comfort, safety, and mobility of people walking even in the face of competing desires such as moving vehicular traffic”

    How can we get from here to there? That is what Paris and London are doing: putting the mobility of people absolutely before the mobility of cars. But while Seattle says it wants to improve non-car mobility, it’s afraid to actually do it and risk the wrath of car owners and people who just assume that we always need more car lanes and the existing amount of street parking. Even though there have been some successes at the edges: transit lanes on Madison, transit lanes on 1st if the CCC goes through, it’s just a few scraps here and there, not a citywide network. Not what Paris or London would do. We need an enlightened SDOT director, but we need more than that, we need a city council and mayor who will actually approve these policies and follow through with them. Rob Johnson was a breath of fresh air and he made great strides, but he seems to have gotten beaten down by the NIMBYs and neighborhood activists. We need more representatives like Rob Johnson to reach a critical mass, then all these good things will happen.

    1. For starters, any changes need to involve offering multiple options. Seattle agencies usually propose a single-option solution. That creates a dual support/opposition mentality. Other plans will put three, four or more options on the table for public vetting. When one views everything as car/non-car, they are buying into this narrowly-structured process. Even in terms of measuring people, I am often amazed at how a few hundred bicyclists are deemed more worthy of street space than thousands of transit riders on that same street.

    2. Mike, you’re defining kool-aid for me. This is the type of ideological bs that has made our transportation department such a mess. Not everything is an anti car modal war.

      This is a transit blog, right? Have you noticed that transit has taken next-to-last priority (just above pedestrians) in the war against cars? I can’t tell you how many times SDOT has done something to prioritize cars last that has also wrecked bus transit service on those same streets all over town.

      At some point we all need the streets to work, and we need getting home safely to be a team sport. And yes sometimes that includes cars, and sometimes bikers and transit riders have to use cars too. When streets are made to work poorly, or are managed poorly, it’s not just bad for cars, but often for everyone else as well.

      1. I’m not sure how what you said is different enough from what Mike said to “define kool-aid” (actually, it’s “Kool-Ade” as in “Lemon”).

      2. “Have you noticed that transit has taken next-to-last priority”

        That’s what I said.

        “we need getting home safely to be a team sport. And yes sometimes that includes cars, and sometimes bikers and transit riders have to use cars too.”

        Yes, but there are a lot more cars on the street than that. The number of cars on the road is what a car-dominant city would have, not what a city where people drive only when they need to would have. For a city like that, look to New York, London, or Paris.

  3. Knowledge and perspective to make the decisions with the right results, short- and long-term.

    Confidence and courage to stand by the results, and take personal responsibility for them.

    Wisdom to anticipate likely consequences of a decision, and prepare accordingly.

    Always lead by example. With these qualities, you can take the rest as a given. Main test for fitness? First act in office will be to quietly specify that given present abbreviation, the Seattle Transit Advisory Board will use its full name.

    Mark Dublin


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