New SDOT Director Talks Scooters, Streetcar, and Sweeps; A Closer Look at City Grant to Social Club Harrell Headed

New SDOT director Greg Spotts
New SDOT director Greg Spotts

1. Greg Spotts, the newly confirmed director of Seattle’s transportation department, spoke with reporters Wednesday on a wide range of topics, including scooters, the proposed downtown streetcar connector, and his plan to do a “top to bottom review” of the city’s Vision Zero effort to end traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030, which is currently far off track.

Spotts, who previously headed up StreetsLA, a division of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Street Services, said he was currently agnostic on both the appropriate number of scooters the city should permit and the debate over whether to revive work on the downtown streetcar, which former mayor Jenny Durkan paused during her term. As Spotts noted, scooter sharing proliferated in LA after the city decided to allow any qualified company to operate in the city, but didn’t really serve low-income areas or communities of color.

“What it produced was an overabundance of scooters in the obvious places where there’s a lot of density and a lot of money, and … very few scooters in communities of color,” Spotts said. Even with incentives for placing scooters in underserved areas, they continued to cluster in wealthy, tourist-heavy neighborhoods like Santa Monica, Hollywood, and downtown LA. “So it’s not obvious how to make this public private partnership to produce all the public goods that you want, but maybe we’re in the very, very early stages of figuring that out.”

Similarly, Spotts said he might support expanding the streetcar if there’s evidence it will improve the economic climate in the areas it serves. The new downtown section of streetcar would create a loop connecting two separate streetcar lines, connecting South Lake Union to Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill. All three areas are already connected by frequent transit, which—along with low ridership on the existing streetcar—raises questions about whether a new streetcar segment would justify its cost, currently estimated at almost $300 million.

“There’s operational benefits, right? Instead of running two segments, running one big one,” Spotts said. “But what would push it over the top, I think, is it analysis that it could be an important catalyst for our small businesses in downtown, for our tourist economy, for our cultural institutions.”

One issue Spotts declined to address is SDOT’s role in removing homeless encampments from sidewalks; SDOT staffers (including some currently vacant positions) make up more than half the members of Mayor Bruce Harrell’s Unified Care Team, a group of about 70 staffers who removes encampment. (The UCT also includes six members of the city’s HOPE team, which does outreach and makes shelter offers prior to sweeps).

“At this early stage, I’m really deferring to the mayor’s office to utilize the departments as they want to for the larger policies that they’re pursuing,” Spotts said. “And I’m not looking to introduce some personal opinions into that. I’m just here to here to assist in whatever way they want us to assist.”

2. After we reported on the fact that the city awarded nearly $800,000 to a private men’s social club that Mayor Bruce Harrell chaired until late last year, we took another look at the record to see if there was any precedent for the city awarding Equitable Development Initiative dollars to any similar institution.

Over the five years the city has been making EDI awards, about three dozen organizations have received significant grants from the fund. Many of the groups that have received multiple grants are engaged in low-income housing development, create community spaces that are open to the public, or provide social or health services to particular communities.

For example, the Friends of Little Saigon, Africatown, the Rainier Valley Midwives, Chief Seattle Club, and the Ethiopian Community in Seattle have all received multiple EDI awards over the past five years. Other grant recipients in past years include Cham Refugees Community, the Somali Health Board, United Indians of All Tribes, and the Filipino Community of Seattle.

A few of the grant recipients provide cultural space and put on events that are open to the ticket-buying public, including Black and Tan Hall and the Wing Luke Museum. None is a private social club—except the Royal Esquire Club.

It’s unclear whether the Royal Esquire Club has sought public funding from the city in the past; we’ve requested a list of all previous EDI grant applicants through a public records request. The club, which was at the center of another controversy involving Harrell while he was City Council president, has never received an EDI award in the program’s history; the $782,000 the club will receive is more than twice its annual revenues for 2019, according to the group’s most recent tax filing.

5 thoughts on “New SDOT Director Talks Scooters, Streetcar, and Sweeps; A Closer Look at City Grant to Social Club Harrell Headed”

  1. Is the Black and Tan Hall even open? They got millions of dollars under Mayor Durkan, who threw money at certain communities with no accountability guard rails. Black and Tan is one of them.

  2. I had an out-of-town tourist turn around, buzz me and threaten me when I said “please don’t ride on the sidewalks” immediately parallel to a downtown bike lane. No enforcement indeed, more enablement of privileged agro behavior instead.

  3. JimI don’t know how old a shitty justified making these “gifts” to any group. Under the Washington constitution, article 8 section 7, gifts are not allowed in the courts have been very clear about this says:

    I don’t know how old a shitty justified making these “gifts” to any group. Under the Washington constitution, article 8 section 7, gifts are not allowed in the courts have been very clear about this

  4. Part of the equation of whether a new streetcar segment would justify its $300m cost is ‘what other transportation benefits could be gained by investing that $300m elsewhere?’ It isn’t as though we don’t need pedestrian safety improvements to Rainier Ave., or even basic things like sidewalks in much of Seattle.

  5. So another true believer for SDOT, eh? Why am I not surprised? As for the scooters, of course they’re going to be clustered where more affluent and tourists will use them. I stayed in a downtown hotel for a week last year and watched pedestrians dodge them on the sidewalk while the bike lane in the street remained empty. No enforcement, no worries, right?

    And we should spend $300 million for a streetcar to serve a downtown given over to lawlessness. Wonder how attractive that will be. Of course, we’ll hear “if you build it, they will come,” but with our other pressing needs, I think this project is one whose time should not come any time soon.

    As for the Royal Esquire Club, I agree this has a stinky appearance, but I also have been there to see a show.. I don’t recall any “membership” fee being sought, although maybe a cover charge is the same thing for a night. The show itself wasn’t great, but I liked the club and think it may be worth supporting. Hard to say on so little experience.

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