May 5, 2004 - From the April, 2003 issue

Where the Rubber Meets the Road – An MIR Interview Of LA City's New DOT General Manager, Wayne Tanda

To Angelenos, traffic is more than a film or a rock and roll band-it's a state of being. Metro Investment Report is pleased to present this interview with Wayne Tanda, the new general manager of the city of Los Angeles' Department of Transportation, in which he discusses the challenge of keeping Los Angeles residents mobile and how he is adjusting to his new position.


Wayne Tanda

Well, please compare the challenges of your new position as General Manager of the city of Los Angeles' Department of Transportation with your former post with the city of San Jose.

The city of Los Angeles is about four times the population of San Jose. With nearly 4 million residents, I'm finding the complexity and wide spectrum of issues in Los Angeles challenging. The Department of Transportation in Los Angeles has about two thousand employees, not to mention a few more councilpersons-fifteen versus ten in San Jose. The number of stakeholders adds to the challenges.

How do you approach carrying out your responsibilities in Los Angeles given the number of stakeholders and the decentralization of decision-making?

The first thing is to define what success looks like. What I mean by that is the Mayor and the members of the City Council provide policy direction. The members of the community identify what their expectations are. It is my responsibility to optimize the use of my resources to meet their direction and expectations. We are doing that by looking at the major areas that need attention-combating congestion, securing safer streets, enhancing neighborhood livability, and promoting economic viability.

The challenge is to institutionalize outcome performance measures based on things that people care about versus what we've done in the past. We need to formalize our process improvements to focus on a higher quality service, a more timely response, greater customer satisfaction, and improved cost effectiveness. This is a significant challenge because there hasn't been a structure set up in the department that provided that kind of framework. The department has been more reactive than proactive. It needs in the future to deliver what people want, what people need; and it can no longer have a stove pipe mentality.

The initiative on neighborhood councils continues to underscore what people care about, which is the delivery of services regardless of which department may deliver that service. As members of the city of Los Angeles family, we can see, hear, and reinforce that from the neighborhood councils.

Also, I have found that Los Angeles has some extraordinarily gifted general managers running the departments. I have found the management environment in L.A. to be similar to what I left in San Jose. In San Jose, the city manager set expectations and facilitated a cooperative working environment. I don't know what the previous administration was like, but Mayor Hahn expects the same results-to work as a single city for the benefit of the people we serve.

I have found that one advantage to the Los Angeles form of government is that there is no intermediary between the need as expressed by the policy makers and the solution provided through the General Managers. Things that would be interpreted by a city manager are communicated directly to me. This affords me a greater understanding and appreciation of what I need to do. I find that to be a very attractive thing about Los Angeles.

Elaborate on the challenges faced by a ever growing city with an infrastructure that is already taxed to capacity. How will we cope? The City of L.A. is bascially built-out, and yet will add another Chicago to it's population. Isn't this challenge on your shoulders at DOT?

How we deal with future congestion and mobility, let alone how we deal with today's problems, is a major challenge. As I continue to understand the dynamics of the city, I'll be able to sharpen my opinion on how we can go about dealing with the anticipated growth. But it's already apparent that there needs to be a number of avenues that are pursued. Certainly one area to address is building more capacity-extending light rail lines, building new lines, removing bottlenecks on the freeway system.

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The second area to enhance the operating system in the most intelligent way possible. A great example of that would be the Rapid Bus technology, where we're able to move more people quicker just with the application of technology. We've been applying technology for over twenty years in Los Angeles with what we refer to as our ATSAC system, but it's basically making the right decision by utilizing computers to maximize the green time and to minimize the red time at the signals. It's operating our 6,600 miles of city streets in concert with the hundreds of miles of state freeways that Los Angeles depends upon. And, it's being able to respond to incidents in a timely way to remove a big part of what creates congestion on our freeways-crashes.

The third area to address is managing the demand for travel. The so-called HOT lanes or High Occupancy Toll Roads is a technique to encourage the user to choose when to use the roadway system. Not unlike the phone system, if you choose to use it during peak demand periods, you pay a higher cost than if you use it during off-peak times. Another example is what's being done in London with congestion pricing in the central area of the city. I'm not saying that either of these examples should be applied in the Los Angeles area right now. But, it is something that needs to be brought forward for consideration, for application, under the right circumstances at the right time. Some of those things are already being done using parking rates. If you raise parking rates, you could discourage some motorists from using their automobiles in designated parts of your city at certain times.

The fourth and biggest area to address would be more intelligent land use. Smart growth would allow people to live where they work, go shopping by walking rather than getting into any kind of a motorized transportation, and to me, it's the most obvious way to address additional congestion. And, obviously, it is the most difficult solution of all because it truly is a regional solution that has many institutional obstacles. What can be done and what is being done by many cities, including the city of Los Angeles is the reuse of land around high density corridors, like the rail stations and high bus corridors. Things that are going on downtown, where lofts are being built close to the jobs that are downtown are all things that, when you add them up, could enhance livability in an urban area as it continues to grow.

All of those areas are the kind of challenges that I look forward to working on as a member of the city and, certainly, I'll be just one of many people who will be working on them along with the CRA, the Planning Department, the Public Works Department and others.

Could you comment on the quality and nature of the dialogue among City Planning, Community Development, Community Redevelopment, and DOT vis a vis actually siting and master planning new projects in the City's dense populated neighborhoods?

I can't speak for all of them because I haven't personally experienced working with the Community Development Department or the CRA. But, with the Planning Department, we meet on a regular basis and the relationship is good.

One issue that we have thoroughly discussed is street dedications. You can dedicate the right-of-way for street improvements but not improve it. But with the dedication, we preserve the option, at some later date, to do appropriate improvements. The improvements are not limited to just moving cars. They may include street landscaping, traffic calming, bicycle lanes, and wider sidewalks. While the quality of the dialogue with developers is good we do not always agree.

Let's close with one last question Wayne. What's on the top of your agenda, other than the matters we've talked about? What, for example, will occupy your attention through the balance of this year?

In a year, I hope to have established a comprehensive safety education and awareness program. That program would be designed to modify driver behavior, which would ultimately reduce the number of crashes and the extent of congestion. It's part of the three E's: Education, Engineering and Enforcement. This would make a real difference. Also, I'm hopeful that within a year we would have sharpened up our organization so that we can provide a more timely response to neighborhood traffic and parking concerns. Neighborhood traffic and parking are big issues for the neighborhood councils, big issues for schools, and are significant concerns of the City Councilmembers. Third, we are building capacity to provide a more timely response to development proposals. We may or may not agree with the proposal, but the developer should expect from us a well thought out position and a timely response.

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© 2020 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.