No Pitchforks as LADOT GM Seleta Reynolds Addresses West SFV Forum

LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds speaking at yesterday's forum. All photos Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds speaking at yesterday’s forum. All photos Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

I was a little worried that there might be pitchforks at last night’s transportation town hall. The event was hosted by L.A. City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield and held at the Tarzana Recreation Center.

The main speaker was Seleta Reynolds, the new General Manager of the Los Angeles City Transportation Department (LADOT). I know that Seleta Reynolds has received a lot of praise from us here at SBLA, and from others who are excited about a walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented future… but how would she play in the suburban West San Fernando Valley?

I took the Metro Red Line subway, transferred to the Metro Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit, and bicycled the first and last mile. I locked my bike up against a playground fence, no bike parking in evidence.

While I was waiting for the event to begin, I overheard attendees talking about parking problems, and how a planned two-story school seemed too tall. When Councilmember Blumenfield touted the success of the Orange Line, the man next to me, under his breath, proclaimed it to be “a waste of money.” I responded, whispering, that “I rode it to get here.”

Councilmember Blumenfield was refreshingly multimodal in his opening remarks. He decried the West Valley’s transportation challenges, from being stuck on the 101 Freeway to too many buildings surrounded by “a sea of parking” that makes it difficult to walk or bike. His vision for the future would include grade separation for the Metro Orange Line, making the West Valley a place where millenials can “live-work-play,” and following a “more pedestrian-friendly way of planning.”

Reynolds was applauded and started in on a somewhat stock presentation, mostly focused on LADOT’s recently released strategic plan. She spoke of how previous well-intentioned strategies have drained the life out of our streets, and that now we’re thinking creatively about each street and the purpose it needs to serve.

In summarizing her department’s priorities, the GM cited two critical points: “provide choices” and “lead.”

Providing choices is, of course, a multimodal approach. DOT needs to not just move cars, but also to make walking, transit, and bicycling viable and safe.

Her second point, “lead,” is a bit more complicated. Reynolds explains that LADOT doesn’t do freeways — that’s Caltrans. LADOT doesn’t do buses and trains — that’s Metro. LADOT doesn’t even build bridges or curbs, fix potholes, or re-surface streets — that’s the city’s Public Works bureaus. LADOT does, as she puts it, “hold the bag on all these things,” so DOT needs to be a leader in partnering with these agencies to work together to make mobility seamless for people moving through the city.

Reynolds deprecated L.A.’s notoriously confusing parking signs, mentioning that she had heard from an actual rocket scientist who couldn’t figure them out. She also related that even she had already received two parking tickets since arriving in L.A. last August. She didn’t pull any strings; she paid them both. It is in her strategic plan to re-vamp these signs.

I was a little worried that Reynolds’ photos of Downtown L.A.’s Broadway Dress Rehearsal might not resonate with a suburban Tarzana audience. I was wrong. Among the audience questions were two different ones about how the Valley’s Sherman Way could be made more walkable. One asked if Sherman Way could be closed and become a “walk street like in Santa Monica.”

This man asked Seleta Reynolds if DASH service could work more like really effective circulators at Yosemite.
This man asked Seleta Reynolds if DASH service could work more like really effective circulators in Yosemite.

Also among the audience questions were concerns over improving Valley DASH service and providing places to sit at bus stops. Her response to the latter: “I want to make transit reliable, comfortable, and fun – to thank people for making that choice.” 

It wasn’t all a love-fest. While stating that she was “open to ideas,” and especially “pilots,” the General Manager seemed somewhat lukewarm to two proposals. One idea, apparently promoted by the organization Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic (FAST), is to create some one-way couplets on nearby streets, such as Victory Boulevard and Vanowen Street.

Another questioner asked why LADOT wouldn’t implement a “simple solution” of basically just timing all the lights everywhere to coincide with the speed limits, so drivers could nearly always arrive on a green phase.

Reynolds responded to occasional criticism emphasizing safety. She said that when L.A. makes a road overly wide, responding to peak capacity that occurs a couple of hours each day, then the “other 22 hours, it’s faster than we’d like it to be.” Reynolds’ LADOT would keep traffic flowing but “bring speeds to a human level,” resulting in fewer collisions that will really snarl traffic.

Councilmember Blumenfeld (left) addressing the roughly 80-100 attendees at last night's Transportation Town Hall in Tarzana.
Councilmember Blumenfield (left) addressing the roughly 80-100 attendees at last night’s Transportation Town Hall in Tarzana.

At the end of the evening, Councilmember Blumenfield invited attendees to participate in his annual bike tour event, which takes place tomorrow morning at 9 a.m.

  • Val E. Dood

    WHAT ABOUT PARKING?! PARKING SUCKS!!!!!! GIVE ME MY PARKING FOR FREE.

  • calwatch

    The one way street idea should be poo-pooed since it was suggested on the Pico/Olympic couplet and found not to work. Traffic in LA is too bidirectional.

  • ubrayj02

    Timing the lights? Okay, which direction gets the priority? The city can time the lights all you want – the slowdown occurs because people are making turning motions, entering and exiting driveways, pedestrians cross the street, and intersections naturally make everyone slow down (even if there are no lights).

    Time the lights! Time them because the guy picking his nose and not accelerating once the light goes green will somehow not be there once you’ve timed them.

  • Walt Arrrrr

    Tomorrow, both CM Blumenfield and CM Fuentes are leading separate community bike rides in the West Valley and North East Valley. In March, CicLAvia comes to Ventura and Lankershim Boulevards. New LADOT People Streets in NoHo and Pacoima were just installed this past week. Overall, 2015 seems to be the year to watch SFV.

    Ventura Boulevard on the other hand is a monster unto itself. It has only the slightest hints of pedestrian and bicycle accommodations: Some street furniture in Encino, a new sidewalk-fronted commercial development in Tarzana, a few continental crosswalks with extra signage, an occasional LADOT bike rack in Studio City, The Metro “Rapid” 750 bus that seems to run infrequently. Other than that, it is all cars cars cars and more cars.

    Last November’s Great Los Angeles Walk down Ventura Blvd from Topenga to Lankershim was the most miserable one yet. Not because of weather or terrain, but because it felt like walking along a freeway. It felt like a real life version of the video game Frogger, dodging impatient drivers at every street crossing. On that 12 mile walk I saw the fewest pedestrians out of any of our walks and only counted a total of 17 cyclists, 10 of which were riding sidewalks likely due to the hostile roadway conditions. Every mile showed some remnant of a recent car crash: A flattened school crossing sign, a smashed bus stop, a shattered light pole, a decapitated tree, a building with a new car-size hole in it… Just part of life on Ventura.

    That November walk on Ventura Boulevard more than anything else helped me realize what a daunting challenge Reynolds has ahead of her. Luckily she has a few Council Members bringing leadership to her vision in their districts. As North Figueroa has learned, having a Council Member with leadership qualities can make all the difference in the world.

  • Cicla Valley

    Thanks for the write up Joe! I hope I didn’t hold you too much up at the Noho Station!

  • Janis Hatlestad

    Glad to see we showed you the Valley has as diverse a population as anywhere, Joe. I just spent some time thinking details around some potential, especially north-south, DASH routes in the increasingly densely populated far West Valley, connecting neighborhoods to business centers, education, and health care facilities. I have shared them with local NC PLUM and will be sharing them with Councilmember Blumenfield as well. We also need to ensure public meetings such as the one last night are held in places within close range of transit stops.

    Good to meet you in person!

  • Hilary Norton

    FAST is not proposing one way streets for Victory, Vanowen, Olympic, Pico or any other street in LA County. FAST is opposed to creating new one-way streets. FAST is not reviving the previously unsuccessful plan for Olympic and Pico proposed by others over six years ago. We are working on a different proposal for Olympic and Pico Boulevards that do not include one way streets, but we are still in the research phase.

    Instead, FAST studying a plan for Victory and Vanowen Boulevards which would increase supply of off-street parking, signal synchronizations and street
    lighting improvements, create safer pedestrian crossings, move bus stops beyond the corners of an intersection which currently jeopardize pedestrians and cyclists, build mobility hubs at Orange Line Stations and major employment centers, improve the safety and visibility of the Orange Line bikeway, and other mobility improvements. We are setting up meetings in the local neighborhoods to discuss these ideas and look forward to meeting with Streetsblog to discuss our completed proposal.

    Hilary Norton, Executive Director, Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic (FAST)

  • Manny Ojeda Jr

    Grid separating the Orange line I think is key to improving its speed. The reason people think it’s a waste of money is because of how uncomfortable the ride can be during rush hour. For people like you, for example, that that have a bike, the wait at stations can sometimes be long because the bike racks are full bus after bus. It can get really frustrating. The bike paths can also be a pain because lighting prioritized traffic so riding along the path can get annoying. I’ve biked it a few times so and find it faster to just ride on the street.. People keep pushing light rail for the Orange line and I’d be all for it if it were a new project but the bus lines already been built so grid delegation with bridges that support light rail in the future are the most fisable in my opinion. We do need another commuter rail line though.. Something fast. Getting people out of cars takes 1 high gas prices and 2competafive arrival times… Something the Orange line just can’t do as is.

  • Evelyn Alexander

    I used to do some work for FAST and am still involved as a volunteer. FAST is not proposing turning Victory and Vanowen into one-way streets. But limiting peak-hour street parking and moving bus stops would go a long way towards making both of these streets more efficient during rush hour! We don’t want traffic to go faster 24/7 but it would be great if Victory and Vanowen served as effective east-west corridors to give people alternatives. Thanks Councilmember Blumenfield for bringing DOT out to talk about helping move Valley residents effectively where they need to go!

  • Thank you for the write up, Joe. I really wanted to be there, but had a prior engagement. The valley is still very backwards compared to the rest of the city. Everytime I take my son over the hill, I’m so impressed with how easy it is to get around downtown on bike/foot. Last CicLAvia, we biked from the route up to downtown and had a great time. But biking around my neighborhood is way more hectic. People really can’t seem to stop and look before they turn left or right. I’m nearly left or right hooked most commutes. I’ve gotten really good at avoiding them. Anyway, it is true, she really has her work cut out for her. Thanks again.

  • Coby King

    Joe, we’ve known each other for a long time. But the fact that you would worry about “pitchforks” at a meeting in Tarzana is just another example of your recent penchant to portray the Valley as provincial, selfish or worse. Enough already. The residents of the San Fernando Valley just want the City of LA (and Metro, and Caltrans, and the feds) to remember that the Valley is an urban metropolis in its own right that deserves its fair share of transit and transportation investments. Does that mean that other regions won’t get as much? Perhaps, but that’s fair. The Valley supports good transit, which is why the Orange Line is a victim of its own success. Just think what would happen if MetroRail had more than two stations serving a population of over a million people. Like it or not, Valley leaders will continue to demand our fair share. Maybe you should get with the program instead of denigrating our aspirations at every opportunity.

  • Joe Linton

    Thanks, Coby. I agree that “pitchforks” is a bit too pejorative. It’s, of course, metaphorical, but conjures up inaccurate rural images that don’t reflect reality. I was glad that the car-centric mentality I’ve experienced in many neighborhoods was not prevalent in Tarzana last week. I’m looking forward to writing about more livability improvements in the Valley soon.

  • Don

    the speed is fine. it is the volume of passengers that is lacking. this would have been solved with light rail – 1 driver can hall 5 busses worth of passengers via light rail train car capacity plus room for bikes, but the valley didnt want it.

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