Murray goes for experience, vision in new SDOT director
by Bill Lucia
Scott Kubly Credit: Wharton School of Business
Mayor Ed Murray named a new Seattle Department of Transportation director Wednesday, tapping a veteran of high-ranking transportation posts in both Chicago and Washington D.C.
Scott Kubly, Murray's pick, is currently the acting president of Alta Bike Share, Inc., which will run the day-to-day operations for the Seattle bike-share program set to launch this fall. At his former jobs, Kubly worked on projects involving bike lanes, a new stretch of walkway along the Chicago River and streetcars in Washington D.C.
During a press conference at City Hall announcing his appointment, Kubly said that Seattle's transportation system needs to be adapted to meet the demands of a growing city.
"We'll give people choices, very attractive choices, so that when it comes time to make a trip, people choose to walk or bike, or take transit because it's the most attractive option," he said.
Kubly also stressed the importance of taking care of basic Department of Transportation functions, like fixing potholes and clearing snow.
"It's early July and I can tell you that when I was talking to the folks here," he said, "I think the first thing out of my mouth, or the second, was 'tell me what we do with snow.' "
As he has done in the past, Mayor Murray emphasized during the press conference the importance of integrated transportation planning for cars, transit, freight, bikes and pedestrians.
"We spend too much time pitting one mode against the other," Murray said. "Scott is a visionary that I think will give transportation in this city the leadership that it needs."
Chicago's Divvy bike-share program was an accomplishment that Kubly said he is particularly proud of. He highlighted the way the program engaged the local community. The majority of the project's workforce was minority employees; 90 percent lived within the city limits, and 20 percent were hired through a program that trains unemployed Chicagoans, he said. Divvy also took on 600 interns who did apprenticeships in landscaping and bike mechanics.
"That's something where, you know, there's an opportunity with transportation to do more than just move people," he said, referring to the job and intern initiatives with Divvy.
Kubly served as the deputy commissioner of Chicago's department of transportation and as the associate director of Washington D.C.'s department of transportation. Gabe Klein, who was his boss in both cities, said, "He's able to really get down in the weeds — whether it's a technical design or a 50-page spreadsheet on a project."
Klein noted Kubly's work on Chicago's "Riverwalk," which runs along the Chicago River and connects downtown with the Lake Michigan waterfront. It involves a $100 million U.S. Department of Transportation loan. Klein credited Kubly for his work on the project's finances and said that the river walkway has moved from conceptual design to construction all within Mayor Rahm Emanuel's first four-year term.
"Nobody does that," he said. "That's a 15-year initiative. Without Scott working on the finance side of it, it would've been hard."
"He brings sort of a private sector approach and mentality to running an organization," Klein added.
Kubly's career has not been completely free of controversy. Alta was awarded a contract to run Chicago's bike-share program in 2012, during Kubly's time as the city's deputy transportation commissioner. A competitor for the bike-sharing deal, Bike Chicago, filed a bid protest with the city over the awarding of the contract to Alta. The protest said that Klein and Kubly had conversations with Alta officials after the city issued a request for proposals from companies that could run the program. The bid protest filed by Bike Chicago was later rejected. Alta was earlier awarded a bike-sharing contract in Washington, D.C. where Klein and Kubly also worked.
Shortly after leaving his deputy commissioner post in Chicago, Kubly began working with Alta.
The Mayor's Office did not respond to a question about whether Murray was concerned about any of the circumstances surrounding the bid protest. But communications director Jeff Reading said in an email: "I can confirm that we were made aware of this during the vetting process."
Warren Aakervik, who chairs Seattle's Freight Advisory Board and was on the search committee that found Kubly, said he would like to see the city build infrastructure that gets bikes out of traffic. He also expressed hope that a "flatlander" — Kubly — would be able to understand the nuances of transportation in a city with so many hills, so much water and a port.
"Let's get rid of the conflict," he said. "Let's be smart about what we build."
The Cascade Bicycle Club issued a statement applauding Kubly's nomination and noting that he had played an important role in Chicago bike lane projects that are protected from other traffic.
If his appointment is approved by the City Council, Kubly will begin on July 28 and will earn $180,000 annually.