Carless In LA

Don’t get the wrong idea. Los Angeles has not become a car-free mecca. There’s still a love affair going on there between humans and their driving machines. kardashiancarPublic displays of affection appear regularly in the form of Lamborghinis, sporty sport Lexi and monstrously big, military looking SUVs.

But there does seem to be something of a change in the air, at least to someone like myself who has not visited the city in nearly 20 years after having lived there for a brief portion of the early 90s. Ah, the early 90s… The early 90s… Nope. I got nothing. You know what they say. If you can remember the 90s…

Back then, you’d never even think of moving to Los Angeles without owning a car. Cycling was pure recreation, done far from the roads, by the sides of concrete rivers and very welcoming and expansive ocean side paths. Public transit? Oh my. Public transit in LA.

A personal example.partridgefamilybus

From where we lived, the morning commute to the school campus was, on average, about 20 minutes one way by car, barring any sort of natural disaster or riot that was prone to flare up along the way. That very same trip by bus? Usually more than double that time, clocking in at 45 minutes. And if I remember correctly, the bus route that got you there in the most direction fashion stopped running by 7pm.

So seriously. Who’s not going to drive over taking the bus? Pretty much nobody except for those who couldn’t afford the luxury of having a choice.

It’s been a slow grind over the course of the ensuing two decades. Change from such auto-orientation could not possibly happen any quicker. This is LA, after all. The land where dreams of unfettered car ownership, top down, wind in your hair, Beach Boys My Little Deuce Coup, are born.redlinebusLA

We’ve got all these freeways, man. Neighbourhoods were destroyed putting them up. We gotta use them.

Still, I have to say the transformation to a less car-dependent place is noticeable even if you’re not really looking for it, I think. For starters, there are buses everywhere, regularly spotted throughout the day even weekend days. Blue buses. Orange buses. Red buses. The occasional green bus.

According to Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker, it was the bolstering up of the bus networks throughout Los Angeles County, especially the MTA’s red beauties, all shiny, all articulated, that kick started LA’s public transit revolution. And I have to tell you, my bus trips on Monday’s Carless in LA outing were not under-used, both a mid-day trip downtown from Santa Monica and the “other” red rocket during rush hour back west along Wilshire Boulevard. Standing room only for a segment of the latter trip and by the time the morning bus ride hit the Santa Monica Freeway, it was hauling at near capacity.

Of course, by their very nature, the long denigrated, lowly buses don’t really grab the headlines when it comes to transit discussions. LA’s got subways, baby. Hey. What world class city doesn’t, am I right? metroLAmapTwo lines, running mostly through the downtown core — Yes, Virginia. There is a downtown Los Angeles. — with one extending right over and up into the San Fernando Valley to North Hollywood. It’s not an extensive network. Barely could be considered much of spine of the system. One gets the feeling it’s something of a Fordian-like sop to keeping transit from taking up precious road space but, hey, it’s not cars.

In actual fact, the real gem of the current transit build in Los Angeles (of course, I may be somewhat biased) is the series of LRT lines it’s put down and continues to extend.

Folks. For the record and despite what has been incorrectly stated again and again and again during Toronto’s ongoing, rage-y transit debate for the past 3 years or so, our city doesn’t have any sort of LRT operating within its system. LRTs are not glorified streetcars. The St. Clair disaster was not perpetrated by any sort of LRT. The Spadina bus was not replaced by an LRT.

Los Angeles has LRTs. Toronto does not.

I only had the opportunity during my ever so brief transit foray to take one of the LRT lines, the Gold Line, running from one terminus in downtown’s East LA and the other, up to the north and back east, in Pasadena. goldlineTwo other LRT lines connect to Union Station via subway, one running south down to Long Beach, a second, the Expo line, heads west toward the Pacific, now ending in Culver City but a much needed extension to Santa Monica is slowing inching its way to a 2015/2016 completion date. A 4th light rail line, the very first one built, runs south for about 35 kilometres from downtown-ish to Long Beach, connecting to both the Blue Line LRT and the Silver Line BRT along the way.

You may ask why, if I’m such a big fan of LRTs, I wasn’t all over that map, giving each and every one of those lines a serious test run. Here’s the thing. One, there was only so much time in one day. Secondly, what the LRTs offered to someone such as myself, armed with a $5 day pass and curiosity bordering on obsessiveness, was the ability to hop on and off the train wherever it caught my fancy. With much of it being above ground, you looked out the window and seeing something interesting, off you got.

Which is how we ended up in South Pasadena. Mission Station was situated in what looked to be the main intersection of some quaint little town lifted right out of Frank Capra movie. missionstationSteps off the train, you walked along a street of refurbished buildings now housing bars, coffee and artisanal shops. Or what they used to refer to as Mom & Pops. Huh, I thought. I might’ve missed this had I been travelling underground, heading hell bent to my destination further on.

Of course, transit isn’t built for demanding tourists who want the luxury of sightseeing without the hassle of driving to get there. You build transit in order to efficiently move as many people as possible around a region. Places like Los Angeles have realized relying on the private automobile is not the most effective or healthy way of doing that.

My guide for the day, Ned let’s call him because that’s his name, is a long time Angelino now looking to live a less car-dependent life in LA. 90sWhen we first met, back over 20 years ago, such a thing was nothing but a pipe dream. You don’t want to get around by car in Los Angeles? Move to San Francisco.

Now? Not a pipe dream. It isn’t easy, certainly not everywhere, trying to navigate the city without your own four wheels. Parts of Los Angeles remain severely under-serviced by public transit including the affluent west side where recalcitrance to share the roads (both at grade and below) on the part of municipalities like Beverly Hills have left places like UCLA in Westwood isolated from the rest of the city.

Still, this is not the laughably public transit stunted city I remember. While the state as a hole has suffered severe economic blows over the past decade or so. Los Angeles has managed to fund their public transit renaissance. TOtrafficcongestionFormer mayor Antonio Villaraigosa helped convince a normally tax-averse population to accept a half-cent sales tax increase to fund a 30 year transit expansion. He then took this Measure R to Washington to secure federal loans in order to shrink the 30 year timeline down to the 10. 12 proposed major transit projects in 10 years.

If such a feat can be accomplished in a car-centric city like Los Angeles, what exactly is holding us back here in Toronto?

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr

Tax Class

OK, kids.

Today, we’re having a lesson on a very, very sensitive subject. teacheratachalkboardEverybody’s given me their signed permission slips from their parents or legal guardians, right? Good.

Today, we’ll be talking about taxes, or taxation. Some of you may’ve heard your parents, legal guardians or older siblings refer to it as taxedtodeath.

For a long time now, probably from before any of you were born, the words ‘taxes’ or ‘taxation’ were what people called ‘dirty words’. Not like the f-word or c-bomb but words many people said through gritted teeth as if they were very, very angry having to say them.

Yes, Sagittarius?

That’s right. Sometimes your daddy might use the f-word just before saying ‘taxes’. But hopefully your mommy washes his mouth out with soap if he does.


Nobody’s ever really liked taxes or taxation. In fact, there’s been a revolution or two fought over them. washyourmouthoutjpgBut most people, most people who aren’t blinkered ideologues, see taxes and taxation as a necessary part of creating healthy and functioning communities, towns, cities, countries and world. The famous American jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior, said way back over a hundred years ago that taxes were the price we pay for a civilized society.

Baskin? You have a question?

Yes, it just might be on your midterm.

But recently, many people have started to think of taxes or taxation as a burden, an unnecessary imposition upon them, even outright thievery. Hands up everybody who’s heard their daddy say that he knows how to spend his money better than some stupid politician or bureaucrat? Oh my. That’s a lot of you. Almost everybody.

Well, next time you hear your parents, legal guardians or older siblings say that, ask them, very politely because sometimes being challenged on their negative views on taxes and taxation makes people quite defensive and angry, ask how they would, with their hard-earned money out of their pockets, pave that road outside your house that they use every day. And if you get yelled at and told to go up to your room that just means they don’t really have a good answer to your question. Don’t be mad at them. livinginacaveThey just haven’t learned or they’ve forgotten that without everybody paying taxes, most of us would be still living in dirt houses, pulling our wagons over corduroy roads.

No, Buford. Those aren’t roads made out of pants. What is Mr. Stencil teaching you in history class?

I’m sorry, Slmantha, what was your question again?

Oh. That’s a very good question. Did everyone hear that? No? Slmantha asked about government waste and respect for the taxpayer.

Yes, class. Sometimes governments waste some of the taxpayer money taxpayers pay them. That is bad. The people involved in government who do that kind of thing should be held accountable.

But that doesn’t mean the concept of taxes and taxation is bad or inherently evil, as some non-politician politicians like to say. It just means that governments that rely on taxes and taxation need to take better care of how they spend that money. And ultimately, if they don’t, we can relieve them of that responsibility and vote them out of office.

Now, for every example of waste or fiscal malfeasance that tax critics—

I beg your pardon, Puntilly?

No. Malfeasance is not an insect. It means—well, just Google it on your computer. Malfeasance. M-A-L-F-E-A-S-A-N-C-E… “Intentionally doing something either legally or morally wrong, always involving dishonesty, illegality, or knowingly exceeding authority for improper reasons.” That’s right. taxesareevilAnd for every one of those, there’s 3, 4, 10, 100 examples of government revenue from taxes or taxation doing something positive for our society.

Here’s one, for example.

In Los Angeles County in a state called California in a place called the United States of America, where they have a history of hating taxes and keeping them so low that it’s almost taken them to the brink of bankruptcy, they passed in 2008 what is called Measure R, a proposition to raise their sales tax by ½ a cent over the next 30 years, and dedicate that money to building public transit because Los Angeles realized it was horribly congested. This is what’s happened so far, five years later. Click on the link. On the word ‘this’. Back, back. Three sentences ago. Four now…

Subways! Yes. LRTs! Yes. Dedicated busways! Yes. Cleaner air! Yes. Thousands and thousands of new job! Yes. Less congestion! Yes. More walking and biking! Yes and yes.

Now class, we here in Toronto and the wider region think it might be good to follow Los Angeles’s example and build more transit. Our congestion is pretty bad and we haven’t really built enough to keep up with our growing population. So we’ve been talking about new taxes too. People who don’t mind paying taxes call them ‘revenue tools’.

But there’s some real tax-hating, grumpy Guses out there, girls and boys. You say ‘tax’. They say ‘no’. You say ‘revenue tools’. They say that’s just four syllables for taxes. You say, But we really need to build transit because we’re dying here. They say, SubwaysSubwaysSubwaysPrivateSector.emptypockets2

Now I want you to click the link on the not particularly overly tax-friendly Globe and Mail article and see what they have to say about such stubborn anti-tax attitudes.

I’m sorry, what was that? You can’t get past the paywall? You’ve gone over your monthly article limit? Just go into your control panel and clear your browsing history. That should do it. Yes? Good.

Frenzien? Would you read out the 2nd last paragraph, please? Yes, you. Spit out your gum and read that paragraph, please.

It may be that our household budgets would be better off if we paid a little more now, as opposed to waiting and letting infrastructure and urban congestion get worse. We might also take the long view and say we’re saving our kids from massive tax hikes needed to repair our cities.

You see, children. When your parents or legal guardians complain about paying any more taxes to fund the building of new transit, what they’re really saying is, Screw you, kids. upyoursYou want a liveable city when you grow up? You pay for it.

Yes, Stanton. Teacher did just say ‘screw you’. I’m sorry but I’m a little upset right now.

When your parents or legal guardians complain about taxes, they’re simply being childish and refuse to have an adult conversation. So that’s why we’re talking about this now, in a classroom. Because somebody’s got to start acting like a grown up.

Any questions?

pedagogically submitted by Cityslikr