Management & Operations

Women in Transportation: Seleta Reynolds

Posted on September 20, 2018 by METRO Staff

Grew up: Born in Atlanta and grew up in Jackson, Miss.
Studies: B.A. degree in American History from Brown University.
Early career aspirations: I just wanted a job. I just wanted to make money.
Influences: During a part-time intership as a bike parking intern for the City of Oakland Public Works Agency, I learned how to write press releases, plan events, and, in pretty short order, I also had to learn how to write grants and understand transportation finance, and implement projects. I also learned how to do a community meeting and actually put in a project that was one of the first road diets in the City of Oakland. We put in bike lanes and curb extensions. I learned so much from that experience and was really hooked, not just on the idea of implementation and transportation, but also on the idea of culture change and what that looks like in the public right-of-way.
Current role: The DOT has about 2,000 employees, both full- and part-time. The portfolio includes operating and managing about 7,500 miles of streets, about 4,500 signalized intersections, 3,700 parking meters, and 22 million trips every year on LADOT transit. And, we also oversee and regulate taxis as well as non-emergency medical transportation, and a whole myriad of other things that go along with that. So, my day-to-day really changes radically almost every day. It’s a combination of both making sure that the day-to-day operations of the department are in good health and that I’m always pushing a more proactive agenda. But, I’ll say that the thing that takes up the most of my time, and is probably the hardest part of my job, is making LADOT a great place to work.
Accomplishments: I’m really proud of a program that the department launched called “Play Streets.” When I was in San Francisco [at the MTA], I had gone on a study tour to Denmark and had seen something that they have in the [city of Odense] called Play Streets, where in front of a school, they actually had reclaimed a street as a park and as a playground. I got really inspired and excited by the idea that this asset that we control in transportation, which is our street, can serve a function to connect kids to play in open space who might not otherwise be able to get to it. So, when I got [to LADOT], I started a program to try and figure out what that would look like in a city like Los Angeles. So, we picked a bunch of neighborhoods around the city where kids don’t have access to open space. It’s been one of the most rewarding projects and things that I’m most proud of, because it really does show in a very powerful way that streets can be a place where we build community.
Challenging/rewarding: I think that the best and the most difficult part of the job is really the culture change part of it, and the management and leadership part of it. This a big organization, it has multiple cultures. So, working hard to make sure they all feel like part of one culture, and that every day when they show up, they understand how what they do really matters, and what the mission is of the department. That, to me, is the most difficult, but also most rewarding part of the job.
Skills: I think that one of the things that has differentiated me throughout my career is I really love the part of the job that is managing people.
Projects: Earlier this year, we launched an EV car-sharing service, BlueLA, in a community called Westlake, which is around MacArthur Park in Los Angeles. The challenge in Los Angeles is that you really need to have a car in order to access education and job opportunities right now. A lot of those households cannot afford to own, let alone, pay to park a car. One of the solutions to that is to provide a shared fleet of car-sharing vehicles that can work for the people in that community. We launched the first few and are in the middle of finishing the build-out of all, about 200 chargers and EV car-sharing spots. We’re getting ready to make a decision about expansion.
Profound moment: When I was at the City of Oakland, I was working on a project by the West Oakland BART Station and there was this crosswalk near a school that crossed a multi-lane street. At the time, the, sort of, accepted wisdom in the engineering profession was that you couldn’t mark a crosswalk without putting in a signal because it made it less safe by giving the pedestrian a false sense of security. I uncovered some research that, sort of, debunked that a little bit. So I made my case to the deputy director of public works and he was persuaded by what I presented. What I learned in that moment was, first of all, I have the right skills and the right access to folks and I’m smart enough and strong enough to go toe-to-toe with anybody on an issue that I care about. And second of all, that I really was very passionate about sticking up for the most vulnerable users of the system when nobody else seems to be doing that.
Inspiration: I continue to be inspired by the work that Janette Sadik-Khan (former commissioner New York City Department of Transportation) does. After leaving New York, she’s continued to do the same kind of work, reclaiming streets as public spaces all around the world.
Favorite pastimes: I have two daughters, so their favorite pastimes are reading graphic novels and playing softball and sculpting clay. So, those are now my favorite pastimes also. I also love to read, cook, and entertain.

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