Monday commenced Seleta Reynolds’ first week as the new General Manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. On August 12th, the LADOT Bike Program had the pleasure of sitting down with Ms. Reynolds to discuss a number of topics ranging from commuting, bicycle planning, and direction for the Department moving forward.
LADOT Bike Program: What was your commute like today? We understand that you rode your bicycle to work on your first day. Generally, how does your Los Angeles commute compare to your SF commute?
LADOT GM Seleta Reynolds: My Los Angeles commute is already an improvement over my San Francisco commute. I rode my bike in the first day. Some folks rode in with me to show me the ropes, and helped me navigate the streets. It was totally enjoyable and really a great way to start the first day, to get a little exercise and be out in the morning. Today I rode the bus because after dropping my daughter off at school, it was easy, just hopped on and only took about 20 minutes or so. I can also take Metro’s Red Line from where we live. Having so many choices is a huge advantage, and the fact one of them involves riding my bike is just fantastic. When I was in the Bay Area living in Berkeley I rode BART into San Francisco. You cannot ride your bike over the Bay Bridge yet, you can only ride over half of it. Now I have more choices and one of them includes bicycling.
LADOT Bike Program: In your experience, are there things Los Angeles can learn from San Francisco when it comes to bicycling? What are some bicycle-related measures from San Francisco that you would like to see implemented here?
LADOT GM Seleta Reynolds: Every place is different. I worked in San Francisco for three years and before that was a consultant, working all over the U.S. I worked on a bike plan for the Reno Sparks area, and also on a plan in Denver called Denver Moves. Every place has something unique about it. San Francisco is so different from Los Angeles, mainly because the width of the streets are so hyper-constrained and the topography in the city; it really limits the routes you take and everybody wants to be on those routes. There were some really tough projects and really difficult conversations about reallocating space.
San Francisco has a strong commitment to its “Transit First” policy, and a commitment to safety and Vision Zero. I would love to see that rise in Los Angeles, to have that unifying commitment from a policy perspective on all the leadership levels It will be great to have bike-sharing in Los Angeles, especially in Downtown, along with more protected bikeways and better intersection treatment, bicycle signals, two-stage left turns- a higher level of consideration. People encounter bad behavior from people on bikes because there is no system set up for you when you’re on a bike. We have treated people on bikes as either fast pedestrians or slow cars when really they are neither of those things. Giving consideration to that system is important to encourage good behavior, and getting along and sharing the road.
LADOT Bike Program: What are some of your short-term and long-term goals for improving walking and bicycling in the City?
LADOT GM Seleta Reynolds: Short-term I would like to see us continue to nurture and grow the People St program and adopt a really strong safety initiative, whether that’s Vision Zero or some other initiative we have for improving safety. I think that is foundational, you have to get that right before you can accomplish more. I would also like to see us continue to shift towards moving goods and people. Thinking about the function of streets and how we can provide a street that is comfortable for the folks who are not currently out there riding or walking, understanding what those people want and need. We need to prioritize quality over quantity when it comes to the bike network in particular. Building two miles of high-quality protected bikeways is better than, from my perspective, building 50 miles of five foot wide bike lanes that are just separated from traffic by a stripe. It would be great to change our attitude when it comes to the design principles we use to approach projects.
LADOT Bike Program: The City of Los Angeles has a massive footprint, do you have a strategy for implementing the Bicycle Plan while managing other Department initiatives?
LADOT GM Seleta Reynolds: Partnerships are key; working closely with the Bureau of Street Services as they’re repaving streets, working closely with the Department of Water and Power on green streets, and folding our projects into those projects. Partnering with Metro on first and last mile solutions to leverage the huge investments they’re making in extending the rail lines. Also, finding private partners, people who have not traditionally funded transportation and to get them to come to the table to work with us on these kinds of projects is the only way we’re really going to get it done. We have to continue to evolve the way we do outreach in communities in order to get further faster. That is something I am really excited to work on with the Bicycle Outreach Program because the program has learned a lot of lessons about what has worked and what hasn’t worked. We need to make sure we are getting that community buy-off as early as possible so that we don’t get stuck in an endless cycle of back-and-forth, which pulls us away from doing other things.
LADOT Bike Program: What do you see as some of the differences to implementing bicycle infrastructure here as opposed to your work in San Francisco?
LADOT GM Seleta Reynolds: The strategy here has to lead with complete streets and safety in a strong way. In San Francisco we had a really strong, across the board, commitment to Transit First, and had shifted away from Level of Service or traffic capacity. That’s different here, there is a need to provide a strong balance. Starting with that discussion will be important and a little bit different than what we did in San Francisco. I think the L.A. context will be different from a design perspective, the way we think about the function of the street is going to be different. There is no such thing as a prototypical street in either city.
LADOT Bike Program: Do you see the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide or the Urban Bikeway Design Guide influencing Los Angeles street design in the next years?
LADOT GM Seleta Reynolds: I hope so. The Urban Street Design Guide and the Urban Bike Guide do a really good job of setting out those design principles mentioned earlier. Having design speed being something that you start with rather than something you end with. Making sure that you are prioritizing the safe movement of your most vulnerable road users first, and then thinking about how you organize the curb functions of the street. These are the kind of questions cities need to be asking themselves about building 21st Century streets, and the Urban Street Design Guide does a really good job of laying out those principles. It’s not meant to be prescriptive. I’m hoping we can get to that place where everybody thinks that way and approaches their work in that way, and that is the influence we start to see percolate in the designs we are putting out there.
LADOT Bike Program: What has Los Angeles done well? Are there any bicycle/pedestrian projects currently underway that you look forward to seeing through completion?
LADOT GM Seleta Reynolds: Los Angeles has done some really great work converting pavement to parks and plazas. The rise of the People St program is a welcome addition to our city. I think there have been some huge strides in terms of completing the bike network that are really the result of some sincerely heroic individual efforts to get things done. Beyond biking and walking, the ATSAC Center is industry leading, and the ability of the department to stretch limited resources is impressive. LADOT is ahead of the curve in the way our traffic officers, field crews and engineers handle special events, to mention a few other things. It is clear that the people who work on these projects have a tremendous amount of pride in what they are doing and that they are willing to go way above and beyond because they care about the work. I’m really excited to see the My Figueroa project, and to see how that plays out. I think that is going to be a tremendous endeavor to see through completion. The People St implementation is going to be very rewarding as well. These are two projects I am looking particularly forward to.
LADOT Bike Program: What kind of bicycle do you ride?
LADOT GM Seleta Reynolds: I have a pink Raleigh hybrid bike that I got when I was living up in Washington. It’s nothing fancy though I will point out that a university in Florida did a study that showed drivers give women on pink bikes more room when passing them. I think it’s a safety choice to ride a pink bike.
LADOT Bike Program: Do have any bicycle commuter tips? Do you have any favorite bike fashion tips?
LADOT GM Seleta Reynolds: My bike commuter tip is to travel with friends. The most enjoyable rides have been when partnering up with people and taking a ride together. I think that is good from a safety perspective, it makes you more visible. Being active is also one of the keys to being creative and innovative. Most people have their most creative ideas when they are doing some form of physical exercise. I have found that some of the most productive project discussions have been when I’m walking or riding my bike with somebody. It’s just a good way to have discussion. And it doesn’t have to be work related, it can be about anything. My favorite bike fashion tip is the “penny in your pants” trick. I wear skirts a lot so that is my favorite trick to be able to wear a skirt or wear a dress and still be able to feel confident on my bike.
LADOT Bike Program: Have you had a chance to use the Bicycle Program’s bicycle network map to route any trips in Los Angeles?
LADOT GM Seleta Reynolds: Not yet, most of the trips taken in my first week here have been with people who know the network, so I have not had to do that yet.
LADOT Bike Program: Do you have a favorite bike ride in Los Angeles yet?
LADOT GM Seleta Reynolds: So far it’s the one coming from my house to the office, I live in Silver Lake so there are lots of different neighborhoods you get to see when you’re coming down Sunset Blvd. into Downtown. Being able to go through the 2nd Street tunnel, and to see all the different generations of bikeway design that are apparent on that ride is great. Seeing all the different things that are going on in the streets in the neighborhoods in such a short distance is pretty amazing.
LADOT Bike Program: We enjoyed your presentation last week at the Levi Commuter Workspace covering the history of transportation and where it is going. Where do you see the City in 2 years, 5 years and 10 years as far as transportation infrastructure is concerned?
LADOT GM Seleta Reynolds: The way we are thinking about transportation is changing and will continue to change. In the past we thought about it, even on the active transportation side of the house, as about traditional transportation metrics: is it safe, can you get from point A to point B, what’s the congestion like, what’s the capacity. As we change what we measure and what we think about we are going to see those changes reflected in what we see on the streets. I hope the streets will be safer, well-organized, and that we are thinking about the comfort of people walking and bicycling, as well as their safety because it relates to the well-being of the communities that people live in. I hope we think about social cohesion and about strong communities, strengthening local business, and keeping Los Angeles competitive in a world economy by making it attractive to the kinds of people who work in some of America’s best companies. And that’s about making sure you can get around in a variety of ways.
If we re-evaluate how we measure our streets we are going to see different outcomes. We’re going to see an emphasis on streets that draw people in, invite them to linger, to make connections with their neighbors, to contribute to their local stores. We’ll see streets that facilitate transit travel times and reliability. And we’ll see streets that are very organized and function well from a business perspective so that businesses can get their deliveries easily, the curb space makes sense, and we’re going to see streets that reflect those values. That’s not every street in the city, predictable travel times for people who drive are important and we need to manage those. I’d add that the rise of technology in sharing information and introducing driverless cars will affect street design in ways we can’t anticipate. I hope when we look back 10 years from now we’ll see a tremendous change in how we talk about our public space and our streets.
LADOT Bike Program: Thank you for your time. Do you have anything you would like to add?
LADOT GM Seleta Reynolds: Sure. In the next month or so the department is going to come out with a strategic plan resulting from several working group sessions over the last few months. The plan is going to signal the direction we want to go in, and a lot of the things that I mentioned: having partnerships, having safe, beautiful, well-organized streets, caring about how our customers experience the city and how they interact with us, and being a great place to work. Whether it’s using bicycle lanes to get around the city, an app to find a parking space smartphones to figure out when the next DASH bus is coming, or walking our children to school and feeling safe and comfortable, LADOT is one of the most influential agencies in the city. I’m proud of the work that staff have put into the plan and excited to use it to advocate for the resources we need.
Second, there are no great streets without champions of great streets. We cannot come in and tell a community how to make a street great. We need to follow the lead of people in the community to support and champion those changes. We’re looking to partner on every level and we hope that we can find a lot of opportunities to open up and be transparent, and work closely with those communities.
To conclude, thank you again to Ms. Reynolds for this wonderful interview, the LADOT Bike Program warmly welcomes you to the City family!