Vernacular Of The Vine

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(With yesterday’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee’s unanimous vote of approval for the Hybrid #3 option to keep the Gardiner East expressway elevated, a timely post from our L.A. correspondent, Ned Teitelbaum)

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For some time now, I have been playing a game in my head whereby I compare the freeway system of L.A. to a system of vines in a vineyard. losangelesvineywardHow, for example, would a particular vineyard be helped if a little strategic pruning were done? Would the vines allow for a more effective transport of minerals and nutrients to the grapes? And how, analogously, would the city of Los Angeles be helped by a judicious pruning of its freeways? Would cars move more freely into our pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods? Is that a good thing? A bad thing? Some wine-growers like to stress their vines, but could that very stress lead to grape rage?

Okay, so the analogy isn’t exact. But this particular act of analogizing is not so far-fetched, because while we don’t usually think of L.A. as wine country, that’s exactly what it was for the first hundred-plus years of its existence, with the earliest vineyards being established in 1781 at the Mission de Los Angeles. At first they were planted primarily to the drought-resistant, low-acid Airen grape from La Mancha, in Spain. Soon they were joined by other vitis vinifera and spread throughout the area. cheonggyecheonMany vineyards were added in the early 1800s and the industry was well-established by the time the Forty-Niners hit northern California with a rapacious thirst for Los Angeles wine.

The vineyards, unfortunately, were torn up long ago, but palimpsests of that key period of L.A.’s wine history abound, from the random ubiquity of grapes growing in private gardens and backyards to the streets named after early L.A. winemakers like Vignes, Kohler, Wolfskill and Requena. And then there’s the world’s most iconic street corner, Hollywood and Vine, which marks the transition from a town tied to the land to a city hitched to the stars.

L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne had not dissimilar thoughts on “trimming” (his word) what he calls the “stub end of the 2 freeway as it bends south and west from Interstate 5 and dips into Silver Lake and Echo Park.” Upon reading the article I wanted to celebrate. cheonggyecheonafterI had been waiting for this moment in L.A. history, when the city would decide, or at least decide to decide, that it was time to start pruning.

The plan for the 2 freeway doesn’t call for tearing it down (or uprooting it, in the language of the vine), but for re-purposing it. Traffic lanes would be reduced and narrowed, and housing and storefronts would go up along its sides. A park would be built down the middle, which would connect to the L.A. River, where another park is currently being planned under the direction of Frank Gehry. There is even a notion to run a resurrected light rail through it, from Downtown to Glendale, summoning the memory of the Red Cars of two generations ago.

This all comes against the backdrop of other cities removing their urban highways, from the Embarcadero in San Francisco, to the Whitehurst Freeway in Washington,DC, to Harbor Drive in Portland to Cheonggyecheon in Seoul. Could L.A. join this illustrious list of cities? hollywoodandvineIt’s beyond imagination – and, most probably at this time, beyond the imagination of city leaders as well.

Mr. Hawthorne knows it won’t be easy. But even in the letters to the editor critical of his idea (which most of them were), one could sense that the status quo is to nobody’s liking. Being aware of that is a good first step. Los Angeles will surely not be able to support the number of vines (or cars) that it once did, but that shouldn’t prevent it from pruning, as well as uprooting, in order to save the vineyard.

vino veritasly submitted by Ned Teitelbaum

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

De-Pave Paradise And Tear Down That Parking Lot

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(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.)

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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.”

toliveanddieinLA

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