Borrowing and Burrowing

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(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.)

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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

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