LADOT GM nominee Seleta Reynolds (right) with former New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan (left)
In case there was any doubt, Los Angeles has officially joined the livable streets party. Mayor Eric Garcetti has nominated Seleta Reynolds, manager of the Livable Streets Subdivision at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (SFMTA) to become the new General Manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT).
Reynolds’ nomination is significant because she brings instant leadership and credibility to LADOT on complete streets issues. She has been a key force behind planning and implementing complete streets projects in San Francisco over the past three years, including working on the city’s Vision Zero initiative, Bay Area Bike Share pilot, cycle tracks on Oak and Fell Streets, and traffic calming projects across the city. She has played an instrumental role in NACTO’s growth and innovations as well.
Reynolds’ hire at LADOT comes at a critical point for the city. Los Angeles has made significant strides toward reshaping its streets and urban environment over the past decade: once a poster child for America’s car culture, the city and region are now rapidly expanding transit, investing in bike lanes, and refocusing growth around walkable neighborhoods (this is particularly true in the ongoing revitalization of Downtown LA).
However, despite some key accomplishments, Los Angeles has lacked the transformative leadership of its peers. While transportation leaders such as Janette Sadik-Khan (New York City), Gabe Klein (Washington D.C./Chicago), and Ed Reiskin (San Francisco) have reshaped their cities as well as the national conversation via NACTO, Los Angeles has lacked bold institutional commitment to innovation and multimodal thinking that has left the city behind its peers.
Reynolds inherits a city with transportation issues that extend well beyond traffic gridlock. Los Angeles’ streets are in terrible condition, particularly its sidewalks (which face a $1.5 billion repair backlog, cost the city millions of dollars in lawsuits every year, and inspire parody videos). Los Angeles suffers from a terrible hit and run epidemic and very high rate of traffic deaths that disproportionately affect the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Policymaking, at times, remains automobile-centric, such as LAPD’s obsessive ticketing of pedestrians at countdown signals or LADOT’s removal of green paint on the Spring Street bike lane. Los Angeles has also not adopted a Vision Zero policy.
While addressing immediate needs of safety, traffic congestion, and street repair, Reynolds will need to push forward a vision for a 21st Century transportation system in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is dependent upon expanding sustainable transportation options for its livability and economic growth. It must effectively capitalize on the ongoing regional rail expansions by investing in walkable streets, protected bike lanes, and bus improvements (such as bus rapid transit). Mayor Garcetti has launched Great Streets and People Street initiatives hoping to replicate some of the successes of peer cities, but these initiatives remain underfunded and understaffed relative to the huge scope of improvements needed. Reynolds could play a key role in leading the development of great streets and grand boulevards which serve as the backbone for denser urban neighborhoods.
Needless to say, there is a lot of excitement for Los Angeles with Reynolds’ nomination. She faces high expectations, and the challenge of being a relative outsider – she has never lived or worked in Los Angeles. But she brings a fresh perspective along with the full support of Mayor Garcetti. She’ll also have the valuable support of Janette Sadik-Khan, who is working with Mayor Garcetti as a consultant on the Great Streets initiative.
San Francisco’s loss is Los Angeles’ gain. To paraphrase Jarrett Walker, if Los Angeles can develop great streets for walking, biking, and transit, it will be a globally resonant event that is broadcast across the world by the film and television industries. Keep an eye on Reynolds; it will be exciting to see what she can do.