People's Waterfront Coalition founder Cary Moon has been active in Seattle's transportation debate since 2004, when she came up with a revolutionary plan to tear down the Alaskan Way Viaduct and replace it with transit and improvements to surface streets.

McGinn named Moon as one of the ambassadors to his transition team last month. In this guest op/ed for PubliCola, Moon argues that McGinn should retain Seattle transportation department director Grace Crunican, whom both McGinn and Joe Mallahan said they would oust.

[caption id="attachment_20221" align="alignnone" width="200" caption="Cary Moon"]Cary Moon[/caption]

Even before Greg Nickels was ousted in the August primary, both Joe Mallahan and Mike McGinn were vowing to get rid of Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) director Grace Crunican, who was widely blamed for the city’s inept handling of last year’s snowstorm. Since then, McGinn has changed his tune, saying that he has not yet decided whether to keep Crunican or fire her.

This shouldn’t be up for debate. Crunican is a star, and McGinn would be crazy not to keep her. Grace’s skill set and vision makes her better poised than anyone to achieve the innovative and progressive agenda McGinn wants Seattle to be known for.

While most of us see only the results of SDOT’s work on the street, after it’s done and built, what really matters is what is taking place in the organization. And the transformation happening within SDOT has been awe-inspiring.

I know Crunican best through my work with viaduct replacement. The results of the 2008 stakeholder process, which culminated in the city, county and state Departments of Transportation recommending the I-5/surface/transit solution as one of two options for viaduct replacement, was all Crunican. During that discussion, she was the one who figured out how to make surface/transit work by increasing transit, fixing the street grid, and changing transportation policy. She had the technical chops to figure out a very complex system, the leadership skills to reorient her boss (that would be Greg Nickels) and staff, and the political smarts to get our state highway department, for God’s sake, to go along with highway removal.

Scott Bernstein, one of the nation’s gurus for alternative transportation and Chairman of the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership, calls her achievements in local transportation improvements miraculous. “It’s rare to find someone in the field who can develop policy options, build consensus among and between elected and community leaders, yet who can also manage large multi-billion dollar agencies while keeping a steady eye on the goal to be achieved.”

We’re going to especially want Crunican in the next few years. As the bad news for the waterfront tunnel continues to emerge, Seattle will need a judo master poised and ready to guide decision leaders toward a viable alternative without starting another bitter, polarizing battle with the state. Who do you want navigating the treacherous political ground around regional mobility and local access for our future city—a credible leader who knows every technical detail and understands all the political forces, or a newcomer just getting his or her bearings?

Seattle is just beginning a local renaissance toward complete streets, a robust bike network, compact growth, and surging transit ridership. The work plans have been laid, the advocacy world is organized, and a bold mayor with a fresh commitment to progress is taking the reins. With such fertile conditions, Grace’s SDOT could rival NYC, Copenhagen, and London for progress toward lower emissions, less congestion and a less oil-dependent local economy.

McGinn has enough on his plate, and is too astute, to pretend that a charade of cleaning house would lead to better outcomes. Here’s hoping he’s astute enough to keep the city’s star transportation director on board.
Cary Moon is director of the People's Waterfront Coalition, an organization dedicated to a highway-free waterfront and a sustainable solution to viaduct replacement.

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