Streetcar Czar Leaves DDOT Post [UPDATE]
Well, leave it to Councilmember Tommy Wells to break the late night news: Scott Kubly, who has been in charge of the District Department of Transportation's Progressive Transportation Services Administration since 2009, is stepping down. Kubly is perhaps best known for his management of the streetcar, but his portfolio also includes the Circulator bus and Bikeshare programs. Wells wrote shortly after midnight:
News was streetcar czar Scott Kubly leaves DDOT.Big deal for us FOAMERs Scott's a Tangherlini type.Impatient creative & effective in gov't
To translate: A Foamer, Google tells me, is a railroad enthusiast. Tangherlini is Dan Tangherlini, the guy who started the streetcar program as then-Mayor Anthony Williams' head of DDOT before becoming WMATA's General Manager and then Adrian Fenty's city administrator. The rest is inherent in what Kubly has been in charge of doing: Although streetcar planning has had its issues and still faces big challenges (among them reaching a deal with Amtrak to terminate the H Street NE line at Union Station, which I have reason to believe is really holding up the project) the cherry-red new transportation options are the District's most creative and ambitious bid to change the way people get around in this city.
Mayor Vince Gray and Council chairman Kwame Brown showed their commitment to those projects by including full funding for the streetcar and Bikeshare in his latest budget, and keeping Circulator fares at $1 per ride. But taking the transportation committee away from Wells was not a good sign of the continuing bureaucratic support for those priorities.
I don't yet know Kubly's own rationale for leaving, or whether he was forced out for some other reason (for all I know, he's toying again with the idea of running for Council). Will update if I can get more.
UPDATE, Sunday, 10:30 p.m. – According to Kubly, whose last day on the job is Monday, his departure wasn't spurred by last week's committee shakeup that will move DDOT out of transit champion Tommy Wells' jurisdiction. In fact, it had been in the works quite a bit longer—since it became clear that Adrian Fenty, whose breakneck pace Kubly enjoyed, was on the way out.
"After the primary, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to stick around long term," Kubly says. "To me, it was just trying to find a logical point to step away."
In the last few months, a few things had gotten nailed down: A contract for two more streetcars will soon come before the Council, and his team has finished a request for proposals for streetcar operations and maintenance. Meanwhile, the Bikeshare program is moving along apace, with big expansions planned later this year. Kubly made the decision a couple weeks ago, and told DDOT director Terry Bellamy that he was resigning last Tuesday.
Kubly also wasn't leaving for another position. Although he's talked with his former boss Gabe Klein about going to work in Chicago, nothing is firm, and he's now just enjoying unemployment while he plans his next move (which won't involve political office).
It is, however, a warning of the kind of brain drain that can happen when half the city's elected leadership is under investigation for ethical lapses and there seems to be little urgency to get things done. That's the real danger of the taint of scandal: Not, as Jim Vance worried on Friday, that Congress might swoop in and take away what little autonomy we have. Rather, it's that smart, hardworking people will decide it's not a brand that they want to be associated with, and take their talents elsewhere.