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Roadside Chat | Welcoming Greg Spotts to SDOT as our incoming Director!

Incoming SDOT Director Greg Spotts smiles at the camera on a sunny Seattle day. Photo credit: Jeanné Clark

Please note: to go directly to our Q&A chat with Greg, please click here.

We want to offer a warm welcome to Greg Spotts, our incoming SDOT Director! Greg comes to Seattle from Los Angeles, where he was the Executive Officer and Chief Sustainability Officer for the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services (StreetsLA).

At StreetsLA, Greg oversaw 1,500 staff people, an annual budget of $230 million, and a capital program of more than $350 million. He has also led the delivery of over $600 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act projects, as well as efforts to make L.A. more walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly, and sustainable.

In his first weeks and months, Greg is meeting with staff, media representatives, community advocates, non-profit organizations, and many other groups as part of a listening tour. He wants to get to know the communities we serve and build connections as a foundation for our work ahead. To request a meeting, walk, or transit ride with Greg, please visit our online portal and fill out the information requested.

Greg will be sworn into office soon by Mayor Bruce Harrell, the final step in his confirmation process following an approval vote by the Seattle City Council.

Greg Spotts shakes hands with SDOT team member Jared Hickman while touring the University Bridge in Seattle on a sunny day. A car and the Ship Canal Bridge are in the background.
Greg Spotts shakes hands with SDOT team member Jared Hickman. Photo credit: Jeanné Clark.
Greg Spotts bikes down the 4th Ave Protected Bike Lane in downtown Seattle on a sunny day. The Seattle Central Library and a King County Metro bus are in the background, as well as several large trees.
Greg bikes along the 4th Ave Protected Bike Lane in downtown Seattle. Photo credit: Ethan Bancroft.

We sat down with Greg to get to know him a little better in our Roadside Chat!

Welcome to Seattle, Greg! Tell us about growing up in Connecticut and your early experiences with mobility.

I grew up in a little town called New Canaan, Connecticut, a suburb of New York City. Houses in my neighborhood were far apart, so the best way to get around in elementary and middle school was by bike. A bike was your ticket to freedom.

My friends and I often rode 5 miles to Vista, NY, to buy a soda and a pack of gum at the convenience store. There was a lot of pedaling involved! This made me a lifelong cyclist from an early age, and I still enjoy the sense of freedom I get while biking.

When did you become an avid walker? What do you most enjoy about walking or biking around the city?

My family loved arts and culture, so we’d visit New York City every weekend to see ballet, art exhibits, and films. I took music lessons at the Manhattan School of Music and frequently walked and took the subway. I became a passionate walker traveling between lessons, eating at amazing mom-and-pop restaurants, and visiting other great city destinations.

When did you realize you have a passion for livable cities and discovering how they work? How has that informed your career path?

As I started living in Manhattan part-time, I was fascinated with the subway and bus system, public spaces, placemaking, and architecture. Even before I entered a career in public service, learning how a city’s urban fabric is woven together became a lifelong interest.

Can you share a few examples of the sustainability, climate resiliency, and livability programs you led at StreetsLA? How can your environmental achievements in LA apply to Seattle as we tackle similar issues?

In 2015, I became a Chief Sustainability Officer for StreetsLA. It was extra responsibility and an extra title with no extra pay. Nonetheless, I knew I wanted to be that person. Volunteering for the role changed the trajectory of my career.

Each year, I dedicated more time to the Chief Sustainability Officer role, working to build strong, long-term partnerships. I’m known as an expert on neighborhood cooling, including using solar reflective pavement coatings and planting shade trees to reduce the heat island effect in neighborhoods, particularly underserved communities. I formed a partnership with NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory to visualize our cooling projects using cameras on the International Space Station to confirm their effectiveness.

I’ve built partnerships with manufacturers of plug-in vehicles and solar powered charging stations. I’m interested in advancing the City of Seattle’s Electric Vehicle fleet efforts. I am a passionate advocate for walking, biking, and transit-friendly infrastructure and thoughtfully integrating complete networks. I approach planning with a sustainability lens, as well as an equity lens.

Innovation is a priority of yours. How do you help your teams move innovative ideas forward quickly with fewer barriers?

In 2019, my boss referred to me as his sustainability superhero. It was a casual remark, but it motivated me to go big. When the pandemic hit in 2020, I saw an opportunity to accelerate innovation. I’ve found that the faster we go, the more I inspire people to join in. A year ago, I formed an innovation steering committee at StreetsLA. We developed five central themes and ensured new ideas advanced at least one of them.

Im considering the best structure at SDOT to promote innovation. As a leader, I want to be a positive force by leaning into the team’s creative talents and unlocking their full innovative potential.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I am an aspirational and inspirational leader. I like working with stakeholders to align around a meaningful goal and inviting people to join the journey. The climate crisis can, at times, feel depressing and hopeless due to its scale. I lead with joy and focus on what we can accomplish. I celebrate every win and innovation that helps us become more walkable, bikeable, transit friendly, and climate resilient. I’ve been sharing my leadership style on social media, and I’ve seen people responding positively, so I will continue these updates.

How did you develop your definition of excellence?

As I was preparing to be nominated as SDOT’s Director, I read SDOT’s six core values and goals of equity, safety, mobility, sustainability, livability, and excellence. I resonate with these values, and it felt important to embrace them.

When I started at StreetsLA 10 years ago, I knew the agency would thrive by focusing on being responsive, innovative, transparent, and accountable. I’ve consistently stood by this vision. I define SDOT’s sixth value of excellence with the same focus.

Having worked in the music industry, how have you brought Seattle music into your daily work routine?

Seattle grunge was important to me in my early 20s when I started in the music business. I remember when Nirvana’s Nevermind was the first alternative crossover into mass popularity. Kurt Cobain spoke to me as a Generation X kid. I was crushed when he died. He represented an important voice for my generation.

On my first day here, I filled my new office with Seattle vibes. I played some of my favorite Seattle grunge songs by Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Screaming Trees. I know there is so much more Seattle music to listen to, but that was an awesome start.

We’ve seen your social media engagement about restaurant recommendations and finding happy places like Seattle’s parks system. Any places you’ve already enjoyed or you’re looking forward to checking out soon?

I love to celebrate small businesses, and I’m a foodie. When I first met the team, I asked everyone to introduce themselves with their name, role, and a ‘happy place’ in Seattle, preferably a public space. Everyone mentioned urban nature, including parks, water viewpoints, and trees. I was excited about the appreciation for nature in the city, which is something I’m eager to explore.

For example, Green Lake Park feels like my Central Park. I’ve visited several times, and each time I wonder if it will be as magical as my last visit – and it is! I’ve also walked around Lake Union and enjoyed seeing the houseboat communities and seaplanes. There is so much visual character to enjoy in Seattle’s unique landscape.

What are you most excited about in taking on this new role as SDOT’s incoming Director that you’d like Seattle’s residents and travelers to know?

There is a tremendous opportunity at this moment in Seattle. There are a lot of progressive climate and mobility policies the City Council has adopted. When the Mayor put together a stakeholder group to advise him on the selection of SDOT’s new Director, it included bicycle and pedestrian advocates and representatives from BIPOC and underserved communities.

The SDOT staff is talented across many different disciplines and deserves a good conductor. I can help bring it all together and ensure everyone’s playing at the right tone and tempo. I am excited for this opportunity to serve and help Seattleites to get the city they want for the future.

Please join us in welcoming Greg to SDOT and the City of Seattle – we couldn’t be more excited that you’re here!