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Mayor picks LA’s Greg Spotts as next SDOT Director

Screencapture showing Greg Spotts speaking at a podium.
Greg Spotts. Screen capture from Seattle Channel.

Greg Spotts will be the next SDOT Director, taking over the department in September. Mayor Bruce Harrell announced the decision on Beacon Hill today, describing Spotts as “a champion for innovative thinking, sustainable solutions, collaborative partnership building and transparent public engagement.”

Ryan Packer was at the mayor’s press conference announcing the pick, and reported for The Urbanist that Spotts described himself as a “creative change agent to help make Seattle more walkable, bikeable and transit friendly.” He also put a major emphasis on Vision Zero.

“One of my first priorities will be a thorough review of our Vision Zero efforts to reduce traffic-related injuries and deaths,” he said.

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The Seattle Department of Transportation has been very quiet since the December departure of Sam Zimbabwe, seemingly operating under a “don’t make headlines” mentality. Few controversial projects have moved forward during the first half year of Mayor Harrell’s term, similar to the beginning of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s term. However, Durkan inexplicably waited more than a year to replace the SDOT Director, leaving Zimbabwe with no time to prepare ahead of a tumultuous year of transportation impacts that started in early 2019, including the closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and major disruptions in the downtown transit tunnel. Harrell has moved more quickly to pick a new Director.

SDOT functions best when it has clear direction from the top supporting its safe streets mission. The department has a lot of smart staff who truly want to make the city safer, more accessible and more sustainable. But they need to know their leaders will support them in that work.

Spotts will also oversee the development of the Seattle Transportation Plan, which will form the basis for the next major transportation funding package to replace 2015’s nine-year Move Seattle Levy. The next levy would need to be in place by the end of 2024, creating an incredible opportunity for Seattle to put a truly nation-leading transportation funding measure on a high-turnout Presidential election ballot.

We wish him the best and look forward to covering his Vision Zero review.

Watch the press event:

From the Mayor’s Office press release:

Today, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced that he will appoint Greg Spotts to be the next Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), pending confirmation by the Seattle City Council. Spotts currently serves as the Executive Officer and Chief Sustainability Officer at the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services.

“Seattle deserves a transportation system that is safe, reliable, and equitable, and our SDOT Director is instrumental in implementing that vision. Greg understands that we must embed safety across all projects, view every decision through a climate lens, and build a transportation system centered on equity, quality infrastructure, and multi-modal solutions,” said Mayor Harrell. “Greg is a champion for innovative thinking, sustainable solutions, collaborative partnership building and transparent public engagement. My sincere thanks to Interim Director Kristen Simpson for her tremendous leadership and willingness to step up to keep critical projects and priorities on track. I know she’s excited to help the new director hit the ground running during this transition period.”

“I am honored and excited to have the opportunity to lead one of the most forward-thinking transportation departments in the nation,” said Spotts. “I have visited Seattle several times in recent years and have been deeply inspired by the urban transformation taking place. I intend to draw upon my years of infrastructure experience to ensure that SDOT is an effective and responsible steward of Seattle’s streets, sidewalks, bridges and street trees. I’m inspired by Mayor Harrell’s inclusive vision for One Seattle, and I will lead SDOT’s skilled and motivated staff to continuously improve mobility, equity, sustainability and safety.”

Spotts currently serves as the Executive Officer and Chief Sustainability Officer at the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services, which oversees 1,500 staff positions, an annual budget of $230 million, and a capital program of more than $350 million. He has led the delivery of over $600 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act projects as well as efforts to make Los Angeles more walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly and sustainable.

Spotts will begin at the department in early September as acting director until Council confirmation. Later today, he will join SDOT crews to tour current bridge infrastructure and see maintenance efforts in action. As he settles in at SDOT, Spotts will tour Seattle’s vibrant neighborhoods by riding transit, cycling, and walking with neighbors and community groups

Mayor Harrell’s search process included a search committee of local transportation experts including former and current SDOT employees, government partners, advocates, and economic development and community leaders. Committee members were selected for their technical expertise and vision, lived experiences with the transportation system, and ability to leverage networks to market the position, collect feedback, and provide information to support the process and selection. The search committee played an integral role in the hiring process, both identifying and evaluating candidates.

“I’m grateful our search committee elevated Greg’s candidacy, I’m thrilled to welcome him to our One Seattle team, and I’m excited about what this means for people of Seattle and the future of our city,” said Mayor Harrell. “Community input has been integral to our search process, and, as a result, we are bringing on board a director who understands local priorities and recognizes how community voices can enhance and improve our transportation system.”

SDOT is responsible for maintaining and operating Seattle’s transportation network including about 1,700 miles of roads, over 100 bridges, 2,300 miles of sidewalk, 200 miles of bike facilities and trails, 500 public stairways, and 640,000 street trees. SDOT is currently planning, designing and building over 60 major capital projects and also actively manages a variety of ongoing programs to keep people and goods moving safely. SDOT’s infrastructure is estimated to be worth approximately $28 billion, and the department’s 2022 budget includes $422 million for capital projects and $308 million for operations and other programs. With approximately 1,200 dedicated staff, SDOT maintains an operational presence 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in all weather conditions to serve and ensure Seattle’s public mobility.

Gregory J. Spotts is an innovative and inclusive leader committed to designing, constructing, and maintaining sustainable transportation infrastructure to meet the evolving needs of communities.

Greg currently serves Los Angeles as Executive Officer and Chief Sustainability Officer for the Bureau of Street Services, shaping policies supporting active transportation, climate change adaptation, vehicle emissions reductions, and the adoption of sustainable construction practices. As Executive Officer, he has led three constituent-facing divisions that respond to more than 135,000 annual service requests, providing pothole repair, motor sweeping, tree trimming, and the enforcement of laws pertaining to use of streets and sidewalks.

As the Bureau’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Greg launched the city’s first bike lane cleaning and maintenance program which includes a $4M annual program of bike lane resurfacing and the cleaning of the downtown bike lanes by a zero-emissions electric sweeper. During the pandemic, he identified more than $50M for new investments in underserved communities, including mobility improvements, tree planting, solar-reflective pavement coatings to reduce urban heat, and new median islands featuring native plants that support biodiversity.

Greg graduated cum laude from Yale University and received his Master of Public Policy from the UCLA School of Public Affairs. He has been recognized and awarded for this his work in urban planning, climate, and mobility.

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3 responses to “Mayor picks LA’s Greg Spotts as next SDOT Director”

  1. Peri Hartman

    Will Spotts live up to these promises ? I hope we get someone who recognizes the struggles bike riders and peds have today, in certain areas. And I hope he will look at the streets as a collection of uses, not just as something that you add a bike lane (without consideration of freight load zones, etc.) or subtract something (take away a traffic lane without providing alternates for drivers). And I hope he will do something to improve maintenance. Everything is new only once – then it has to be maintained … or not.

  2. asdf2

    I hope SDOT can embrace a policy where every signalized intersection gets a pedestrian crosswalk on both sides of the street, and anywhere enough people want to cross to make the city put up a “no crossing” sign, they should just put in a crosswalk.

    Why is this so hard? How can a city claim “vision zero” while being stuck in a mindset that pedestrians are expected to detour minutes out of the way to save car drivers mere seconds?

    Some intersections with crosswalks on only one side are embarrassingly close to the city center, quite a few of them on Denny Way. Is this something that will ever get fixed?

  3. dave

    I’m cautiously optimistic!

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