Meet Mike Ziarnek, New City Complete Streets Planner
The City of Pensacola has selected Mike Ziarnek to fill the newly created Transportation Planner – Complete Streets position, with a tentative start date of Monday, July 29. In his new role, Ziarnek will be responsible for developing and overseeing the City’s Complete Streets Program, which includes transportation planning for bicycles and pedestrians, street safety, lighting, urban design and more.
Ziarnek joins the City of Pensacola from Florida Department of Transportation District 5 in DeLand, Florida, where he currently serves as the Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator. Ziarnek’s responsibilities at FDOT include coordinating with partner agencies to identify mobility needs and implement pedestrian and bicycle facilities throughout the nine-county region of FDOT District 5.
Ziarnek has a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from University of Colorado Denver and a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from University of Colorado Denver.
Although he started his career as a traffic engineer, Ziarnek eventually realized that planning is his true passion. While working alongside planners at Denver Regional Council of Governments in Colorado, he developed an interest in planning and decided to go to graduate school to pursue his master’s degree.
“I just realized that I’m much more interested in getting pedestrians safely across the street or giving a bicyclist a bike lane than I was interested in moving motorized vehicles,” Ziarnek said.
As the City’s Complete Streets Planner, Ziarnek will work under the direction of the Planning Administrator and with the Public Works Director to help plan and implement a wide range of transportation programs to support multi-modal transportation in Pensacola.
Creating a position dedicated to bike/pedestrian safety was one of the recommendations from the traffic and walkability section of Mayor Grover Robinson’s Transition Team report, and it will play a vital role as the City adopts Complete Streets. The concept of Complete Streets encompasses many approaches to planning, designing and operating roadways and rights of way with all users in mind to make the transportation network safer and more efficient.
When it comes to urban design and planning, Ziarnek said he considers everything from sidewalks and trees to water fountains and benches, taking into account how it all works together to build a vibrant community.
“My passion for planning is multi-faceted,” Ziarnek said. “It’s not just bikes and pedestrians. It’s urban design, it’s community development, it’s empowerment of citizens, it’s embracing all residents, including those with special needs.”
Growing up in a small farming town in southern Illinois, Ziarnek remembers the sense of community that was cultivated by what is now known as mixed-use development. Residences and local businesses coexisted before many smaller shops were driven out by big box stores, but Ziarnek said many towns are returning to that sense of community.
As our country continues to evolve, Ziarnek said he’s always looking for innovative ways to meet the public’s needs, whether it’s avid cyclists, families riding bikes together, children walking to school, the elderly or disabled, or those without traditional modes of transportation.
“When we start creating accommodations for other forms of transportation and fostering an environment that people can have other choices and greater freedoms to choose their transportation mode, I feel we can become a more vibrant and stronger community,” Ziarnek said.