Westwood

March 30, 2016

More news on the lunacy of our parking policy/philosophy front: It’s tough finding a parking spot at your local Trader Joe’s!traderjoes

Read through the Twitter timeline in this Buzzfeed post, 23 Hilariously Accurate Tweets About Trader Joe’s Parking Lots, and after about the 4th one in, try not screaming, THEN GET OUT OF YOUR CAR, YOU FUCKING DIMWIT!! WALK A BIT!

Let me add a personal anecdote. There’s a Trader Joe’s about a 10, 15 minute walk from our place here. It pretty much sits right in the heart of Westwood. Even before reading this article, we noted the hazard of walking past the store’s underground lot. Cars flew out, past the gate with little obvious thought to occupants on the sidewalk ahead. Cars turned madly into the lot, not making eye contact with the pedestrians they just stopped in their tracks as if this was perfectly acceptable behaviour. Horns, the soundtrack of Los Angeles, frequently sounded.crazedparking

It must be pure pandemonium down there, we thought. A real knock-em-down contest for precious few spots. I even wrote about it earlier, the importance of validation, some weeks back.

What’s particularly frustrating about this is that, after downtown Santa Monica, and the ocean strip between it and Venice, and maybe Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Westwood is probably the most pedestrianized area on the westside of Los Angeles. The UCLA campus anchors it on the north. Many of the students live in low and medium rise buildings within walking distance to the west and southwest of the school. The western end of the so-called Condo Canyon strip along Wilshire Boulevard stops just to the southeast.

There is lots of built-in density in the area, in other words, which should provide a natural pedestrian constituency to Westwood. Yet cars still rule. Aside from a couple scrambled pedestrian crossings up nearer to the campus, traffic lights are geared to car travel. zeegogglesYou could stand for minutes waiting at even the non-busiest of side streets, vainly pressing the walk signal. Zee button! It does nuss-ing!! At other spots, the pedestrian crossing is awkward, unnecessarily two-stage. Another is simply fucking dangerous.

Why?

This entire section of Westwood would be perfect for some tactical urbanism. Close streets to car traffic here, reduce it to a single lane there. Encourage more restaurant patio life which is surprisingly sparse, given the generally agreeable climate.

The truth is, it couldn’t hurt Westwood. While memory shouldn’t be considered reliable, at least not mine, at least not mine contemplating over 20 years, I do remember a much livelier neighbourhood back when I lived here in the early-90s. More restaurants and bars. Retail didn’t feel as, I don’t know, shopworn and trinkety. I mean, even further back in the day, Westwood was the place for big Hollywood premieres. westwoodA couple of those theatres remain in place, carrying the pedigree if not the status they once did.

It’s not that Westwood is devoid of street life. While not exactly bustling, there are people on foot, getting to the places they’re going. There’s just no sense of lingering. No just hanging out. No Gehl-ing.

Westwood seems like a perfect place to try and instill a little of that sensibility in Los Angeles.

There is a weekly farmer’s market on one of the side streets. Further down Westwood Boulevard, south of Wilshire, a block was cordoned off from cars last Sunday, for the Persian New Year celebration, Nowruz, in the area of the city known as Tehrangeles, for the Iranian population that settled there. People flocked to the event, once they could find a parking spot on a nearby sidestreet.

In fact, the whole strip of Westwood Boulevard, from Santa Monica Boulevard north, which, to these eyes, is far too wide already for the amount of traffic it accommodates, could be scaled back on its auto primacy, and reconfigured in a more equitable way. Remove a couple car lanes. westwoodblvdInstall an actual bike lane instead of the painted lines that are more notable for their disregard than actual use. Widen the sidewalks. Green it up. Actually try embracing the boulevard in Westwood Boulevard.

An uphill battle in most cities, even those less entrenched in a car culture, this would be the steepest of inclines here. Those who might benefit and enjoy it most, UCLA students, have their own public commons on campus, although it’s surprisingly small and contained, competing as it has to for space with the various parking lots. I guess Westwood as it stands serves their needs as much as it has to, with its various grocery stores, drug stores, quick eats joints and bars.

And much of the rest of the surrounding community, living in some of the most expensive real estate in the country, Brentwood, Bel Air, Beverly Hills adjacent, has shown open hostility to any sort of suggestion that would get in the way of their cars. tuscanyA dedicated rush hour bus lane along the Condo Canyon section of Wilshire. Bike lanes on Westwood.

I guess you don’t buy your expensive automobiles in order to leave them parked in your laneway while you walk over to do some shopping or grab a bite to eat. There are parking spots at Trader Joe’s to fight over and bitch about the lack of, dammit! If people want to stroll somewhere to grab a bottle of good, inexpensive wine, can’t they just go to Tuscany like everybody else?

in vainly submitted by Cityslikr


Irvine

March 29, 2016

I spent a couple days in Irvine, California last week. It was the longest 4 hours of my life!

irvineca1That’s sort of how the joke goes, right?

But seriously, folks…

I went to Irvine last week to visit what is considered to be one of the best examples of a “planned-community” there is in post-war North America. It is full of green space and bike trails, nationally ranked schools, good paying jobs, a robust economy and all the other good and positive things you read in local brochures. Which made the gentleman’s suggestion at the Chamber Tourist office that I go to Newport Beach if I only had a few hours in Irvine somewhat strange.

I’ll confess. I am suspicious of these master-planned communities. They elicit thoughts of Disneyland, and its real world manifestation, Celebration, Florida. Not so much communities as enclaves, escapes from the world around them instead of additions. This is my bias that is more visceral than well-thought through.

The city of Irvine itself was something of a reaction against the ill-planned and wild west suburban development that haunt urbanists’ dreams, the types of formless suburban tracts then encroaching upon Irvine, spreading in all directions out from the city of Los Angeles. This particular area of land was owned by one family, the Irvines, natch, irvineca5who successfully ranched and farmed it for about a century before turning their eye toward urban development. The idea, initially, was to carefully construct a city of 50,000 people, radiating out from a University of California campus, Irvine, natch, sitting at its centre.

Irvine is now a city 5 times that size, the university campus an integral part of but not at the centre of the city. Irvine is, according to the Chamber’s 2015 Community Report, “an economic powerhouse…the address of choice for Fortune 500 companies and start-ups in cutting-edge industry sectors like life sciences, advanced manufacturing, information technology and digital arts and media.” The city regularly tops lists of the country’s most liveable and safest cities. It’s young, with a median age of 34, and fairly well-to-do, a median household income of over $90K.

Irvine sees itself as the ‘centre of Orange County’.irvineca

Depending on your perspective this can be seen as either a) simple civic boosterism; b) more or less geographically correct; c) damning with faint praise.

It dawned on me during my brief Irvine outing that cities are built (in a planned manner or ad hoc) not primarily to be visited but to be lived in. To really get a sense of the place, I should’ve brought my bike down south with me, tried out the off-road trails that, apparently, would connect me to everything the city had to offer. Evidently, I was missing something.

Here were all the progressive fundamentals taught at architecture and planning schools since the 1920s (earlier if you count Ebenezer Howard): superblocks, pedestrian paths, mixed uses, integrated landscaping, public amenities. Here were concepts championed by Catherine Bauer, Lewis Mumford, Clarence Stein and other reformers, in the decades when suburbs were not yet reviled as soulless bedroom communities. And here was this vision built, lived in, mature, and thriving. Even as I remembered the intellectual planning history, my reaction was primarily emotional. Before me was not a theoretical treatise, but a real neighborhood with real architecture rooted in good principles: logically planned town organization, the useful integration of nature, multifaceted community, variety of choice. Its pleasures were obvious.

This was the assessment of Irvine by architect, historian and resident, Alan Hess, back a couple years ago. The article, at least in part, evoked a city I didn’t really catch a glimpse of. Its pleasures may have been obvious but were fleeting.

Certainly, the views out over the Little League baseball diamonds in the parklands abutting the Irvine Civic Center were fantastic, looking as they were toward the Santa Ana Mountains. northwoodA path between a couple of the fields led to a bike trail running along some sort of culvert, the San Diego Creek, perhaps? There was a bridge across it to a hockey rink, playing Kanye West over the loudspeakers, All of the Lights/All of the Lights.

Without a bike, however, I got back into my car to head off to my next destination, one of the early areas of development in Irvine, although developed independently of the “plan”, Northwood. It was about 6.5 miles away and if I wanted to get there really, really fast, I could, barring any adverse road conditions. In Irvine, there are arterial roads where you can drive between the various “villages” as they’re called, at 55 miles per hour! That’s right. 55 miles per hour. In a city.

That’s not to mention Irvine is cross-sectioned by a couple of major interstate freeways, the 5 and 405, along with a couple lesser ones, the 133 and 261.irvineca4

Bringing me to the crux of my discomfort with a planned city based on the primacy of moving people in cars, easily and speedily. I know that concept doesn’t appear stated anywhere. Mr. Hess writes of the “logically planned town organization” with its “superblocks, pedestrian paths, mixed uses, integrated landscaping, public amenities.” From his townhouse, he can walk to a library and grocery store.

So where are all these pedestrians, I wondered, gunning down the street like Sammy Hagar. Could they be tucked away, out of sight, off-road, going about their daily lives? Granted, it was a Monday afternoon, so maybe Irvinites had other things to do aside from just walking around, enjoying the good life. In my travels, I did stop at a park near a schoolyard that was full of kids, and their parents, waiting by their cars to drive them home.

Another detour took me through a couple of these dizzyingly laid-out neighbourhoods where, if you didn’t know your precise destination or lacked a keen sense of direction, could turn you around and have you discombobulated in no time. Interestingly, in one of these neighbourhoods, the streets had no stop signs, irvineca2no traditional visual guideposts. It was almost as if I’d stumbled into some secret, magical place of complete streets. With no obvious right of way, no authoritative directions on how to negotiate the streets from behind the wheel, I naturally drove far more cautiously, slowly.

Which left me crawling along empty daytime streets, not quite sure where I was going, rounding every corner in the hopes of catching a glimpse of some speeding traffic on a nearby arterial road where I could reorient myself and collect my bearings.

Having arrived in Irvine, unprepared to take advantage of the natural attractions of the place, the biking, the hiking, I was ultimately left with one thing to do if I was unwilling to go to Newport Beach. Head to the mall. The Spectrum, to be a exact, in the eastern part of town, not far from what will be the Orange County Great Park on the site of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.spectrum

As far as malls go, the Spectrum is a nice mall. All open air with most of the familiar franchise shops you’d recognize. There’s a ferris wheel, merry-go-round and train ride around the place. Still. It’s a mall.

It seems to me that as well-intentioned and as well-executed as your planned community or city or neighbourhood is, if it’s planned around the automobile, ultimately, you end up driving to a mall. For all the talk of ‘logically planned town organization’, ‘superblocks’ and mixed uses, Irvine struck me as single-use as any suburban development I’ve been to. Maybe, back in the early days, when Irvine was a town of 50,000 residents, most people could walk to their local library and supermarket. If you live in one of those houses today, maybe you still can.

That’s not what most of the city felt like currently, at least to this outsider. All your recreational needs are within an easy car ride, a longer bike ride, a walk maybe, irvineca6if you don’t have anything else planned for the day. The automobile is the key integrative element to any sort of successful flow in Irvine.

The best laid plans will not mask that. No amount of green space will change it. Or will having the best school system in the world.

At some point of time, there will have to be a reckoning. That’s just basic math.

touristly submitted by Cityslikr


Transit Zeros (10 Of Them, In Fact)

March 26, 2016

One of the things I can’t get my head around while winterly situated here in Los Angeles, on the city’s westside is, despite the area’s affluence, your nearby Beverly Hills, your Bel Airs, Brentwoods, Santa Monicas, waitingforthebusthe whole Westside scene, I’m living in a relative rapid transit desert. Lots of bus service, for sure, but the nearest LRT stop is the better part of a half-hour bus ride away, and the subway nearly an hour. It takes a long time to use public transit to get to almost anywhere else in the city from here.

This is pretty much the complete opposite from my regular place of residence in downtown-ish Toronto. While not as entirely upscale as this area in Los Angeles, it’s doing alright, thank you very much, and it is awash in access to public transit. Buses, streetcars, subways, you name it. You can get everywhere but to some of the farthest reaches of the city in a not entirely unacceptable period of time.

Ease of transit access with plenty of mobility options is a fairly standard characteristic of desirability in neighbourhoods and cities these days except when it’s not. waitingforthebus1Like on the westside of Los Angeles which has had history of fighting any invasion of rapid transit, from subways to bus lanes. But these places are more enclaves than neighbourhoods, existing outside or above the notion of city rather than as part of it.

Despite such resistance, however, rapid transit is continuing its slow march to the Pacific. In May, the Expo LRT line will open up an extension westward into Santa Monica. There are plans to continue burrowing the Purple Line subway under Wilshire Boulevard in order to eventually connect the woefully underserved UCLA Westwood campus and Ronald Reagan hospital complex. If, that is, the latest ballot initiative, a successor and extension of the 2008 Measure R, gets the thumbs-up from 2/3s of voters when it goes before them in November, to bump the L.A. County sales tax another half-a-cent which would raise $120 billion over the next 40 years, all dedicated to building transportation projects. waitingforthebus3Lots and lots of transportation projects.

The passage of this measure, finalized for consideration this June, would usher in yet another frenzy of transit building in Los Angeles, a city already something of a frenzied madhouse of transit building for a couple decades now. More than 3 dozen mass transit and highway improvements over the next 40 years, according to the LA Times’ Laura J. Nelson. Pretty much 40-in-40 if you can get your head around that degree of expansion.

“What we’ve been saying is, everyone is going to get something, and no one is going to get everything,” a Metro Transportation Agency representative said.

Fair enough, on the face of it. $120 billion is a lot of money, $3 billion a year over 40 years, but it is still a limited resource. Not everyone will be completely satisfied. Just how unhappy some are, however, will determine if this proposed measure passes muster in November.

Early indications are not particularly encouraging. waitingforthebus4For anyone familiar with the Toronto Scarborough subway dogfight, the downtown-suburban divide that’s emerged over what would get funded and when throughout the some 88 municipalities within L.A. County with the new money is a very familiar one. “The system is certainly stacked against (small) cities,” said [James] Ledford, the mayor of Palmdale [a city of about 160,000 residents, about 100 kilometres northeast of Los Angles]. … “The downtown interests are certainly being taken care of.”

Routine territorial resentment aside, there is some irony in that fact that the westside of the city which has long resisted subway expansion (albeit, a fight lead almost exclusively by the municipality of Beverly Hills) could get not one but two subway lines, projects that are sitting atop the proposed list. While the argument in favour of them is persuasive, a denser population area with job hubs and a natural transit locus at UCLA and nearby hospitals, should the rest of the county, waitingforthebus5step aside and wait their turn because the transit need here is, at least in part, self-inflicted?

It’s not like some of the westside cities are being particularly gracious about the arrival of rapid transit either. With the coming of the Expo Line LRT to Santa Monica in May, there’s a “slow-growth” group, Residocracy, attempting to raise funds and signatures for their own ballot initiative, Land Use Voter Empowerment (LUVE) that would put the development process firmly into residents’ NIMBY hands. Thanks for the rapid transit, L.A. Make sure your asses are on that last train out of here when you leave.

Transit planning is so political. That’s not a novel observation, not here in Los Angeles certainly. When they began the big transit build in earnest with the first subway back in the 90s, the Bus Riders Union formed and eventually won a landmark civil rights case against the transit agency for using funds to construct shiny, high-end projects at the expense of much needed bus service throughout the rest of the city, waitingforthebus6establishing the idea of transit equity, transit justice. Transit planning is so political, with a dash of class conflict thrown in.

Metro’s approach to contend with that reality this time around seems to be to overwhelm everyone with the sheer scale and number of projects that it would seem impossible for anyone to ask: What’s in it for me? The question the initiative’s proponents may have to answer, though, is: What’s in it for me before I die at a ripe old age? A 40 year horizon is pretty hard to see, to grasp, to pitch to your constituents. 2056?! That’s like the title of some sci-fi B-movie.

If this ambitious plan is to proceed, starting with winning enough votes in November, project priority may have to be reworked, based not on sound planning principles but political necessity, not to mention fairness and actual need. waitingforthebus7Where is the biggest captive transit ridership in the county? Probably not on the westside of Los Angeles.

In an ideal world…but that’s not where we live, is it. Transit planning isn’t ultimately about best practices. It, like almost every other aspect of politics, is rife with compromise. Getting things done right gets truncated to simply getting things done. You accept that and hope the difference between one word doesn’t translate into having got things wrong.

by-the-numbersly submitted by Cityslikr


Rob Ford

March 24, 2016

I am sorry for your loss. 46 years of age is far too young to die. Cancer sucks. My condolences to the Ford family. Like all of them, I am sure, this is not how I wanted to see it end.

But I am thankful that, at least for the moment, it is over. The Rob Ford political/personal/family melodrama that has held the city of Toronto, a city of over 2.5 million residents, not some provincial backwoods, hillside, Hatfield-McCoy hamlet, in its dense, thick thrall for more than half a decade now has concluded. With the passing, perhaps, we can get on with having an honest debate about local governance and decision-making in the 21st-century.

As someone who only observed Rob Ford from the outside, never meeting him in person except to shake his hand once in the greeting line at one of his Ford Fest gatherings, my relationship with him is not at all complicated or complex. He was a terrible mayor, an awful local politician. His approach to representation functioned in the bleak zone of willful ignorance and stubborn self-certainty. If something conformed to his stunted, myopic world view, it must be right. Anything else was brushed aside as gravy.

That streetcar blocking the lane in front of him on his way to work must be the source of all congestion, everywhere in the city.

He leaves behind a legacy of belligerence, divisiveness, and a disdain for politicians, the bureaucracy and the political process itself. His 15+ years of public service was of the easiest kind. Push peoples’ buttons, get them angry, howl for simple solutions and lie about everything that could not be squared with reality. Millions became billions. Facts observed and acknowledged only when convenient.

The customer is always right, retail politics that Rob Ford mastered boiled down to nothing more than What can I do for you? The idea of What can I do for us? was an anathema to his political calculations. He was looking out for the little guy, gave voice to those left out of the civic discourse, as long as they saw things the way he did, said the same things he said.

Rob Ford is credited with alerting the otherwise unaware, largely downtown elite crowd to the alienated, angry, outsider voices of the inner suburbs. This is true although it hardly tells the whole truth. People were, and continue, to be angry. People weren’t being listened to or, more exactly, people weren’t being consulted, engaged with. There was indeed a certain smugness, let’s call it, at City Hall, a belief that people knew their best interests were being looked after. Bigger picture thinking was at work. The small details don’t matter.

Which turned out to be a near-fatal political mindset.

Speaking for myself, back in 2010, it wasn’t surprising many people were angry. I miscalculated the degree of anger. But mostly, I was caught off-guard that that anger so identified itself with Rob Ford and attached itself so strongly to him.

He appropriated the anger, giving it voice but no solutions. He had no interest in channeling it constructively, only in amplifying it incoherently and destructively. His Ford Nation wasn’t so much a cohesive ideology as it was pure demagoguery of blind resentment.

I don’t doubt anyone’s account of the human side of Rob Ford, his warmth, playfulness and generosity. While not at all getting the political charm of Rob Ford, others clearly did. You could watch him amiably chatting with kids in the council chambers. His enthusiasm bubbled over when he talked about things he loved, like football. That’s where the Everyman label got affixed to him.

That only proves anything if you adhere to a totality of behaviour of personality. Somebody is one thing or the other, and being one negates the other. But no one’s all saint, just as sure as nobody’s a complete shit bird.

Read through Karen Geier’s Remember these Rob Ford Gems?, compiled shortly after Ford re-emerged from what would not uncharitably be called a politically motivated rehab stint. None of it refuted. Christopher Bird’s Torontoist obituary similarly dismantles any notion of a well-intentioned but flawed character. Rob Ford seemed especially adept at one thing. Wreaking havoc. He left others to try and pick up the pieces of everything he broke.

Any notion of Rob Ford as a one-of-a-kind politician, there’ll never be another one like him again is a form of civic self-flattery. A singular political phenomenon we could never fall for again.

There will always be political opportunists. There’ll always be the possibility of another Ford. Pretending he was something he wasn’t only makes the possibility even more likely.

As we’ve seen, that would be disastrous for Toronto.

All of this in no way means I am happy he died. I am sorry for his death. I am sorry for those most affected by it. A death like he suffered will invariably leave a huge hole, a void in the lives of those closest to him.

What I am not sorry about, when all is said and done, is that I will never have to write about Rob Ford again.

submitted by Cityslikr


Trump On The Bus

March 22, 2016

guestcommentary

I have been thinking about the bus as a kind of plaza on wheels, the town square that requires an almost communal cooperation in order for it to work. In contrast to the smooth predictability of a subway ride, the bus trip, with its dips and turns, its brake jams and unexpected accelerations, forces you to acknowledge the stranger, either as someone you must work your way around in order to get to the exit, or literally anything else. It is much more intimate than a subway ride, in ways both agreeable and not. On a good day, though, and I swear this is true, it can start to feel like family.wheelsonthebus

Let me explain. The other day, I was on the La Brea bus, stopped at a light, when a serio-comic drama played out that we could all watch together from the comfort and safety of our seats. We saw an older driver at a gas station who had forgotten to replace the pump handle after she’d finished pumping her gas. The handle clanged loudly on the stained concrete tarmac as she the drove off, and remained there for only as long as it took the silver-haired man who was topping off his Mercedes to pick it up and place it back in its holder.

Only that’s not what happened. Rather, after a quick glance up from his I-phone, the man with the Mercedes went back to texting and topping off his tank.

We did not see what happened next, but apparently, disaster was avoided, and as the light turned green a spirited conversation arose. One person shook her head that certain people should not be allowed to drive. Another thought the man with the Mercedes was a dumb-ass because he would have been blown up too. happybusStill someone else (me, in fact) thought that it was just the latest embarrassing confirmation of L.A.’s own particular suit of self-absorbed la-dee-dah.

The conversation continued thus, and as happens, my attention drifted to other things. Where else but on a city bus, I thought, could a person find such serendipity? If I had witnessed the event while by myself, it would have weighed on me, made me cynical about the city and all its inhabitants. But because I’d witnessed it together with my homies on the bus, it was no big deal, and I was grateful to them for being there, for responding, for talking about it, and not pretending like they didn’t see it or that it didn’t matter. They were there for me, and I was there for them, my bus family. It was one of those rare moments when I loved my fellow man!

But then a guy got on the bus who totally harshed my Kumbaya.

“Good morning!” the energetic, middle-aged guy shouted at anyone who would listen. I wasn’t one of them. Despite my effusions about a bus-ride being like family, there are unspoken rules of conduct and one does not get on a bus or train and start greeting everyone. trapped

Anyway, not knowing what the dude wanted, I looked for the telltale candy bars and ear-buds that you see young men selling on the Blue Line to Compton. But no, this fast-talker wasn’t selling candy. He was selling Trump.

“I know you’re all for Bernie and Hillary,” he then set out. Guilty as charged, I thought, but still, why were my political leanings being questioned by a disruptive stranger on a bus? I tried to engage him with humor in order to defuse the situation. But that only served to provoke, and he launched into a menacing blitzkrieg of obscene political incorrectness that made my jaw drop. This had never happened to me before, and it was more than uncomfortable, it was frightening. Despite my growing sense of disbelief, I was nevertheless fully aware of the precedents – Hitler’s Brown Shirts, Mussolini’s Black Shirts, and the Brooks Bros.-clad Bushies shutting down the Florida chad count in 2000. Yes, I went there.

I wish I could say I was some kind of hero, but while I was shaken, I did not stir. I wanted to throw him off the bus, but didn’t, because a part of me refused to believe this was actually happening. pigeondrivesthebussPlus I’m a coward. Nevertheless, the man did get off the bus at the next stop. But for the rest of the day, I carried around a complex of uncomfortable feelings, from guilt that I had thought of violence, to shame that I had not been more clever, to anger at what the man had said and, equally, to embarrassment for being angry.

At the end of the day, I contacted one of my conservative friends, hoping to find some kind of reassurance that not everybody on the right thought this kind of behavior was okay.

“The first amendment is a wonderful thing,” my friend texted to my dismay.

But was this really just a case of a man exercising his first amendment right? Surely, there are limits to all rights. Wasn’t what he did akin to yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater? What if the driver had been bothered or provoked when the guy leaned over and murmured Trump catechisms into his ear? kumbayaYes, it could have been quite dangerous.

I went to bed that night thinking that maybe a bus isn’t really a public square after all. It’s too hard to get away from someone who chooses to provoke you by yelling Trumpisms in your face. Thank God for the unspoken rules of public transit, I thought to myself, getting into bed. And as I drifted off to sleep, I thought once more of my family, the one on the bus, and hoped that they were all doing fine. Kumbaya.

submitted by Cityslikr


Public Discourse In These Days Of Rage

March 21, 2016

People yell.

People lie. Lie boldly, lie big.bullhorn

People believe that an opinion stated is, by the very fact of its utterance, a valid opinion.

I speak, therefore I am… right. Thinking optional.

A plurality of voices is a good thing. It makes for robust dialogue. Limits should be none on who gets to speak, few on what it is they get to say.

That is where the level field stops.

Opinions expressed are not inherently equal opinions. Some opinions come clouded in prejudice, superstition, racism, sexism, classism. They are warped by ignorance, hatred and fear.

Of course, such opinions are allowed. In an open and democratic society, they should even be tolerated. More importantly, treated seriously. These opinions are the building blocks of dangerous social and political movements.

Such opinions need to be confronted. No, let’s not just agree to disagree. You are wrong, critically, perilously wrong. What you’re saying, the views you espouse, are harmful.

Absolutely, you are entitled to your opinions. Hold onto them tightly. fromtherooftopsProclaim them proudly.

Just don’t whine and stamp your feet when they’re challenged. You insist that all opinions are equal? Only if they can withstand scrutiny, bear up under cross-examination, and are open to adaptation when new facts come to light, different views emerge.

Bias exists in every opinion. How could it not? We are all frail-minded humans, subject to whims of fancy, inexpressible preferences, blinkered systems of belief. Objective truth resides exclusively in the realm of mathematics and hard sciences. And even then…

But your bias should always be undergoing inspection, both internally and externally, put through a regular stress-test. Does this point of view still hold up? Am I missing some crucial piece of information that might change my perspective? How many of us hold the same opinions we did when we were 17, 25, 35, 50? Opinions set in stone aren’t really opinions. They’re intellectual artefacts. Evidence of past thinking that (fingers crossed!) has moved with the advent of time, modified by new insights and ideas.

A firmly held opinion should always be suspect, never admired for its intensity but instead, for its rigour. notlisteningAn opinion doesn’t have to be balanced but it needs to come from a place of critical thought and thorough analysis. An opinion doesn’t even need to be fair-minded, only open-minded.

So, opine away. In newspaper editorials. And reader comment pages. Magazine columns. TV news debate roundtables. On social media. From the barstool of your favourite local.

For it is said, Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. Period. End stop. And that’s the point when the real discussion begins.

opinionatedly submitted by Cityslikr


The Gold Line

March 18, 2016

It ain’t easy, building public transit in the automobile age we live in. Demands are greater. Expectations higher. proveitPurse strings much tighter to pry open.

Cars are the status quo. The status quo gets a wider pass when it comes to building, rebuilding and over-building all the infrastructure necessary to maintain its primacy. Look at Toronto lately. Want to speed up repairs on the Gardiner Expressway? Money found. Done. A billion dollars more may also be spent keeping another section of that highway elevated just right. Done, and done.

Here in Los Angeles, the local public transit builder and provider, Metro, seems overly concerned about holding drivers’ hands, assuring them that they’re driving interests are being looked after too. “Metro eases traffic by tackling bottlenecks.” “Metro eases traffic with more options for drivers.” “Metro funds $430 million worth of local improvement projects each year, from signal synchronization to filling potholes and repaving roads.”

Yet every transit decision made – subway or LRT, rail or bus, this alignment or that – seems microscopically scrutinized in comparison. Success of whatever claims are made for public transit must be immediate and absolute. therethereAn empty bus spotted running its route is seen as a failure. An empty freeway or parking lot? Not so much.

My friend Ned and I rode the Gold Line yesterday, from end-to-end, Atlantic station in the central-east, around, up and out to the newest terminus, APU/Citrus College in the more north-east. The line just opened up a new, “6 stations, 5 cities”, 11.5 mile extension into the foothill communities of the San Gabriel Mountains to much anticipation and mixed reviews. Boon or blunder/One has to wonder?, the tormented transit poets asks.

“Politics brought the Gold Line into existence,” rail enthusiast Ethan N. Elkind wrote in the Los Angeles Times this week, not at all favourably.

Better mass transit is necessary across the region. But not every part of the county has the population to support rail. In the case of the Gold Line, we’ve brought expensive train technology to a generally low-density area that could be more economically served by bus rapid transit or commuter buses running in the right-of-way.

In the LA Weekly over the past week or so, Gene Maddaus has been writing extensively about the transit future of Los Angeles, exploring the complicated politics of it. Will More Transit Actually Ease L.A.’s Traffic? he asks in one article. goldline2On the Gold Line yesterday, running alongside the packed 210 freeway for a bit, it’s hard to respond to Mr. Maddaus’s question in the affirmative. We’re building all this and traffic’s still bad? Not to mention that earlier this year, it was reported that transit ridership numbers were down. We’re building all this and people aren’t using it?

All these questions and concerns are legitimate and should be asked and not shrugged off. The 6 new stations on the Gold Line certainly do feel more like a commuter rail service. All stopped right next to parking lots. There was little sign of much street life around any of the stations (albeit, just from my view aboard the train). When we arrived at the last stop, we got out to get a coffee. goldlineINot seeing anything in the immediate vicinity, Ned asked a woman who had just parked her car and was heading to the Metro to get to the Kings game downtown (one less car on the road which is not insignificant) if there was a nearby coffee shop we could get to. “Walking?!” she responded, as incredulously as that. Not easily. Not quickly.

Should this LRT have been a bus lane instead? Maybe. But we all know the politics of that. Buses engender little love or respect. Buses in their own dedicated bus lane can draw the ire of drivers.

That isn’t meant to negate the argument. It’s just that the rigorousness applied to building and paying for public transit is rarely brought to bear when it comes to other forms of transportation, and by other forms of transportation, natch, I mean the private automobile. Conventional wisdom seems to already be that self-driving cars will relieve us all of our congestion woes. trafficcongestionHow do we know that to be a fact any more than we know the Gold Line should’ve been a bus route instead of an LRT?

In discussing the upcoming ballot initiative to raise $120 billion for new transportation projects, former Los Angeles County supervisor, Zev Yaroslavsky said, “Everything’s gotta go perfectly for Metro politically” for the measure to win. Perfectly. On a measure that includes, according to the LA Times Transportation and Mobility writer, Laura J. Nelson, nearly 20% of the proposed money would go to highway construction and enhancements. Where 80% of the 18.4 cents federal gas tax still goes into roads.

Billions of dollars being spent to build, expand and enhance roads and freeways when we know, categorically, that doing that only serves to increase driving numbers, cars on the road, congestion. stubbornBut when it comes to public transit? It’s gotta be perfect.

We need to change the terms of this debate. Driving cannot be the default mobility mode around which everything else must function. It will be an uphill battle. It will not happen overnight. That’s the thing about the status quo. It’s dug in deep. Dislodging it will take a lot more effort than it should.

confoundedly submitted by Cityslikr