May Meeting with SDOT Director Greg Spotts
At our May community meeting we were joined by Greg Spotts, Director of Seattle’s Department of Transportation (SDOT), and Matt Beaulieu, lead traffic engineer and responsible for road operations and capital projects.
Greg, who previously worked for the City of Los Angeles, opened the meeting describing his passion for being out in the neighborhoods, building relationships and understanding the issues residents may experience. He displayed confidence that despite Seattle’s budget shortfalls it will be possible to “co-create” meaningful projects with the community. He wants to deliver on the current transportation imperatives “fast and flavorful” and bring in emerging global best practices.
Ashley Martin, who facilitated the meeting, then moved the discussion to topics our Leschi neighbors had expressed an interest in. First up, pedestrian safety.
While the department is going through a top-to-bottom review of current projects, it is currently focused on several measures related to Seattle’s Vision 0 initiative. The initiative aims to eliminate any traffic fatalities. Measures include limiting right turns on red, leading pedestrian walkway signal intervals, and light rail safety. Additionally, the City of Seattle now focuses on safety over congestion management, appointing a Chief Safety Officer. SDOT is also working with the City Council to introduce a bill that would allow for broader automated traffic enforcement, which state law now permits cities to undertake.
Specifically with regards to pedestrian safety in the Leschi business district, Matt Beaulieu quoted probe data that suggests average speeds at around 25 miles per hour. Probe data is data collected from connected vehicles, cell phones, fleet GPS units, and other mobile sources. This drew expressions of doubt from the audience. Many neighbors regularly observe vehicles that appear to go much faster than 25 miles an hour. Or is 25 miles an hour still too fast on a road that cuts through an area that bustles with kids and visitors to the lake on weekends?
Matt and Greg committed to re-reviewing the data and potentially collecting more data to assess the flow of traffic on Lakeside Ave. They also suggested measures that may be options to slow down traffic besides speed cushions, such as narrowing the roadway. One thing Greg wants the department to get better at is iterating on solutions. This includes going back and checking if solutions work as intended and then making further improvements.
Next, Greg provided an update on the project of closing Lake Washington Boulevard between the Mount Baker and Seward parks for cars. In short, the task force commissioned to re-envision Lake Washington Boulevard could not come to an agreement and as such the street will continue to be closed to cars on certain summer weekends only. The 2023 schedule can be found at parkways.seattle.gov.
The meeting then moved on to road conditions. Find It, Fix It, the mobile app that anyone can download to their phone is still the best way to get potholes and other road hazards addressed. For drainage issues though, contact Seattle Public Utilities directly. City Lights is responsible for street lighting, except for within parks, where lighting is managed by the Parks Department. And for trees in the public right of way SDOT has now a “tree guy” on staff to assess potentially hazardous trees more quickly.
The city’s program to resurface roads is financed by the “Move Seattle” levee. With winters getting wetter the challenges to keep roads in good condition have grown. The city uses specialty software to identify the best times to make repairs and needs to determine how to best allocate the budget. Greg said, he wants the city to follow the principle “if you are going to touch it, make it right.”
Finally, how are traffic circles maintained? Funding for public right-of-way maintenance is limited in Seattle, compared to other cities. Seattle only has funding for the occasional “mow it down” effort. Greg therefore recommends that neighbors adopt a traffic circle. When neighbors band together, they can petition for a “Small Sparks” grant, which the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods provides, and which can be used to pay for restoring and replanting a traffic circle. You can find information on the program at seattle.gov/neighborhoods/community-grants/neighborhood-matching-fund.
We took away several action items from the meeting. Ashley Martin, our Public Safety Committee Chair, will address those with the city and provide updates as progress is made. Specifically, we expect SDOT to outline the next steps for how to calm traffic throughout Leschi. Secondly, we need to know where Leschi stands relative to other neighborhoods for road repairs. Third, we will obtain a link to the top-to-bottom safety review that SDOT conducted and ensure our neighbors can comment. Lastly, we will manage communications with the city on two specific issues—critical light outages and trees at risk of falling on Washington Boulevard.
Thank you to everyone who attended the meeting. By showing up, showing your interest, or submitting questions, the city knows that we are serious about making improvements to Leschi’s roadways. There is strength in numbers.