New SDOT director answers questions about bridges, speed limits, more @ West Seattle Transportation Coalition

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

After last week’s West Seattle Transportation Coalition meeting, we reported on the biggest news to emerge from it: Early traffic observations from the reopened West Seattle Bridge. New SDOT director Greg Spotts shared those during his guest appearance. Here’s what else he had to say, with both professional and personal details, plus some Q&A:

Spotts, confirmed by the City Council earlier this month, started by noting he’d heard of the remarkable way the West Seattle community came together to get through the 2 1/2-year West Seattle Bridge closure. He said his first hour on the job took him inside the bridge (and the low bridge, which he toured that day too):

(SDOT photo, September 7)

“It’s really impressive to learn about the engineering effort of a structure suddenly compromised and retrofit it so it’s going to last and be safe.”

He said his mom watched the pre-bridge-reopening media event he emceed two weeks ago and commented that the political culture here appeared more collaborative. She lives in Los Angeles, as do his kids, with their mother; he and his partner, who’ve been together seven years, had a “very happy life in West Los Angeles” before coming here. He thinks he might be the “most experienced administrator to run SDOT in quite some time” because he’s been supervising more than 500 employees for more than seven years. “I feel very confident as a seasoned administrator coming into this role.”

He said Mayor Bruce Harrell‘s “unity platform” (One Seattle) appealed to him. Also, the fact that SDOT has control of just about all the street functions (in Los Angeles, there’s a transportation department separate from the streets department for which he worked). He’s living in South Lake Union for starters and observing the streetscape there, observing it contains everything from a streetcar to raingardens. He decided to start with a listening tour in Seattle, noting that he’d worked on projects in all of Los Angeles’s 99 neighborhoods. He said he told the staff that he wasn’t going to learn Seattle via a computer screen, he needed to get out and about with people. So far 70 “expressions of interest” have come in for his listening tour. “It’s been this immersive experience,” out at the start of every day Mondays-Thursdays. He said he’d seen a lot in three weeks of living here, and he’s increasingly enthused about Seattle’s natural beauty and man-made features such as the Olmsted-designed parks.

Spotts recounted that in late July – when the mayor introduced him as his SDOT choice – former SDOT traffic engineer Dongho Chang took him around the city, including a visit to the “ghost bike” at the spot where Robb Mason was killed. They walked across the low bridge to get there and back, and had to wait for a maritime opening on the way back. (Spotts is expected back in that area tomorrow night, participating in another memorial ride.)

Another point of “intrigue” for him – “Seattle is growing,” unlike many cities in the US. “How do we pivot to the Seattle of the carbon-constrained future, and accommodate this growth?” He hopes not only to improve the transportation system but also to be a “thought partner” with other city departments. “I see this as an unlimited opportunity to make positive change. … I think we have to co-create projects with the community.”

Then, Q&A. First: What about Seattle’s lowered speed limits? Spotts noted that he’s directed SDOT to do a “top to bottom review of Vision Zero.” Safety is the very first job for everyone at SDOT, in his view. He says he’ll be looking into the speed limits as part of the VZ review – why the investments made are not reducing the numbers of people killed and injured. He hopes some “fresh analytics” will shine light on whether the lower speed limits are helping or hurting.

Now that the West Seattle Bridge is repaired, how do we avoid going back to “normal”? Spotts observed that there’s a disconnect – governments are setting aggressive carbon-reduction goals but not focusing on reducing transportation emissions.”There’s been this endless investment in things to reduce traffic” that haven’t worked. He also noted parts of the city he’s already seen with a disconnect, like trying to get from Westlake to Queen Anne, and having to figure out how to get across Aurora. He also talked about areas of South Seattle dealing with freeway traffic, and areas lacking sidewalks. “There’s a lot of work to do out there.”

On the first night of the bridge, he says he and his partner came over to spend money in West Seattle; they had dinner at Raccolto in The Junction.

The last question he fielded was about bridge maintenance. “We have to be sure we have the people, systems, and technology” to bring a modern mindset to maintenance – a comprehensive maintenance approach.

How do you counter the “war on cars” trope that comes up any time money is spent on something non-car-related? “It wouldn’t be the One Seattle approach to have a war on anything,” Spotts replied. He’s not a fan of “pitting mode users against each other.” He believes in “holistic multi-benefit solutions.”

NEXT MEETING: The West Seattle Transportation Coalition now meets every other month, and the November meeting will be on the third Thursday since the fourth is Thanksgiving – so WSTC will next convene at 6:30 pm November 17th.

18 Replies to "New SDOT director answers questions about bridges, speed limits, more @ West Seattle Transportation Coalition"

  • Oakley34 September 30, 2022 (7:22 am)

    The limits don’t help because there is so little enforcement.  Not complicated.

    • Anne September 30, 2022 (10:35 am)

      Exactly! Until there are either enough traffic police to regularly patrol -especially our arterials -which will never happen – or photo enforced  limits on all arterials  -which would  probably never be approved -posted speed limits are at most a suggestion -at worst a joke.

      • WestSeattleBadTakes September 30, 2022 (11:41 am)

        Enforcement is not the answer.

        • Admyrl Byrd October 2, 2022 (9:57 pm)

          Always interesting to see this response.  So, if not enforcement, what?  Obviously trust and honor aren’t the thing.  Are you advocating traffic anarchy?

  • Wylie September 30, 2022 (8:33 am)

    “he….came over to spend money in West Seattle”   What a straight up weird thing to say.He is doing a top to bottom review of vision zero?  So I take that to mean he will be contacting me (and the rest of us) to discuss speed limits.  Vision Zero?  What a horrible slogan for traffic safety, perhaps Full Vision or Full Speed would be better.  In all seriousness it should be called, Get off the phone, get off drugs and pay attention like yours and others lives depends on it.

    • WSB September 30, 2022 (9:44 am)

      The “spend money in West Seattle” was in the context of the bridge reopening, supporting businesses that have been challenged without easy access from off-peninsula customers. That’s what local business leaders have been espousing – come see us, shop and dine here again. – TR

  • miws September 30, 2022 (10:06 am)

    Since he’s been “…out and about…”, I’d ask him what the significance of “Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest” is… 😉 😉 😉 —Mike

    • JB September 30, 2022 (11:13 am)

      I know what JCMSUP means, but I’d rather Mr. Spotts know more about actual transportation issues than silly street name mnemonics.

      • miws October 1, 2022 (7:54 pm)

        JB, well, yeah, I would too. But, I was just having a little fun, hence the three winky emojis… —Mike

  • Crystal September 30, 2022 (11:11 am)

    How many times do you have to stop in a block due to ‘J-Walkers’.  Don’t know about you but I stop for so many I rarely get a chance to get up to the 25 mph for West Seattle.

  • WSEARES September 30, 2022 (11:50 am)

    I hope this SDOT director will have all bridges inspected asap. Also most importantly I hope he doesn’t join in on the “war on cars” approach. Some destinations you don’t have a reasonable option to take public transportation to and those commuters shouldn’t be penalized for owning and driving a vehicle for their commute. There should be a happy medium but penalizing vehicle owners and drivers isn’t the solution. You can do many things to encourage other forms of transportation to help with the environment but also not directly penalizing drivers as well. Hope he truly is able to find that balance as he hinted at in this meeting that he will. Actions speak louder than words so time will tell.  I also wonder if he will look into synchronized traffic lights to help with traffic flow? Many parts of Seattle could use this, so one you hit one green light you then hit all other lights when they are green as well? 

    • Jort September 30, 2022 (2:05 pm)

      By “penalizing drivers” do you mean that you’re upset that 100 percent of every tax dollar spent on transportation isn’t going to drivers, exclusively? Getting 99 percent of every dollar is too great an indignity? If there is a “war on cars,” (hint, there isn’t, this is a histrionic fiction) then it’s sure not going very well because cars literally are the city and state’s number one transportation priority by an order of magnitude over any alternatives. By the way, the city spent $13.4 million on a “signal timing” program over the last three years. You can’t “fix the signals” out of the hard and fast geometrical limitations of automobile-focused transportation failures. 

    • bolo September 30, 2022 (5:45 pm)

      You hope he doesn’t join in on the “war on cars” approach?
      Realize he’s from L.A., the most car culture city in the country! Some of the freeways there are 10+ lanes wide! And constantly undergoing widening projects! More like catering TO cars culture.

  • Kyle September 30, 2022 (12:03 pm)

    I want dead boring from sdot and a new director. Maintain the bridges, fix the potholes, maintain the existing infrastructure. We keep talking about these pie in the sky and first to things but fail the basics.

    • flimflam October 1, 2022 (7:20 am)

      Kyle – yes! Fully agree.

  • Susan September 30, 2022 (12:45 pm)

    In the past, SDOT officials have  admitted that Seattle agencies (Utilities, City Light, etc.) do not talk with each other to coordinate planning and work.  No wonder streets get repaved and a few months later dug up for underground work.  Hopefully Spotts will make progress dismantling the Sacred Silos of city infrastructure!

  • marcus September 30, 2022 (1:52 pm)

    sorry I like the 25-30 mph.  Driving slower and more careful has saved me from many closer calls.  I use to be younger and drove faster but now I realize that an accident, even a fender bender, still costs me money.  Also, I really do not want to collide with all the new generation of 2 wheelers.  Besides, not really sure driving fast gets me there much faster and my BP is much lower.  All those fast drivers and tailgators, well I can just see the stress on their faces.  And that ole West Seattle vortex that picks up cars and flips them over, well I have not heard about one lately so I guess drivers are getting the message.  Slow down and you will not risk spending your salary on more gas, repairs, and lawsuits.

  • Ellis Otrec September 30, 2022 (5:10 pm)

    From south to north,
    they are: Jefferson, James, Cherry, Columbia, Marion, Madison, Spring,
    Seneca, University, Union, Pike, Pine. One way to remember the order of the street pairs is with the mnemonic “Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest” (JCMSUP)

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