The Divine Right To Drive

November 2, 2015

We now return you to our regular scheduled programming…testpattern

With the conclusion of baseball’s post-season last night, it’s back to my normal television viewing pattern which consists of largely of DVRing, Netflixxing and disappointment shaded avoidance. I mean, really? Storage Wars?!

Sports, in general, baseball specifically, is the only time that I spend watching TV in the traditional manner any more. That is, with unfiltered commercial breaks. Sure, I will take to muting them, using them for a bathroom break or to simply stretch my legs. I mean, come on. That first week of October, there were 4 games a day!

Still, baseball broadcasts are when I am really subject to television advertisements, and I can only conclude one thing: televised professional sports exist merely to maintain our automobile industry. carad3How many car ads can they fit into one commercial break? A lot, let’s just say.

And like every other form of advertising, car commercials in no way reflect real life, do not in the least represent any sort of the reality of car ownership. In the ads, a lone automobile contends with the elements of nature. A shiny private vehicle transforms a dreary life into one of white teeth and daring do. A luxurious ride provides escape and calm from the horrors and blight of the modern world.

Your car is different than their car. Your car, in no way, contributes to the grind of your daily commute. Your car is a haven. Your car is not traffic. Their car is.

None of this is a revelation to any of you. Neither is it, I know, at all novel or a new thought. Mark it with a big ol’ shrug and a Well, d’uh.

I bring it up because this morning a group called the Ecofiscal Commission (“Practical solutions for growing prosperity”) released a report calling for a more sensible approach to road pricing in some of Canada’s largest cities. carad2Matt Galloway spoke to one of the report’s authors on Metro Morning today. Matt Elliot took a ride with another one of the authors. In the Globe and Mail, Oliver Moore wrote an article on the report. Tess Kalinowski did the same for the Toronto Star.

In short, we’re talking tolls. We can’t sort out our mobility woes until we start properly charging drivers more fairly for their use of the roads, especially our urban expressways. This is important for any number of reasons, none more so, perhaps, than providing ammunition in the perpetual debate over whether or not drivers already pay more than their share. Gas taxes, and all that. They don’t.

I also bring up the subject of car commercials, the glut of them and their lack of grounding in reality, because one day last week 16 pedestrians were struck down by cars in the GTA. Sixteen! In one day! Ten more than the average daily pedestrian-automobile number of collisions. Six! A day!

The Toronto Police Services responds by announcing a Pedestrian Safety blitz this week, complete with this video:

While we’re told that there’s a 50/50 split in responsibility between drivers and pedestrians for “accidents” that occur between them, this is all about pedestrians taking full responsibility. Be Prepared. Be Seen. Be Safe. “Cross the street as if your life depends on it,” the nice police officer tells us.

Nary a word about drivers driving as if their lives depend on it, as if somebody else’s life depends on it. carad1Why aren’t we instructed to operate our motorized vehicles as if there’s always the possibility that a 4 year-old child could pop out onto the road out of the blue? Why don’t we demand drivers drive to accommodate the most vulnerable of us who they share the road with? Why is it that in 2015 we still behave as if roads are the sole domain of automobiles and the rest of us have to ask nicely and behave properly in order to share the space with them? Even though pedestrians (and cyclists and skateboarders and rollerbladers) pay disproportionately for them?

The most obvious answer to those questions is that that’s just the way it is, the way it’s been for 70 years or so. In the hierarchy of transportation modes, the car is king. Change is slow, the status quo bias strong.

It is a mindset reinforced every time we turn on the TV. carad5With every car commercial we watch, with the freedom of the open road, blowing through our hair, with the high end, Bang & Olufsen sound system blasting out our favourite tuneage, with the rich Corinthian leather (not even a real thing) that cocoons us from the stop and go, years off our lives traffic we find ourselves in every time we get behind the wheel, no report on road pricing is going to convince us to pay more for our right to drive our cars, to persuade us to share the roads more equitably, to assuage our unrelenting and misplaced rage at being stuck behind a streetcar. Television promises drivers unfettered access anywhere and everywhere they want to go, no money down, don’t pay until next year.

Reason and rational thought have nothing to do with it. Driving is a singular experience. Normal rules don’t apply.

rationally submitted by Cityslikr

Borrowing and Burrowing

September 30, 2015


(All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s L.A. correspondent, Ned Teitelbaum, chimes in with some thoughts from a city that is bidding on the 2024 Olympic games.)


I have to admit, when I heard about the possibility that the Olympic games might be coming to Los Angeles in 2024, my first thought was that this could be the perfect excuse to accelerate construction of the Metro Purple Line to UCLA. latransit2030Back in 1984, the campus was one of the principal venues for the games, and given that L.A. is much more congested today than it was then, completing the subway to the campus might be not just the best, but the only, way to carry off the behemoth undertaking.

As you may know, the Purple Line, which includes a proposed stop at UCLA, was supposed to be the Subway to the Sea. But then methane gas caused a shopping center along the planned route to blow up, and as a result, the line sat in limbo for 22 years. Meanwhile, the Expo Line, the light rail to the Westside, made steady progress in the same direction, but along a more southerly route. It should begin service to Santa Monica by early next year, providing the dreamed-for access to the sea.

But that still doesn’t solve the problem of Westwood, where the campus of UCLA sits, increasingly choked off from the city, and where the Purple Line is not scheduled to arrive until 2036. Using the Olympics to accelerate this project makes a lot of sense. fixieAfter all, borrowing is still cheap, and burrowing would come at a discount as well, the theory being that it is cheaper to leave the tunnel boring machine in the ground and just keep going. Also, while we’re at it, we might as well accelerate the airport connector. And lest I forget, if we could connect by High Speed Rail to San Francisco, just think of all the new counter-cultural Olympics events we could stage, such as the Fixie Downhill Slalom and the OlympiCon Naked Bar Crawl!

This, in any case, was my first fevered reaction to the news that we might get to host the Olympics again. But the next day, my fever broke. Capital infrastructure was all well and good, sexy even, with your high profile public transit projects and grand palaces to world class athleticism. blackpowerBut what about our human infrastructure? What about our homeless? What about our schools, and environmental justice? Are these not infrastructure issues even more worthy of acceleration for the Olympics?

In 1968, the Olympics were held in Mexico City, and the thing I remember most was watching Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise the Black Power salute during the awards ceremony. I thought it was awesome. In my blended North-South family (mother from Alabama, father from Brooklyn), the Civil Rights Movement was often the subject of ugly, impassioned argument. But that day in 1968, those brave men who held their fists aloft as our National Anthem played introduced an unfamiliar phenomenon into our home: silence. Neither of my parents spoke. And me? To paraphrase Michelle Obama, it was the first time I had ever been proud of my country. Plus we took the gold and the bronze!

Today I am thinking of that event not only because it is my first memory of the Olympics, but because Los Angeles is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Watts Riots. watts1965Those riots, which occurred in 1965, must have been fresh in the minds of Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Now, as we prepare to make our newest bid for the games, we should use those riots, and the conditions that caused them, as a yardstick against which to measure the progress Los Angeles has, and has not, made. LA has its own history and its own legacy of racism, a legacy which is impossible to separate from the harmful decisions the city has made throughout the years regarding infrastructure. And we need to do it fast, as the Olympic committee will make its decision in 2017.

Olympic-sizely submitted by Ned Teitelbaum

The Defeat Device

September 29, 2015

The basis of the appeal of the private automobile has always been a kind of mystically perceived total freedom. In practice, it is the freedom to go wherever one wants to go (wherever the roads go, which opens up another socioeconomic can of worms), whenever one desires to go (whenever the car is ready, when one has paid the price in preparation and maintenance, in taxation and legal qualification, whenever one has the wherewithal simply to feed the machine), at whatever rate one desires to go (assuming the traffic will allow, that congestion eases – and at rates up to but not beyond the arbitrary standards established to protect one from the dangers of excessive use of his own freedom).

Never mind the cavils, however; mobility, or the illusion thereof, has indeed been the prime attraction, the dream for which we have so cheerfully paid all those other costs. The tragedy is that if mobility alone had been the single goal in the development of the modern private automobile, we could have achieved a better measure of it for a fraction of a percentage point of the cost we have paid.

— John Jerome, The Death of the Automobile, 1972

It should be unsettling to all of us that we have built our lives around, designed the places we live and work to, hinged an unhealthy segment of our economy on this “mystically perceived total freedom” of the private automobile. deathoftheautomobileSo engrained is this perception of the individual life enhancing power of the car that we cannot imagine a future without one, a future, like the past two generations, of unimodal transportation policy revolving entirely around our use of private vehicles. Anything else is inconceivable.

Our mayor will be pursuing an item at city council this week that will, if successful, drain $350 million from the capital budget in order to speed up repairs on the Gardiner Expressway, shrinking the timeline from 20 to 8 years. So important to our local economy that people not be hampered in getting around the city in their cars, Mayor Tory believes this to be a wise and prudent expense of public dollars. Just like spending hundreds of millions more money to keep a small eastern section of the same expressway elevated makes sense to him.

The primacy of the automobile is simply self-evident. As it was so it shall ever be. carad5Stopping such madness only serves to reveal it was madness from the very beginning.

While you can certainly accuse the mayor of lacking much imagination and even less foresight, you can’t necessarily fault him. The car mythology has been deeply engrained in us, sold to us unrelentingly, in 30 second spots during the Super Bowl, filling up magazine pages, providing regular content in pop culture. Little Deuce Coup to the Fast and Furious. Baby, you can drive my car and we’ll have fun, fun, `til your daddy takes the T-bird away. (That makes no sense but nothing about car adulation does).

We have been bamboozled by marketing and PR. In this way, the automotive industry has much in common with Big Tobacco. Actually, in another important way as well. Mass deception and perfidy resulting in a steady march of hundreds of thousands to the graveyard.

Truth in advertising.

We laugh now at the outrageous claims of pretend doctors pitching their favourite brand of cigarettes. Cool menthol. Lucky Strike. It’s Toasted! Low tar and nicotine. I’d Rather Fight Than Switch. carad4Come To Where The Flavour Is, you Marlboro Man Men, a succession of pitchmen dying of lung cancer.

But how much more realistic is your everyday car commercial? Mostly, drivers and their freedom-loving passengers, tearing it up along the open road, nary another car in sight, even in the most populous of cities. Ads highlighting the new features that a company has developed to keep your family safe deny the obvious. Your family would be much safer not travelling around the city in a car.

One of the most cynical spots on TV right now is one featuring the band X Ambassadors, touring America in a Jeep, writing lyrics, listening to music on the radio, taking in the sights. And where do they wind up for a gig? At a venue that says ‘Portland’ on its marquee. Portland, Oregon. Perhaps the leading North American city committed to reducing its dependence of private automobiles.

Renegades, my ass, you TV jinglemakers. Fuck you, X Ambassadors. Fuck you, Jeep. Fuck you, car industry.

A little over-the-top? An unfair comparison, cars and cigarettes? One is a delivery system for an addictive, toxic virulence which was well-known but hidden and denied by corporations and the other…

Volkswagen: The scandal explained. ‘Diesel dupe’. ‘Defeat device’. carad2A mammoth multinational company consciously working to defy regulations in order to sell their product which dumps untold amounts of dangerous, deadly shit into the atmosphere. Yeah, that’s the other.

It’s not like this is some singular event by an outlier. Car companies have been slipping and dodging government environmental regulations for, well, probably since the advent of environmental regulations. “Manufacturers have long been accused of using specially prepared cars to produce the best possible [miles-per-gallon performance] figures.”

The entire Age of the Automobile has been predicated on lies and slick, misleading advertising. Like all advertising, it’s based on a perceived lifestyle with the promise of easy, economical and efficient mobility at its core. Like all advertising, it’s not entirely true. Not even close.

This is not news, particularly. There’s nothing revelatory in that statement. Car dependence is killing us, and disfiguring our cities and communities in the process. But we’re too far in, it seems, to do much about it. carad1We just continue to dig the hole deeper, tossing more money after bad, hoping to find a solution somewhere in that deep, dark pit.

The denial sits heavily. We can’t possibly have been this stupid to have bought so whole-heartedly into such a fantasy, spun by corporate entities. Can we? No. Let’s just keep doing what we’ve been doing.

More than 40 years on, we refuse to accept the reality of what we’ve done.

Technology isn’t evil, but the uses of technology often are. The car is a bad machine – and the solution is not to build a better bad machine, but rather not to build bad machines. Yet this huge, wealthy nation is trapped with what is virtually a single transportation system, and to suggest simply abandoning that system is to suggest paralyzing the nation. We have become addicted to automobiles; they have become literally a necessity to sustaining life.

autohatingly submitted by Cityslikr

De-Pave Paradise And Tear Down That Parking Lot

September 14, 2015


(A post-concussion follow-up to yesterday’s post from All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s Los Angeles correspondent, Ned Teitelbaum. Another in our series, To Live and Drive In L.A., The Battle for Road Space edition.)


Still emerging from the fog of my concussion, the city starts to come back into focus.

I see how the City Council passed the Mobility Plan 2035 by a broad margin, with all but two of our city council members voting in favor of it. rowenaavelaThe plan is a series of goals that includes such boiler-plate objectives as expanding bicycle ridership and providing frequent, reliable on-time bus arrivals. It looks great on paper. But implementing it without pissing off drivers? Well, that’s another matter.

Take Rowena Avenue, for example, in our Mayor’s own Silver Lake district. The street was one of the first to be put on a road diet two years ago, and there has been nothing but controversy since. Traffic is backed up, and nobody seems to be using the bike lanes. Drivers are frustrated, and frustrated drivers go where frustrated drivers go, namely onto our residential side streets. But the change looks likely to remain since it helps the city move toward its Vision Zero Initiative of reaching zero traffic deaths by 2035.

Bravo, I say.

But the acrimony over the Rowena fight has now wafted over to the Hyperion Bridge fight next door. hyperionbridgelaThere, another re-striping war has been engaged. Once again, activists want to reduce the car lanes, this time from four to three, with the extra space going to both sides of the bridge for walkers and cyclists. A template of a letter that people can e-mail to their City Council representatives was put out by the advocacy group LA Walks and urges the city to back this plan so people can enjoy “the bridge’s beautiful and historic belvederes,” from both sides. And indeed, one major difference between Rowena and the Hyperion Bridge is the latter’s almost irresistible invitation to stop and gaze, to take up the river breeze and just breathe. The letter asks, “Why do we want to prevent people from enjoying one of the city’s best views of what will soon be a revitalized LA River?”

No arguments from me. But the Board of Public Works has already balked once at the idea, and even the Mayor’s own rep at the time of the vote, Matt Szabo, refused to back the plan. Said Szabo, referencing the Rowena traffic clog, “I can’t in good conscience vote for anything that would compound that situation.”


Perhaps Mr. Szabo should take another look. Yesterday, I was on Rowena, and I noticed a distinctly calmer traffic flow. I even spotted a cyclist. I said ‘Hi’ but I don’t think he heard me.

sunshine hazily submitted by Ned Teitelbaum

Driving in the Age of Distraction

September 13, 2015


(Another post from our All Fired Up in the Big Smoke Los Angeles correspondent, Ned Teitelbaum, in a series we’ve taken to calling, To Live and Drive in L.A.)


Even as the Jeep Grand Cherokee ploughed into the back of my car, I remember wondering if this could be payback for the time I myself had rear-ended someone about a year earlier. But that was in slower traffic, in Venice, and not, as was this, somewhere near Encino, south on a 12-lane superhighway known as the Ventura 101.

The driver who hit me was doing about 50, and though I was wearing my seatbelt, the impact was enough to give me a concussion, some herniated disks and a broken tooth. Still, by today’s standards, this was just a banal traffic accident. whiplashNo explosions, no deaths, not even any road rage.

The young tattooed driver who folks tell me was obviously texting apologized for, well, tattooing me. Yet I was confused. Weren’t young people giving up their cars so that they could stay connected to their mobile devices? I’d seen the phenomenon myself, on trains and buses and walking down Wilshire Boulevard. Maybe this guy just hadn’t received the memo. Or maybe it was because LA’s rail network hadn’t yet reached this deep into the San Fernando Valley, a part of the city which grew into its current form based on the primacy of the private automobile. And in fact here, as well as in other parts of our far-flung urban arrangement, distracted driving is still the norm. Which is how it came about that I was introduced to my new friend.

I can’t remember his name. All I remember were his tattoos. And the apologies. Because in the end it really was just an accident. toliveanddieinLAIt could have happened to anybody. Like the one I caused last year (no one was hurt). Or the one 10 years before that, in which I had a head-on collision with another distracted driver in another out-sized SUV (I was hurt, but survived to drive another day).

I guess these traffic accidents are just part of life, the price of doing business in a town that decided decades ago to embrace the automobile to the exclusion of all other forms of mobility. The chiropractor I am seeing says I should mend in a few weeks. Will I mend all the way? He doesn’t answer me. He tells me to relax, cracks my neck and sends me on my way.

submitted by Ned Teitelbaum

Driving The Dream

July 16, 2015

I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret. Just this one, though.

I love driving.


That’s right. This car-hater loves the wide open roads, top down, wind blowing back your hair, car commercial driving. Zoom zoom, or whatever that weird kid in the ads says.

Problem is, to truly experience such movie moving images, you have to get off the beaten track, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, far from the madding crowd. Be dedicated to no timetable and prepared to detour at a moment’s notice when other freedom seekers clog up your automobile induced bliss. Who the hell wants to drive 55?

Alas, such fantasy is rarely achievable. Driving, for most of us, most of the time, amounts to little more than a daily slog, nothing more than a utility, a mobility utility. Getting from point A to point B in the least efficient, most expensive way possible. Zoom zoom, my ass.

Trouble begins when we demand the dream promised us in the incessant push of television commercials. Have car, must travel. Must travel fast, top down, wind blowing back my hair. Open the goddamned roads up.

As we’ve discovered, cities suffer in their attempts to cater to that. The car life requires lots of space. Such space devolves into sprawl. Sprawl means distance. Distance needs speed. Without speed, distance simply becomes, well, distance, a time suck.


The road trip, as we’ve come to think of it, dream of it, is an entirely different beast than the work trip or that quick trip around the corner to get some milk. We need to differentiate between the two, and stop building communities and cities around the illusory freedom of the open roads. Such a thing only exists on TV and on the rare occasions we are able to get away from it all, the traffic, the congestion, the HOV restrictions lanes, and truly put the pedal to the medal and fly as God and Madison Avenue intended us to do.

confessingly submitted by Cityslikr

Biking In Barcelona

May 8, 2015

Cycling in Barcelona is not perfect. If the yardstick used to measure that is, say, the Netherlands, and an afternoon two wheel jaunt from Noordwijk to The Hague. bikingbarcelonaThere are moments of perfection certainly on a bike in Barcelona. The ride back down toward the old town along the sequestered lanes running along the Avinguda Diagonal or the middle of the street separation providing a great run on Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes.

Shouldn’t we all have access to bike lanes on an ‘Avinguda’ or a ‘Gran Via’?

But there isn’t an obvious network of bike lanes in Barcelona, at least not to visitors lacking a full knowledge of the city (or maybe even a bike route map). I’m talking an effortless flow from one set of lanes to the other, made easy with robust signage. Bike signing in Barcelona goes from emphatic to non-existent within a matter of blocks, regularly leaving a cyclist directionless at a point in the ride when three different options suddenly become available. bikingbarcelona3(This doesn’t appear to be exclusively a Barcelona thing as I discovered an hour or so outside the city on a very gentle hillside ride where a path would abruptly end at an impassably rocky incline or a precipitous drop off the side of a cliff into a river some unhealthy kilometres below.)

Back in Barcelona this can mean finding yourself suddenly lurching from a blissful ride taking in the sights to merging into fairly heavy traffic, either motorized or on foot.

This is when you discover, however, just how bike friendly Barcelona is.

Space on both roads and sidewalks is immediately shared.

I’m not sure I heard an angry car horn or any violent ringing of bicycle bells when bikes found their way out of their lanes and onto roads or sidewalks. People simply adjusted. Cars made way for bikes. Bike riders adapted to the pace of the pedestrians they now rode amongst, oftentimes in very narrow, medieval sized street widths. Skateboarders weaved in and out of the crowds. There seemed to me to be a lot of skateboarders in Barcelona. An ancient mode of Catalonian transport, I guess.bikingbarcelona2

While, I’m sure, not the exact definition of complete streets, it certainly felt like it to these untrained, North American auto-centric eyes where we all jealously guard our designated territory. Roads are for cars, trucks and buses, maybe. Sidewalks given over to pedestrians. Cyclists carve out some in-between space, somewhere, preferably, out of sight and mind. Isn’t there a park or someplace you can do that? Higher order transit all goes underground. To each their own and seldom should there be any overlap.

A hierarchical dynamic, anointing levels of importance, designed to create inevitable conflict.

At a cava stop at a streetside café owned by a former associate of some sort of Moses Znaimer (“He’s so rock’n’roll! Toronto’s so rock’n’roll!!”), I settled in to watch this sense of complete streets. It wasn’t necessarily a wide sidewalk. Parked cars had taken a chunk from some of it. The café had about 6 tables occupying some of the space. Metal balustrades divided the remaining portion of the sidewalk into two lanes as much as they kept larger, motorized vehicles from using it.bikingbarcelona3

A glass or two in, two mothers sat down at the table next to me. One had a wee little baby in a stroller beside her while they split two other children, both in the upper single digits in age. Eight? Nine? My eyes aren’t as good as they used to be.

While the two women conversed over a beer and coffee, the two older kids essentially were left to play in the traffic, the pedestrian traffic. There was some hide-and-go seek, some other game of back-and-forth, up-and-down the street following rules I couldn’t fully grasp. A discarded stick got incorporated at some point of time. When a dad of one of the kids arrived on his non-motorized scooter that immediately became the centre of attention.

The kids went about their business, nobody paying much attention to anything going in and around them. And there was a lot of street action going on around them. No cars, granted, although at one point of time things moved to a driveway directly off the street to some unseen parking spots which brought dad out of his seat to instruct the kids back down away from that area. Still, the sidewalk was hardly a dead zone.bikingbarcelona1

People, big people, strode back and forth. People, families on bikes, a dude taking his dog out for a walk-ride. Skateboarders, of course. Bar staff came in and out of the bar, sometimes with trays of food and drink. Still, the kids played on, not oblivious to what was going on around them but not intimidated by it either.

Just as importantly, the parents seemed to barely take notice, outside of the parameters that parents always notice, are always aware of what their kids are up to at any given moment when there’s even a possibility of harm in the vicinity. There was nothing resembling hyper-vigilance or helicoptering, to slightly paraphrase the term of the moment. The kids were left to their own devices on this little section of busy urban sidewalk.

While there was a big park on the other side of the street across 6 lanes of automobile traffic and a couple officially designated bike lanes, this part of the street was also considered public space, a safe spot for kids to go about the business of being kids while their parents took some time to catch up, chat about this and that, over drinks. It doesn’t have to be green space to be public space. bikingbarcelona4Not all the time. Not exclusively.

But we aren’t Barcelona, you’ll counter, or Paris or Amsterdam. That’s there. We’re here.

Sure. I won’t argue with that, only to say let’s stop pretending it’s some accident of history that created our separate built forms, our different approaches to how we use our cities, allocate functions to where we do what. It’s a matter of choice not fate, very purposeful decisions that have been made and just as equally can be unmade depending on what we deem to be of importance in how our cities run.

cavaly submitted by Cityslikr


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