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

Road Trip

March 17, 2016

There might be more than a few of you out there who, when you think about me at all, think of me as something of an anti-car zealot. roadtrip3Such a thought wouldn’t be entirely incorrect. I do so hate cars.

I do, however, love me a good road trip. Does that make me a hypocrite? A person laced with contradictions? Perhaps. But who amongst us isn’t subject to the fault lines of contradiction?

Let me float a theory in my defense, as a rationalization for this apparent personal discrepancy.

There is a difference between driving, engaging in the daily grind of getting back and forth to work, to pick up groceries, to chauffeur the kids to school and home, to conduct other chores, you know, the regular routine of getting from point A to point B, and the occasional figurative roof down, tunes cranked, freedom flying of the road trip. Picture a road trip and you see almost every car commercial that litters our TV and movie screens. Not another vehicle in sight. Pavement so wide and open it’s impossible not to Sammy Hagar. roadtripYou are that professional driver in the closed track of your mind.

I hit peak road trip on Monday, about an hour and a half outside of Death Valley, heading back to Los Angeles. Redrock Randsbury Rd., it was, in and around Saltdale which, from my very brief glance out the open window to my left, consisted of 4 abandoned railway freight cars. Granted, I may’ve missed something, going the speed I was, without another car anywhere in Kern County it felt like. And then, wouldn’t you know it, NEKO CASE AND NICK CAVE POP UP ON THE RADIO, COVERING SHE’S NOT THERE! REALLY!!

I love driving the American southwest. It’s mesmerizing. It isn’t welcoming like, say, a summertime northeast and New England. It isn’t bleak or desolate either, the words that first spring to mind. The American southwest, the desert southwest, feels actively hostile to human life. It screams: You Shouldn’t Be Here. There’s nothing for you. Do not put down roots. It will only turn out badly.deathvalley

The land underestimated the rapaciousness of the Europeans and their descendants. Great wealth was found throughout this region for those tough enough, unscrupulous enough, lucky enough to find it, mine it, exploit it, secure it and sell it. The scars can still be seen, gouged into the earth and dotting the landscape in the remnants of ghost towns and places heading in that direction.

Both of which add to — because I lack the vocabulary to aptly describe it, I’ll steal the now stale words from W.B. Yeats — a ‘terrible beauty’ to the American southwest. The definitive great place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. Certainly not permanently. I’m just passing through, acknowledging the grandeur of the surroundings, and then on my way to somewhere more hospitable, more conducive to, well, pretty much everything else.

roadtrip1The essence of the road trip.

Our cars have made that increasingly possible, perhaps intrusively so. Whatever happened to riding the rails, seeing all there was to see atop the observation deck, cocktail in hand? There is certainly a romantic appeal to that to my increasingly 19th-century soul. But it’s a slippery slope of reductive reasoning. Why a train? The bicycle not good enough for you? A bicycle?! What, you have something against horses? A horse, you say? What’s the rush, where’s the fire, Speedy McSpeederino? The burro is the only way to see the world. Lookit, Mr. Too Good To Use His Own Two Feet, high and mighty up on his donkey.

These are the times we live in, though, the twilight of the automobile age, brought on by the increasing demand from drivers for that road trip feel every time they sit behind the wheel of their car. What’s that 18-wheeler doing out in this lane, slowing everyone done. Shouldn’t they have their own highway? Why am I stuck behind that RV? We need to widen the road! roadtrip2Where’s the exhilaration gone in my daily commute? The joy of discovery and absolute freedom promised me in all the car ads I’m bombarded by?

I didn’t buy this slick machine and move out to where I had to drive for every aspect of my life just so I could be stuck in traffic day in and day out.

That’s where driving and the road trip collide. Road trips serve as an escape, a fun change of scenery, a getaway. Driving is simply one mode of mobility, usually the least efficient, most expensive way to move people around. A get-from-and-to, let’s call it. Road tripping pretty much requires a private vehicle of some sort. Getting people around a city, a region doesn’t. We need to stop confusing the two.

into the sunset-ly submitted by Cityslikr

An Unfortunate Interlude

March 14, 2016


I know I said I wasn’t going to write about politics in Toronto while living down here in Los Angeles in my self-imposed exile. And I know what I’m about to write has already been written about by others, more than just a few others, so I’m just echoing in the echo chamber. But I feel this is something that needs to be said, said often and said by many.

SmartTrack and John Tory.

SmartTrack was always bullshit, right from the very start. It was never a transit plan. It was an election strategy, to elect a candidate who was unprepared to stand up to the ridiculous politicization of transit planning that had overcome the city during the Ford years. SmartTrack was simply just another sharpie line drawn on a magic marker map of vote-getting transit… no, not ideas, that gives them far too much credibility. Schemes. Plots. crayondrawingFlights of pure political calculation.

One penny spent on studying the feasibility of SmartTrack was a penny too many, and Toronto has spent hundreds of millions of pennies already studying SmartTrack. Each new report reveals it to be the sham that it is, shrivelling its desiccated frame even further, to mere whiffs of its former self, fragments, shards. The once vaunted heavy rail Western spur, gone. The 22 new stations now down to 9, then 5, maybe 4.

SmartTrack as a figment of a campaign team’s lack of imagination. We need to do the exact same thing as the other guy except different. Be Bold. Assail your critics. We can fix it later, patch it together in editing.

Now as mayor, with his signature transit platform being picked clean, John Tory wants us to credit him for listening to the experts, gleaning the facts and figures and being willing to change plans, adapt and accommodate, reach a consensus. (Something his immediate predecessor was never able to bring himself to do, Mayor Tory reminds us.) I say, fuck that. cuttothebone1None of these ‘new’ facts or figures now emerging from staff reports are in any way new or unforeseen. SmartTrack’s non-workable components were obvious from the get-go, the timeline dubious, the scope and cost highly suspect. As a candidate, John Tory swatted away these criticisms as little more than a symptom of our culture of ‘No’, a timidity, a lack of Vision.

So, give him no credit for changing his tune. It is nothing more than a cynical ploy, another cynical ploy to add to the mountains of cynical ploys that have plagued transit planning in Toronto for decades now. This is not an example of being reasonable or adaptable. The mayor continues to blow smoke up our asses and wants us to thank him for some sort of colonic treatment.

Besides, SmartTrack is far from being dead and buried, a painful relic. Professor Eric Miller, a SmartTrack champion from the outset, grading it an A+ during the 2014 mayoral campaign and, as director of the University of Toronto’s Transportation Research Institute, hired by the city to assess its feasibility, isn’t backing down on his bold claims. wishfulthinking“The Stouffville (GO) line [the eastern leg on the SmartTrack map] has the potential to become the Yonge St. [subway line] of Scarborough — a strong, north-south spine upon which one can then hang effective east-west lines,” Professor Miller told Tess Kalinowski of the Toronto Star.

That statement comes with plenty of qualifiers. “If it’s operating in a competitive way…”, Miller believes SmartTrack can be as important a component to redefining public transit in Toronto as the long vaunted relief line. If it’s run at subway-like frequency. If there’s rail capacity to do so and capacity at Union Station to handle such an increase. If there’s proper integration with GO fares and SmartTrack service is delivered at a TTC price.

That’s a lot of ifs that have plagued SmartTrack from the very beginning, and have yet, nearly two years on, to be satisfactorily answered. fingerscrossedAs Stefan Novakovic pointed out in Urban Toronto, the continued studying of SmartTrack’s viability may well be negatively affecting actual, honest to god, necessary transit plans like the relief line. Instead of running that line down along the King Street corridor where ridership numbers warrant, plans are brewing to put it under Queen Street instead, in order to avoid overlap with the possible southern swing of SmartTrack if that were to happen which remains in the highly doubtful category. Is SmartTrack stunting the relief line even further, as Steve Munro suggests, by threatening an over-build of rapid transit in Scarborough, with its eastern leg competing with the proposed Scarborough subway extension, combining to squeeze out a more sensible northeast passage of the relief line?

Just more questions to add to the many existing questions that continue to point to SmartTrack as an obstacle to Toronto’s public transit future rather than contributing any sort of positive solution.

So yeah, unless Mayor Tory steps up and admits that his SmartTrack is a terrible idea, was always a terrible idea, and the only reason for its existence was to get him elected mayor of Toronto, he deserves zero credit for his willingness to change course now. californiasunshine3Any iteration of SmartTrack will be a setback for transit building in this city, and if the Toronto Star’s Royson James is right, and what we have on the table now is as good as it’s going to get, then John Tory will have succeeded only in cementing the politicization of transit planning for decades to come, generations even. The mayor deserves no reward for that.

And now, back to our regular scheduled, southern California programming.

re-calmly submitted by Cityslikr

L.A. Story III

March 11, 2016

This is a true story.

One from the archives, a part of an oral tradition told to anyone who’s ever asked if I saw anybody famous while I lived in Los Angeles.jamescaan4

Back in the early 1990s, on my first L.A. go-round, we were sitting in our 1983, rusting-out but still trusted Toyota Tercel, outside a West Hollywood boutique hotel. A friend of ours was in town, on some official film bid-ness, and we were waiting to take her sightseeing. The weather was agreeable, I can only imagine, as a remembrance.

As we waited, I noticed a fairly sizeable car approaching us, slowly, from the opposite direction. I’d like to think it was a convertible because it makes the story that much better. But I couldn’t tell you for certain that’s what it was. It was probably just a big car, windows down, soaking in the nice weather I think I remember it being.

What I do know for a fact was that James Caan was driving that car. Jimmy Caan, baby, in what should’ve been a convertible but probably wasn’t, eating what I think was an apple but might’ve been some sort of sandwich. He’s driving towards us, slowly, slow enough that I can tell you for sure, swear on a stack of bibles, it was him.jamescaan1

Now, you have to understand, for someone my age and with the undying love I have for The Godfather, this is a big deal, huge! (Or ‘uge, as I imagine Caan would pronounce it.) Celebrity sightings don’t get much bigger or better than this. I’m all a-flutter. When he finally cruises right by us, should I say ‘Hi’ or play it cool with just a ‘Whattup’ nod? Or maybe don’t even acknowledge him, pretend he’s just another guy in a big car that should be a convertible, eating what might be an apple or possibly a sandwich. James Caan? So what? So what have you done for us lately?

What I couldn’t do, this being the early-1990s and all, and having no circa 2016-era cell phone, is to video the entire proceedings that were about to unfold in order to prove that what I’m going to tell you is absolutely true except for some of the minor details which only really add flavour to the tale.

Unbelievably, as he gets to almost right beside our car, James Caan slows his already slow moving vehicle to a stop. He’s right there, James Caan, looking at me looking at him through his open window. Oh my god! Oh My god!! Oh My God!!! OH MY GOD!!!! OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD!!!!! jamescaan6Clearly, I’ve blown my cool and he noticed me, gawking at him, like some star struck, mouth-breathing, yokel from anywhere else other than Los Angeles or, possibly, New York. He’s going to say something smart-alecky or wise-acre like: Hey. Take a picture, pal. It’ll last longer.

But no. It’s even better. Miles better.

Through a partially full mouth (or maybe he took a moment to swallow, I can’t honestly remember), James Caan, car stopped, turns to look at us and says (and I’m quoting here):

“Where the fuck is La Cienega?”

It’s not a nasty tone. There’s no hotheaded Sonny Corleone ire directed toward us. It’s just mild frustration, expressed in an I-don’t-give-a-shit-what-you-think-of-me manner you would expect from James Caan. jamescaan3Note perfect, in other words.

While in this part of the city, La Cienega Boulevard is a pretty straight north-south (?) street, the layout of the area can certainly be disorienting. Santa Monica Boulevard has just finished going diagonally rogue, heading north-north-east toward Sunset, leaping up past Wilshire in the process. San Vicente meanders like an uncertain tributary. A regular grid pattern is interrupted enough times around here to unsettle even the calmest of drivers. James Caan does not appear to be a calm driver.

Not being from this part of Los Angeles but desperately wanting to be of assistance, I take a moment to get my bearings and begin to explain how he can get back to La Cienega. I’m not fast enough, however, to stop the driver behind Caan’s car from giving a quick beep of his horn. jamescaanI imagine James Caan has been slow rolling for a while now, looking for La Cienega, and establishing something of a funeral procession of unwilling and not at all star-struck drivers behind him.

He’s not as understanding, it seems, as he shouts something like ‘Hold on a second, wouldya!’ back at the car behind him. James Caan then turns pleasantly back to me. “These people in L.A. Supposed to be so nice, right?”

I’m a little rattled, however, and try to quickly finish giving him directions. He has to turn left at the next stop sign and then another left when he gets to… whatever, whatever. It’s 20 years ago. Like I’ve got the exact details on this particular point.

Not that it matters anyway because the driver behind Caan, or one of them, at any rate, leans on his horn inciting James Caan to go ballistic. We’re talking They just shot pop/Carlo beat up Connie again/Michael went and enlisted full on nuts. An incomprehensible, expletive laced diatribe that felt like it went on for minutes but probably lasted 10, 15 seconds, max. jamescaan5Then, sweetly, pleasantly, James Caan turns back to us and thanks us for giving him directions that I’m pretty sure he in no way took in. It simply wasn’t possible. Not with all that commotion going on.

James Caan then proceeds to drive past us down the street, picking up his tirade in midstream, it seems, the yelling and screaming slowly receding, only due to the increased distance from us not its intensity. We sit back in our seats. Huh. So, that was a celebrity sighting.

Our friend emerges from her hotel. Getting into the car, she asks what all the noise was that she’d heard from in the lobby. I’d like to think, we took a suitable dramatic pause, looked at each other, and with simultaneous shrugs matter-of-factly responded:

James Caan.