New SDOT head hits the streets looking to expand transit so it’s ‘safe and convenient for everybody’

Sep 15, 2022, 8:38 AM | Updated: 12:58 pm

SDOT head...

Photo from SDOT

“High tempo, with a lot of ideas.” That’s how the new head of the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) Greg Spotts describes himself.

Sitting at a table, munching on a donut and with a cup of coffee and water, SDOT’s new head man spoke informally to a small group of transportation reporters Wednesday. My initial impressions?

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Greg Spotts is immediately likable. He talked with excitement about his recent tours of the city, through parks and streetscapes, posting pictures on Twitter everywhere he went. He recounted meeting a restaurant server who drew out his ideas for the city’s transit future once he realized who Spotts was.

He is curious and has no plans to sit in his office. He will not run SDOT by email.

You want to show Spotts a PowerPoint about an intersection improvement? Forget it. He’ll meet you at the intersection for a chat. Spotts learns from seeing and doing.

“I move around more than most people do, and I’m going to use every possible mode to do it,” he said. “I’m going to be more present and watching more carefully than most people would in trying to integrate all of that into a growing understanding of the needs.”

Spotts currently rides the streetcar to the office. He walked around Lake Union, well part of the way. Once he realized how far it was he grabbed a rented sit-down scooter. He is unapologetic about being transit, bike, and pedestrian forward.

In our informal conversation, he only mentioned cars a few times, and when he did he spoke of them “blasting” around.

So I asked him what role cars play in his vision for the city.

“I think everybody has the right to choose the mode of transportation they want on any given trip,” he said. “It’s up to SDOT to make sure that all those users are operating together in a way that’s safe and convenient for everybody.”

For Spotts, it’s about balance. It’s making sure that every mode of transportation gets a fair use of the available space.

“There may be a change that doesn’t privilege the car, but the transportation system needs to work safely and efficiently for all users,” he said.

I asked him about the ‘war on cars,’ and he told me that the One Seattle approach to transportation would never include a war on anything. He said he is intrigued by influencing transportation around Puget Sound, which is, as he put it, “as a thought partner across the region.”

One of his top priorities is a top to bottom review of Vision Zero. Coming off record years of pedestrian and bicycle deaths in the city, he said what the city is doing isn’t working.

“Although a lot of good work and hard work has been done, the fatalities are going up, not down,” he said. “We have to figure out why that is and pivot accordingly.”

Spotts said the city has to be “fearless” when attacking this issue. He wants to have data and a plan within the first 100 days of his tenure, including a new director of Vision Zero, who should be hired by next week.

While Spotts’ visions and priorities are in line with his predecessors and with the city’s climate goals, he appears ready to bring a much more aggressive attitude to the position.  Expect to see him out and about and remember, if you want to tell him something, don’t, show him instead.

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New SDOT head hits the streets looking to expand transit so it’s ‘safe and convenient for everybody’