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):
“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.