As Advertised

April 26, 2016

Maybe we’ve been thinking about this incorrectly, our approach gone about all wrong.brightidea

What if, instead of getting caught up in a race to modernize the city, to adapt to a changing environment, demographics, that whole, confusing and, frankly, somewhat suspect new urbanism business, Toronto pitch itself as a haven from the 21st-century? Why bother trying to keep pace with New York City? It’s a losing battle. Paris? Forget it. Too European. Even Los Angeles, the very model of a major metropolitan area (as sung by The Beach Boys), is valiantly attempting to reconfigure its transportation hierarchy.

There’s a niche opening up here for our city if we’re bold enough to seize the opportunity.

You Like Things Just The Way They Used To Be? Tired Of Having To Rethink Your Strongly Held Views? 1950scaradDo You Suspect That Prioritizing Public Transit And Other Forms Of Non-Car Commuting Is Probably Some Sort Of Special Interest Agenda? Don’t Mind Sitting In Traffic With The Tunes Blasting In Your Smooth, Smooth Ride? (Do You Know How Much This Honey Cost Me? Status, Baby. Status.)

Then Toronto just might be the place for you.

The bones of a dynamic, autocentric, 1950s throwback city are pretty much still in place. We’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars to maintain an elevated urban expressway. Who else is doing that? Our mayor and city council leave no stone unturned in finding money to repair our roads while remaining tight-lipped and fisted funding transit.

And development? As long as we can keep the towers going up downtown, replenishing the wider tax base, the “village feel” we all rabidly protect elsewhere will be maintained. americangothicMidrise? That’s not the kind of neighbourhood I want to raise my kids in. Think about the traffic! Oh, and the children.

Change is hard. Not changing is easy. With everybody else out there chasing change, Toronto can tap into the inevitable reactionary discontent.

Disgruntled? Fed Up With Being Told You Made A Terrible Lifestyle Choice? Ready To Put Down Roots Somewhere Your Self-Important Sense Of Entitlement Will Be Appreciated And Catered To?

Toronto is the place. Dig in here. Call it home.

spitballingly submitted by Cityslikr


Misrepresenting Congestion

April 22, 2016

I’ve been trying to get my head around our continued, if not love affair with, our prioritization of, car travel. We know our auto dependency skews and hobbles entire transportation networks. We know that. thinking1We know the least efficient, most expensive way to move the greatest number of people around a heavily populated region is with single-occupant vehicles. We know the high environmental and social costs of driving, and driving, and driving.

But in our hearts, the car commercials promise us freedom behind the wheel. Wide open roads. Wind in our hair. Where are the open roads?

A status quo bias also figures into this. It’s always more difficult to dethrone the king. You have to knockout the champ to earn the title not win on points. Imagining a future that’s different from the past takes work, especially if it’s a past we lionize in golden hues, a past we need to return to get out from under our present woes.

And did I mention the car ads? Their relentless assault on our faculties of reasoning. Zoom, zoom. I want my zoom, zoom.

But there could be something else at work here, helping to keep our entrenched views entrenched. How we measure congestion, commuting and mobility may tilt decision-making in favour of auto use. A heavy thumb on the scale, the question is always framed: zoomzoomHow can we make car travel faster?

Or call it, ‘roadway delay’. Over the past week or so, the Transportation 4 America blog has been writing about it, anticipating the release of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s rules regulating use for federal funds for road and bridges upkeep, congestion, emissions, etc., etc., the whole transportation shebang. Reading through it, a couple huge ideas jumped out at me. In no particular order:

Because there’s a direct connection between how we decide to measure congestion and the resulting strategies for addressing it.

The report’s touchstone metric is a blunt measure of peak-hour speeds compared to an empty road in the middle of the night.

The report focuses only on drivers — not commuters as a whole.

Let me go back a bit. The report being referred to here is the annual publication, Travel Time Index, issued by an entity called the Texas Transportation Institute. It’s nothing official but gets a lot of press coverage and appears to unduly influence how certain jurisdictions apportion their transportation dollars.

Continuing:

TTI completely ignores the actual time and distance of commutes. If you have a 20-minute commute home but move at a lower speed, your commute scores worse than the person driving 80 minutes at a higher speed.

[Roadway] Delay is also blind to how many people a corridor is actually moving — it only looks at the number of vehicles.

So to recap, an influential report on congestion 1) uses a traffic measurement for driving essentially on an empty freeway as a baseline; 2) judges those driving shorter distances at slower speeds as having ‘worse’ commutes than those travelling greater distances at higher speeds; 3) counts vehicles’ movements not people’s movements; sleightofhand4) tabulates data on driving and driving only.

To re-recap: influential report on congestion makes like we only travel around cities individually in our cars, the longer time spent driving the better, and we should demand absolute car commercial ease while behind the wheel, not another soul on the road, zoom zoom.

Is it any wonder we think car travel is, realistically, the only viable way to get around, and believe that anything that gets in their way, threatens a smooth ride from point A to point B, must be dealt with expeditiously and decisively? No money spared to keep the wheels a-rolling, no cost too steep to ensure unhampered  mobility. Who’s to blame for this slowdown? Beep beep. I’ve got places to go. Why are you all using my road now?

Imagine determining public transit congestion in a similar fashion. The baseline being a subway stop in your basement that is just waiting for you whenever you want to ride it. It doesn’t stop until you get to where you’re going, always travelling at top speed. doesnotaddupThe longer you ride it, the further and faster you go, is considered a more desirable commute than if you were stuck going a fraction of the distance and speed. Anything other than those optimal conditions would be considered congestion and some sort of expensive fix would be called for.

That’s ridiculous, you’d say. Completely unrealistic. And you’d be right, too, but it seems such ludicrously automobile-friendly studies carry actual weight with decision-makers and dictate how public money and resources, lots and lots of money and resources, get spent on transportation. Slanted and skewed out of any sensible proportion. Zoom zoom.

Besides, public transit congestion studies? What’re you on about? Just be thankful there’s public transit to not study.

In responding to criticism that the Texas Transportation Institute is too focused on the driver piece of the congestion puzzle, the author of the 2015 report, Tim Lomax responded.

We have backed away from trying to make estimates of what is happening on the transit side because we don’t have very good transit data. We don’t have good data about how people are walking. So we concentrated on where we have the data.

We concentrate on where we have data. Where there’s no data, existence is questionable. Yeah, I think I might’ve seen one or two people on foot out there through my windshield. Yield to a bus? Come on. There’s no such thing.

We study it (regardless of how flawed the methodology), therefore it is.

I don’t know if the Texas Transportation Institute’s Urban Mobility Reports are extreme cases of unbalanced bias adversely affecting public infrastructure choices, something of an outlier. sweepundertherugHere in Toronto, headline grabbing discussion papers, like this one from the Board of Trade in 2013, talk of commute times in terms of a mix of drivers and public transit users but, I’ll be damned if I can find the exact ratios. 70% of commutes in the GTHA are made by car, 5% by rail (GO and the subway), leaving a substantial 25% unexplained gap. Bus riders? Cyclists? Walkers? No data. Of no consequence.

We learn that commute times throughout the GTHA had risen to 66 minutes each way. Nowhere could I find, however, how that time was arrived at. Were drivers spending less time getting to work and back than those using public transit? Probably, because outside of parts of the downtown core of Toronto (maybe), it’s always faster to take a car than it is public transit.

What we do discover is that Toronto drivers spend 40 days of every year driving and:

Most emblematic of congestion in the Toronto Region is the 401 highway, declared “officially the busiest stretch of freeway anywhere in North America” by none other than the US Department of Transportation.

Really? The most emblematic? Not that person, stuck out in some transit desert (part of the missing 25%), unable to drive, praying for the bus to come soon, so they don’t miss their connection to the next bus?

To be fair to the Board of Trade, they’ve been consistently beating the drum for massive investment in public transit, paid for, largely, by drivers. openroad1Yet, when your emphasis and highlights focus on the plight of drivers, it’s a tough sell to then ask them to cough up more cash for something they’re not in the habit of using. What’s in it for me?

Unsurprisingly, 3 years on, a couple election campaigns later, no new transit funding is in place, grand plans remain very much theoretical. Money has been found, though, to widen one highway, speed up repairs on a second and keep another portion elevated to save minutes for an infinitesimally small percentage of drivers. Why? Because there’s ample data to support such decision, if you’re used to looking at it a certain way. Because that’s just how it’s been forever or, at least, the past 70 years or so. Because zoom zoom.

wonderingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Blatant Disregard

April 18, 2016

The plan, before taking down the ‘Goes Hollywood’ banner, was to write up some sort of insightful synopsis of this past winter spent in Los Angeles and the U.S. southwest. Aspringdancelmost 3 months spent blithely paying little to no heed to the weather, aside from constantly thinking, It’s quite nice out today, isn’t it? Oh! Look! Flowers!

There was going to be more edge to it, of course. Hopefully, with some depth of perception and originality, touching upon something that no one had ever noticed or written about Los Angeles before. Warren Zevon would figure prominently in the post.

But, as happens, actual, real time events, in the here and now, put scupper to my intentions. Los Angeles and Warren Zevon would have to wait. There were more immediate, pressing matters to expound upon.

I will say this, though, about Los Angeles. Despite enormous strides in the last 20 years to get out from under the deadweight of automobile dependency, it is still a car town. Far and away, from almost anywhere in the city, if you have the means, it is easier and faster to get to where you’re going and back, driving. lafreeway2Regardless of all those photographs showing unremitting gridlock, freeways jammed as far as the eye can see, carmageddon, day in and day out, you’ll still arrive at your destination sooner in your car than any other form of transport.

While this is true also for many parts of Toronto and the GTA region, it felt, at least to this downtowner’s mind, that we weren’t as far gone down that path road of car-centricity as a place like L.A. The incline wasn’t going to be as steep a climb to pull our collective selves back up and out from under it. Despite the eruptions of exuberant transportation irrationality like we have witnessed recently, sanity on the file didn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility. Enough smart people with enough decision-making clout knew what had to be done. The only question was how to best go about doing it.

And then came black freaky Friday, and frankly, all bets are off.

Ontario is widening the four-kilometre stretch of Highway 401 from Hurontario Street to the Credit River in Mississauga from six to 12 lanes.

What in the holy hell?! Widening a fucking highway!? From 6 to 12 lanes?!?! In the GTA!?!?! Who’s authorized this??

From the Office of the Premier.

Of Ontario, I presume. Not the premier of Fuckity Fuck Fuck Stan. (I don’t even know what that means. It’s gobsmacked babble.)

Unbelievable.

You don’t increase road space to relieve congestion. hahahanoYou increase road space to give the impression you’re relieving congestion. That’s just basic transportation planning 101. Unless you’re Wendell Cox or Randal O’Toole. Or, unless it’s 1954. (Or the governor of Illinois, it seems.)

This is so wrong-headed and standing in defiance of every smart growth, green belt measure that this government is purported to support, it defies comprehension. Think that’s just me, some anti-car zealot railing? Listen to the mayor of Houston, something of a sprawl town itself, give a speech to the Texas Transportation Commission.

 If there’s one message that I’d like to convey, it’s that we’re seeing clear evidence that the transportation strategies that the Houston region has looked to in the past are increasingly inadequate to sustain regional growth.

This example [Katy freeway, Interstate 10] , and many others in Houston and around the state, have clearly demonstrated that the traditional strategy of adding capacity, especially single occupant vehicle capacity on the periphery of our urban areas, exacerbates urban congestion problems. These types of projects are not creating the kind of vibrant, economically strong cities that we all desire.

The Katy freeway (as explained here in Streetsblog), “A Monument To Texas Transportation Futility”, was expanded from 8 lanes to a staggering 23 – 23 lanes! – with a result, seemingly, to be increased car travel times along it. katyAlmost immediately. Let me italicise that for you. Increased car travel times.

This should come as no surprise to anyone. Provide more road space, more people will use it to drive. Rinse and repeat.

Last Thursday, I attended the Students Retrofit the Suburbs event where planning students from Ryerson’s City Building Institute presented, well, plans for 3 spots in the suburban areas in and around Toronto that had been ravaged by the single-use built form design footprint used to accommodate car use, and car use only. One of the panelists asked them how they would deal with the community pushback and resistance that inevitably crops up when fundamental change is proposed in their neighbourhoods. Good question.

An even bigger one, however, is how to deal with political intransigence in the face of necessary change. A knowing, willful disregard for hard truths and expert advice from our elected officials who should be showing leadership, and making decisions about the future rather than simply trying to maintain the past. notlisteningDon’t think that’s the case? Then why did the premier’s office try and slip this news by everyone with a Friday morning announcement?

They knew. They know. They just don’t care about anything except for the long term health of their party.

When the press release surfaced, our friend John McGrath tweeted, “24 lane-kilometres of highway and the government just pays for it, no muss no fuss. 26 lane-klilometres of LRT along Sheppard East? haha no.” We are all familiar with the torturous pace and process of building transit in the GTA. The drawing and redrawing and drawing again of lines on maps, accompanied, of course, by the game of pass the buck when it comes to who pays for it. But when it comes to building roads? Everybody can’t open the public purse quick enough to throw money around without so much as a second thought. $81 million on this particular project.

The kicker is, the Liberal government is the urban party at Queen’s Park right now. That’s how they patched together another majority in 2014. The city vote. They’ll get no fight from the opposition on this. yougetacarJust like they got no fight from them on the Subway Champions banner the Liberals waved during the by and general elections in Scarborough. As long as highways are widened, road capacity is added, infrastructure money thrown around in their neck of the woods, everyone will agree that widening highways is a proper and wise use of scarce public dollars.

Facts be damned. Reality get stuffed.

That’s not governance. It’s pure and utter negligence.

unhappy returningly submitted by Cityslikr


Vernacular Of The Vine

March 2, 2016

guestcommentary

(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)

*  *  *

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


Walk Like A Pedestrian

February 24, 2016

There are lots of places to walk in Los Angeles if that’s something you really want to do, something you’ve come here with the intention of doing plenty of. walkonthebeachThere’s that big chunk of sandy, oceanfront real estate that you can make your way up and down. Parks and other green spaces are part of the urban landscape if you know where to look. Plenty of shopping malls, both inside and out, can be hit by a rock thrown in almost any direction. During the course of an average day, one does walk from one’s house to one’s car, and then from one’s car to one’s place of business. You might even find yourself getting out of your car to walk around it in order to inspect whatever damage might’ve been inflicted by that asshole backing out of his parking spot too quickly.

But walking as a matter of fact, as something done during the course of an average day, as an actual mode of getting around, seems out of the ordinary, most likely the result of an unfortunate turn of events. “I’m sorry, miss,” the driver says through a powered down passenger side window, to a passer-by on foot. “Did your car break down? Would you like me to call AAA or a family member? You probably don’t have a phone either, I’m guessing.”rodeodrive

During my short time here so far, I haven’t detected outright hostility toward me from drivers when I’m making my way around town on foot. Most of the encounters or exchanges I’ve had with them at intersections and crosswalks are greeted pretty much by the element of surprise. Oh! I didn’t see there. Walking right in front of me. Usually it’s followed by a sheepish, apologetic wave as we then proceed to go about our respective businesses.

This goes a long way to explaining why an awful lot of motorists in Los Angeles have a tendency to race to a stop at red lights and stop signs. The clearly demarcated pedestrian right of ways painted on the pavement are considered suggestions more than absolutes. If you can help it, maybe try stopping before these lines instead of somewhere within them. You know, just in case, in the off-chance, somebody might actually be trying to make their way across the street on foot.thegrove

And the rolling stops at stop signs! Oh my. STOP is roughly translated into ‘Please slow down enough to give the appearance of trying your best to obey the law. If you don’t mind. Thank you so much.’ The appearance of a pedestrian in the middle of this well-rehearsed car ballet at a neighbourhood 4-way stop brings the whole thing to a crashing halt in a frenzy of uncertainty. Can I cross with this interloper or do I have to still wait my turn? Get out the manual, Martha. Get out the manual!

Just in case, honk your horn to signify something isn’t quite right.

I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve hesitated to step into the street, even with the clear right-of-way, uncertain that a vehicle barreling down toward me will stop in time. Or felt the need to pick up the pace while in an intersection, uncertain that a vehicle barreling down toward me will stop in time. Walking in the car-dominant streets of this city involves a noticeable degree of uncertainty for pedestrians which might explain why lots of people don’t do it unless it’s absolutely necessary.

In places where there’s at least the pretense of concern for pedestrian safety, hikinglaa nod in the direction of equality for all road users, I’ve been known to give drivers who are harshing my walking mellow, encroaching on my space and making me fear for my safety, the ol’ stink-eye. Essentially, a facial What the fuck are you doing, dickhead? As a matter of fact, you don’t own the road.

I haven’t done that here yet for a couple reasons. One, most drivers in that situation would be at a loss to understand why I was making mean faces at them. You’re the one doing a weird thing right now, walker dude. Where is your car anyhow? Two, some Americans are known to pack heat and road age is not an uncommon occurrence in these parts. That’s a battle an unarmed guy on foot is never going to win.

So on the few occasions that it’s felt to me like I’m being nudged out of the way by a driver wanting to get through that stop sign or turn right on a red, encouraged to move along by a car creeping ever so slowly closer, urbanlightsI’ve employed a passive-aggressive tactic of slowing down, almost imperceptibly, until the car is forced to a complete stop, figuring a bump won’t hurt at this speed and living in this litigious mad country, I’d grab my neck, fall to the ground, screaming: YOU’LL BE HEARING FROM MY LAWYERS!! Lawyers, plural, not lawyer. You’ve run down the wrong guy, mister.

Last night, walking home, I improv’d another little pushback. As this driver was itching to get past me and turn right on the red light, i flashed a little drunkard’s one-step, two-step stagger, forcing the car to a full stop. Job done, I then made my way over the curb and onto the sidewalk, leaving the driver to whip around the corner, speeding off into the night.

I’d like to imagine that I melted someone’s heart, even just a little, converting an aggravated impatience into something close to empathy. Poor old inebriate, I bet that driver was saying to themselves or a companion in the car. He probably lost his license. Why else would he possibly be walking?

deathrace2000

saunteringly submitted by Cityslikr


Validation

February 22, 2016

Men with serious shoes and bags of flavoured pita chips present their parking tickets for store validation as their first order of business with the check-out cashier. pitachipsUshers inform the audience of the running time of the film they’re about to see, assuring them that it’s well under the 3 hour free parking limit. “If you choose to stick around after the movie to grab something to eat or do a little shopping,” the usher continues, “the validation machine is down on the second floor so drivers can get themselves a discounted parking rate.”

This is a city firmly gripped by the cult of the car.

I drove a rental car to the pedestrianized area of downtown Culver City where I paid a full $3 to park for 2 hours. If I’d taken transit, it would’ve cost me $3.50 (x 3 people) round trip. And don’t talk to me about the additional dollars for operating a motorized vehicle unless you’re prepared to also talk about the society wide externalities of automobile use.italianshoes

On my runs and walks through nearby neighbourhoods, travelling south from Santa Monica Boulevard, as the midrise condos and apartments give way to fully detached single family houses, residential streets are full of parked cards, on both sides of the road. These are areas with long driveways running up and into long lots. Driveways, many of which are already filled with two cars with space for one or two more, and yet still, drivers and their vehicles appropriate the streets, their street numbers stencilled into the curbs in front of the house.

This is a city fully engulfed in car cult madness.

“Cars are wonderful, but they’re very expensive in terms of their impact on the environment and the cost that it takes to maintain them and to keep them up,” [Dallas City Manager A.C.] Gonzalez said. “But they’re wonderfully convenient.”

Like Los Angeles, Dallas, Texas is another city trying to come to terms with its car-centricity, not just in terms of mobility but equality. It turns out the two are inextricably linked. mclaren1Maintaining the private automobile atop your transportation system hierarchy is expensive and ultimately unsustainable, the heaviest burden, unsurprisingly, falling on those individuals and communities least able to afford keeping pace. Convenient for some translates into out of reach and impractical for others.

“Cars are wonderful” if you can afford to operate them as a manageable part of your household budget. “Cars are wonderful” if you’re not relegated to neighbourhoods that are a two hour drive away from your place of work, school and every other necessary amenity to maintaining a tolerable quality of life. “Cars are wonderful” if they are the only realistic way to get about your day in any sort of realistic time frame. They pretty much have to be, right?

An enforced car reliance is an attack on equality and fairness. You might not need a car in places like Los Angeles to conduct the business of living but the reality on the ground is that it’s a whole lot tougher if you don’t drive. crowdedbus2Google ‘carless los angeles’ and you get an immediate sense of the novelty of it. Unless of course you’re looking at low income, racialized parts of the city.

There’s no question Los Angeles is currently undergoing a transformative, higher order transit build. Subway and LRT extensions all over the place! Yet there’s some question that it’s come at the expense of bus service, draining much needed operational and capital needs and resulting in service cuts and fare hikes, negatively impacting the biggest users of public transit in the city, bus riders. Some of the most vulnerable residents of the city left to fight it out over much-contested road space against the undisputed transportation kings of the road, car drivers.

A transit system that remains 2nd-class, always taking the backseat to the needs of private automobile owners, will never be a viable option to those with a choice whether to use it. fieldofdreamsAs long as car driving remains subsidized and given preferential treatment as overwhelmingly as it is here in Los Angeles, public transit will continue to be an after-thought to everybody who sees it as an after-thought already, a nuisance, something for other people. Public transit isn’t Field of Dreams. Simply building it is not enough. You have to attack the culture, mindset and privilege that inhibit its progress.

How? You start by stop validating the primacy of private car use in your transportation system.

matter of factly submitted by Cityslikr


The Freeway

February 12, 2016

L.A. is a great big freeway
Put a hundred down and buy a car

The freeways move you. Except when they don’t. lafreeway1They are theoretical works of genius, “existential limbo where man sets out each day in search of western-style individualism,” according to Brock Yates author, Smokey and the Bandit II and Cannonball Run scriptwriter, editor of Car and Driver magazine, but a failure in practice to efficiently and equitably move the number of people who want to use and depend on using them.

I got reacquainted with the L.A. system a couple days ago, taking the San Diego Freeway – the Fightin’ 405! – from the westside to San Pedro, the Port of Los Angeles, and back again. For the most part, it worked, for me, driving it on off-hours, such as they are here. Twenty-eight miles (45 kilometres), quickly and hassle-free, no delays except for that one with the wrong turn-off, up and over the Vincent Thomas Bridge to the ominously named Terminal Island. It wasn’t. I was able to make it back to my original destination.

The return trip home was a little less smooth, not disastrously so or even that soul-crushing although, any sort of auto-induced traffic snarl kills me just a little on the inside. lafreeway2I wasn’t pressed for time, so the wait wasn’t critical. It’s just, you know, fuck. Sitting in your car, am I right?

It was just past midday, 1 o’clock or so, on a Wednesday. Nothing more than volume, would be my guess, to explain the standstill. Bunching up at freeway interchanges. The 110-405 first and then the 405-10. That 35 minute (without traffic) Google map predicted return home now closer to double that.

Dreams turn into dust and blow away
And there you are without a friend
You pack your car and ride away

The promised ease of mobility implicit with car use comes with tons of concrete and unadvertised strings attached, asterisks and caveats. Los Angeles freeways are huge monstrosities of engineered construction. They take up a lot of prime real estate in order to provide the space necessary for drivers to access the convenience and car commercial abandon. lafreeway3And that’s just the immediately obvious roads, lanes you notice. Sound barrier walls run alongside many of the freeways, dividing them from the neighbourhoods they cut through. The massive footings that keep portions of the freeway sections elevated and looming over many of these same neighbourhoods and communities aren’t inconsequential either.

“… the freeway system in its totality is now a single comprehensible place, a coherent state of mind, a complete way of life,” Reyner Banham writes in his 1971 book Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. “The freeway is where the Angelenos live a large part of their lives.”

Behind the wheel of a car, stuck in traffic. This expression of personal freedom exacted by heavy collective costs, it turns out. lafreewayIf too many of us are determined to pursue our individualism and freedom this way, very few of us actually achieve it. There isn’t room, at least not in cities, even cities like Los Angeles that operated under the assumption that space was unlimited. “I was amazed at the size of the city…,” Christopher Isherwood said of Los Angeles back in 1939 (h/t David Ulin’s Sidewalking). “There seemed no reason why it should ever stop.” Sprawl to a crawl was the inevitable outcome of such an impression.

“The private car and the public freeway together provide an ideal – not to say idealized – version of democratic urban transportation,” Reyner Banham wrote, “door-to-door movement on demand at high average speeds over a very large area.”

While he offered qualifiers to that statement, to the limits of who enjoyed such freedom, to the very nature of that freedom, Banham was a big fan of what he called “Autopia”, one of the ecologies in his book. lafreeway4It was certainly preferable to the mess of public transit he experienced in London, Paris and New York at the time. There were drawbacks to auto-dependence, for sure, but in the end, “the freeway is not a limbo of existential angst,” Banham concluded [italics his], “but the place where they [Los Angeles drivers] spend the two calmest and most rewarding hours of their daily lives.”

Such an effusive statement about driving seems laughable, even factoring in the time frame it was written in. It sounds more like advertising copy than the actual insightful and provocative urban thinking the rest of Banham’s book actually presents. It’s little wonder this section is the briefest of his 4 ecologies. It’s almost as if Banham couldn’t take himself seriously on the subject.

Even if the driving in his “Autopia” was as blissful and awesome as Banham claimed, it certainly isn’t any longer, more than 40 years on. It’s become more of a chore, a slog, a grind. Autopia’s been rear-ended by Carmegeddon. Here’s what we know now that previous generations either didn’t or chose to ignore: lafreeway5there’s no building ourselves out of the mess, no matter how much we keep trying. More roads won’t fix it. Self-driving cars will only make the prospect of driving more attractive which, when all is said and done, will encourage more people into cars. Where are they all going to go? Driving begets driving.

Chasing freedom and self-identity in the same fashion as everyone else doesn’t lead to much of either, regardless of the make or colour of your car.

L.A. is a great big freeway
Put a hundred down and buy a car
In a week, maybe two, they’ll make you a star
Weeks turn into years
How quick they pass
And all the stars that never were
Are parking cars and pumping gas

bacharachly submitted by Cityslikr


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