When I covered the Transportation Committee Hearing for Rita Robinson to take the helm at LADOT in 2008, there were 10 people in the room who were not City Council staff, Council members, or Robinson herself.
At today’s confirmation hearing for Seleta Reynolds, there was standing room only.
Reynolds, flanked in the audience seating by Nat Gale with the Mayor’s Office and transportation planning rock star Janette Sadik-Khan, was affable and open, while chatting with well-wishers, future staff, and advocates.
There was a feeling of optimism in the room that had been noticeably absent in previous LADOT general manager confirmation hearings.
“Streets are really the keys to so many issues that city’s face in the 21st century. They must be organized, they must be safe. But they can also be huge assets to the community,” Reynolds opened her testimony. “That’s really needed to be a great, world-class city.”
“One of the things that frustrates people here is that people feel that a lot of development projects don’t get evaluated properly when it comes to traffic,” challenged Transportation Committee Chair Mike Bonin before launching into a discussion of the current transportation evaluation metric: level of service (LOS) as compared to the proposed change to vehicle miles traveled (VMT). “What are your thoughts about LOS vs VMT?”
While Reynolds is not a fan of measuring the impact of a project based on its impact on car traffic, as both LOS and VMT do, she didn’t take the bait.
“The fundamental issue with Level of Service is that the only thing it tells about a project is the negative impacts,” she responded. “It’s a disincentive to providing ways for people to have options on ways to get around.”
But the debate over measuring transportation impacts happening in Sacramento in the governor’s office, provides opportunities for Los Angeles.
“There is a chance for L.A. to develop its own metrics,” Reynolds continued. Then she gave a list of other metrics that should be considered, like public health, economy, and safety.
“Imagine how different things will be if we’re evaluating the benefits of projects,” she concluded.
The answer seemed to please Bonin. “It would be improper for me to give you a standing ovation,” he joked before moving into the next series of questions.
Councilmembers Paul Koretz and Tom LaBonge were not present at the hearing and Councilmember Paul Krekorian offered little more than a warm welcome to Reynolds. This left Councilmember Bernard Parks with the role of inquisitor.
“The last thing people want to hear in a car is about slowing traffic,” pushed Councilmember Bernard Parks. “How do you implement these (safety) changes without getting rid of the space for vehicles?”
Reynolds responded that there isn’t a magic bullet that will fix every problem, but noted that safety and access need to be the top issues for every road user.
“We need to make sure people can get where they go to get access to jobs, to school, to home,” she countered. “They need to have a way to get there, and that needs to be an important part of every redesign of a street.”
Parks continued to push, asking how L.A. compared to San Francisco in providing transportation options. Parks expressed concern that, without proper transit infrastructure, the changes to city streets that provide safer access to pedestrians and cyclists will enrage drivers faced with longer delays.
“Traffic and the weather are hot topics all over,” Reynolds countered to questions on whether her experiences in Seattle and the Bay Area would prepare her for handling L.A.’s allegedly unique car traffic congestion issues before responding that transit must be high quality before you can expect people to reduce their car dependency.
“Transit needs to be clean, comfortable, and reliable. You need to know how long before it shows up and how long it will take to get (where you need to go). LADOT has done tremendous work providing that data,…I want to help them continue that work,” she said.
“I want people to have choices in how to get around. Transit won’t always be that best choice. I want them to know about those choices and I want them to have those choices,” Reynolds said.
Jessica Meaney, with the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, and Eric Bruins from the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, both welcomed Reynolds to Los Angeles during public comment.
Bonin began the hearing thanking Jon Kirk Mukri, the outgoing interim general manager, who will resume his role as general manager of the City’s Parks Department. Mukri noted the “quality and dedication of each and every employee” at LADOT. Following the outcry against former LADOT General Manager Jaime De La Vega by some LADOT employees, Reynolds seemed eager to assure staff that she would bring a more positive touch.
“To have Great Streets, you have to have a department that’s a great place to work,” Reynolds continued. Later, in response to a question from Bonin, Reynolds stressed the importance of LADOT as a team that can take the city to a more integrated transportation future.
The Transportation Committee voted to move Reynolds’ confirmation to the full City Council on July 1. Assuming approval, she will begin at LADOT on August 11. Mukri will remain interim LADOT general manager until then.