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Meet Sam, SDOT’s new director!


Welcome, Sam!


Monday marked the first day on the job for SDOT’s new director, Sam Zimbabwe. Here’s a snip from his first email to the City team:


“Thank you for welcoming me so enthusiastically to Seattle! I can’t express what an honor it is to be a part of this internationally recognized transportation agency and have the opportunity to work with all of you. Seattle is one of the coolest cities in America and one of the best places to live, work, play, and travel. Thanks to SDOT’s commitment to a strong mission and to your remarkable achievements, all eyes look to Seattle as a transportation leader.”

– Sam Zimbabwe


The entire City transportation team is thrilled to welcome Sam and eagerly anticipates his leadership in advancing our mission of delivering a high-quality transportation system for Seattle. Since Mayor Jenny Durkan announced his selection in December, we’ve been excited to get to know him. Sam is learning quickly and has been enthusiastically meeting staff, learning about key projects and programs, and helping us plan future priorities.


He’s a multimodal leader for all.


Sam comes to SDOT from Washington, DC, where he served in senior management positions at the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) for the past 7 years, first as the Associate Director for Policy, Planning & Sustainability. He moved on to become DDOT’s first Chief Project Delivery Officer, responsible for transportation planning, capital project design and construction, traffic engineering and signals, and transit service delivery.

Prior to joining DDOT, Sam was the Director of the Center for Transit-Oriented Development, a national nonprofit partnership dedicated to leveraging transit investments to preserve and create equitable communities.

Sam also has a background in urban design and transportation planning and spent five years working for urban design and architecture firms in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sam holds a master’s degree in City Planning from the University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in Urban and Regional Studies from Cornell University.


He’s a quick study.


Sam will absorb an enormous amount of information in the next several weeks as he learns about Seattle. He’ll be getting to know staff throughout the organization as he meets with City teams and departments over the next month to get an overview of SDOT’s work program. He’ll also be meeting with residents and businesses to understand their multimodal transportation challenges.



To Team SDOT: Your contributions to helping me get up to speed will be invaluable. I deeply appreciate all the time and energy staff have already contributed—and will continue to dedicate—to help me get the lay of the land so that I might lead the department in a manner that will make you and Seattle proud.  – Sam Zimbabwe


Sam is committed to fulfilling the SDOT mission.



Sam is committed to fulfilling the mission of delivering a high-quality transportation system. In his first year as a director, his goals for himself and SDOT can be captured in six broad areas:


Getting to know Seattle.

Sam plans to immerse himself in the city and get to know it well by hearing from residents, modal boards, community groups, and other stakeholders – and by learning about the past as much as about plans for the future.


Getting to know SDOT.

Sam plans to get to know the agency from top to bottom while he works to identify any additional changes necessary to ensure we can meet Levy and ongoing program commitments.


Maintaining downtown mobility.

The Seattle Squeeze is well underway with the permanent closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Sam understands this is one of many changes we’ll face with respect to moving in and around downtown Seattle over the next few years. While we’ve now operationalized plans to mitigate traffic impacts, Sam will also work over the next year to make sure we’re doing all we can to provide safe, efficient, affordable options for today while continuing to create a mobility framework for the future.


Delivering on Levy and other capital project commitments.

We have more major capital investments underway than at any time in SDOT’s history, including the Move Seattle commitments and the Center City Connector Streetcar. Sam understands the challenges these projects have faced. Over the next year, we’ll need to follow through on our promise for more openness and transparency as we continue building the public’s trust in our ability to deliver projects, large and small.


Working with partner agencies to continue improving transit in Seattle.

The next year will see some critical decisions for how Seattle and the region invest in public transportation. Seattle’s success is tied to public transportation, and this region is building, operating, and riding transit in ways the rest of the country envies.

Sam knows that working collaboratively with partners will be essential as we determine the ST3 Locally Preferred Alternatives and the future of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District. We’ll also be working through the upcoming changes from the ST2 light rail buildout while continuing to shape how people interact with our public transportation system on a daily basis.


Improving our delivery of the basics.

SDOT is fundamentally a service delivery organization. While we’re building for the future, we must also deliver on the present day-to-day needs of Seattle residents and visitors to get around the city safely and efficiently. Over the next year, Sam plans to understand where we are performing well, where we need to improve, and what changes are necessary to strengthen our delivery of services and our capacity to maintain, improve, and safely operate today’s system.


Zimbabwe means a strong foundation of stone.


Did you know that Zimbabwe derives from the Shona name for an ancient town believed to mean “large houses of stone?” Great Zimbabwe was such an important part of its national identity that the country in southern Africa was named for the historic town. Obviously, Zimbabwe is also Sam’s last name; when he and his wife got married they combined the beginnings of each of their four family surnames to form the name “Zimbabwe” — and thereby established their new home and family on a “strong foundation of stone.” Sam looks to bring the same foundation to SDOT as we work together to build the city of the future.


Welcome to SDOT, Sam!