To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Thursday, May 22, 2014

John Mirisch: The democratization of Metro


By John Mirisch, April 21, 2014

Most people in Los Angeles County would agree that transportation and infrastructure upgrades are critical for our future as a region. Most people would also agree that democracy is the best form of government ever devised.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority has an operating budget for 2014 of close to $5 billion. That’s more than the general fund budget of some 15 states. With close to 9,000 full-time staffers, the agency also has more employees than some states.

And yet despite this almost unprecedented infusion of taxpayer funding, the governance structure of Metro is at worst grossly undemocratic and at best grossly disproportional, with some 60 percent of the county’s voters underrepresented by 50 percent.

Los Angeles has approximately 4 million residents. The other 87 cities in the county have approximately 6 million residents. Four Metro board members represent 4 million people, while another four Metro board members represent 6 million people. So much for “One person, one vote.”
Just as the numbers are pretty self-evident, so is the solution, assuming the current governance structure of Metro is retained: two additional Metro Board members should be added and these additional board members should represent the 87 non-L.A. cities in the county.
Of course, this pretty simple “fix” assumes that the current governance structure
remains. A strong case can be made that for such a massive, rich, powerful and – unfortunately, in its current form – often opaque agency, direct representation would make Metro more accountable to the citizenry it is supposed to serve. Simply stated, the current system is undemocratic: none of the board members are directly elected to the position, the board includes appointees, as well as officials who are elected in other capacities and as such have no direct accountability to the voters.

Five elected supervisors currently represent all of Los Angeles County. Each has the task of representing 2 million people. If Metro had 15 board members directly elected by the residents of the county, each board member would be directly accountable to some 670,000 voters in his/her district. Metro districts could be drawn so that a commonality of transit needs and habits are reflected in order to ensure that all voices of L.A. County are being heard – which is most certainly not the case today.

Since the days of “Chinatown,” L.A. has become notorious as a city where “pay to play” and the influence wielded by special interests have become almost a standard part of development and doing business.

Under the current regime, the voices of large swaths of voters in L.A. County can and have been ignored with virtually no recourse on the part of the electorate.

Furthermore, Metro is a government agency that can put taxes on the ballot which is all the more reason to directly elect Metro’s directors.

There’s now talk about raising taxes yet again. Yep, in conjunction with Metro, “advocacy groups” like MoveLA, which are funded by crony capitalist types who stand to benefit directly from the massive influx of tax dollars, are suggesting that the county increase the sales tax by another half cent in order to pour billions more into this undemocratic bureaucracy, all in the name of “infrastructure upgrades.”

It’s one thing to vote for a bond, and yet another to vote for those who are responsible for administering the bond. Voters lose control and accountability vanishes if those who are supposed to administer a bond or tax are not directly responsible to voters. When a school board proposes a bond, the voters decide on the funding, but they are also able to vote against board members who don’t administer the bond in a fair or equitable way, or in a way that provides the best value-for-money.

The electorate can vote out board members who are involved in cronyism and/or who are poor stewards of the public’s tax dollars. Metro’s appetite for more of our tax dollars comes at a time when the city of L.A. is considering tax and/or bond measures to cover such basic functions as fixing streets and filling potholes.

 The voters of L.A. County directly elect judges, the assessor, the district attorney, the sheriff and the trustees of the L.A. County Community College District, which has a budget that is some 40 percent less than Metro. And that doesn’t include the additional $90 billion of increased taxes that the special interests yet again are trying to push through without direct accountability to the voters.

Metro should not get another dime of additional taxpayer money until the governance structure is reformed so that full and direct accountability is achieved.

It’s called democracy. Imagine the possibilities.

John Mirisch currently serves on the City Council of Beverly Hills. As mayor, he created the Sunshine Task Force to work toward a more open, transparent and participatory local government.

Metro fares will increase despite protests of low-income riders


By Laura J. Nelson, May 22, 2014

Nancy Lawrence
 Nancy Lawrence and members of the Bus Riders Union rally against proposed fare increases. Despite many riders' protests, Metro will raise fares beginning in September.

Amid concerns over a projected budget deficit in Los Angeles County's growing bus and rail system, officials Thursday voted to raise Metro fares in September, but opted to postpone a decision on further increases in 2017 and 2020.

After a lengthy meeting punctuated by yelling and applause from the packed audience, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors voted 12 to 1 to raise one-way bus and rail fares from $1.50 to $1.75. Monthly passes will also go from $75 to $100 and day passes will increase from $5 to $7.

The room was silent as the votes were tallied. But when Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina voted against the increase, dozens of audience members rose to cheer.

Metro will also change its transfer policy to allow two hours of unlimited rides. Currently, passengers must pay each time they board a bus or train, which Metro says puts unneeded strain on some lines and leaves others underused.

Metro analysts say the fare increase will help offset an expected $36-million gap in the agency's 2016 operating budget, which could deepen to $225 million within the decade. Without a fare hike, agency staff would have considered laying off nearly 1,000 of Metro's 9,000 employees or cutting up to 1 million hours of bus and rail service.

 The fare vote comes as Metro accelerates the biggest rail boom in Los Angeles history: By the end of this year, five rail lines will be under construction, spanning downtown Los Angeles and Mid-City to Azusa, South L.A. and Santa Monica. Once in service, those lines will add significantly to Metro's operating budget.

More than 130 public speakers, some in tears, asked Metro directors to lower fares or keep them at current levels. Several said they would have to choose between buying bus tickets and feeding their families if fares went up.

Riders' advocates said the increase will disproportionately hurt minority passengers, who make up about 80% of bus ridership. More than 90% of Metro riders are low-income, with an average household earning less than $20,000, according to agency data.

 "Do you even understand how much we're struggling day by day?" said Hee Pok Kim, a 92-year-old woman who could barely see over the public comment lectern. She spoke in Korean through a translator. "When we reach out to you for help, you shouldn't push us away. You should grab our hands."

On a motion from director Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Los Angeles County supervisor, officials agreed to keep fares for students at current rates until a panel of independent experts can analyze Metro's long-term finances.

Molina asked the board to delay the fare increase for eight months while Metro staff found ways to cut from next year's $5.5-billion budget. She said the agency should not fix its budget problems "on the backs of the very poor."

"If you look at the expenses, the redundancies, the consultants, all the things that are going on, you know what I'm talking about," Molina said. "MTA needs to go back to the drawing board."

 Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said putting off fare increases was the easier political decision, and said the agency couldn't afford to punt on a fare hike until next year. He becomes the chair of the Metro board in July.

"One thing I'll never do here is give people false hopes," Garcetti said. "I do believe, this coming year, we need this first step."

Molina said Metro should stop worrying about what portion of the operating budget is funded by fares. That ratio is 26%, making Los Angeles one of the most subsidized transit networks in the world. Fares covering less than 33% of the agency's budget could jeopardize Metro's chance of receiving future federal grants.

"We should abandon that model," Molina said, saying that helping low-income passengers was more important. "There is no other bus system in the country that has a more dramatic number of low-income and minority bus riders. Those are unbelievable and startling figures that this organization has to come to grips with."

Metro board members said they would not vote on fare increases proposed for 2017 and 2020 until they could learn more about the agency's long-term financial outlook.

"And how about 2014?" one man in the audience shouted.

"Why don't you sit tight for a minute and let us deliberate?" Ridley-Thomas responded.
Director Mike Bonin, a Los Angeles City Council member, pushed Metro to make it easier for low-income riders to find out about the agency's fare subsidy programs, including advertising at train stations and bus stops and working with community groups, including churches.

"Whether the increase is justified or not, the action we take is going to cause real pain to people," Bonin said. "If we're going to approve any increase, we need to bend over backwards, and break our backs, to try and mitigate it."

An alternate proposal that officials did not support would have made one-way fares as high as $3.25 during rush hour, which Metro officials said would encourage people to travel during off-peak hours.
This is Metro's fourth fare increase since 1993. The most recent was in 2010, when one-way fares rose from $1.25 to $1.50. Fares for seniors and the disabled have not increased since 2007.

Editorial: Carpoolers, meet the (hopefully less congested) 405


May 22, 2014

The 405
 Traffic streams through the Sepulveda Pass on the 405 Freeway that connects the Westside to the San Fernando Valley.

And so, after four years and more than a billion dollars of work on the 405 Freeway, after marathon weekend closures of lanes (Carmageddons I and II and Jamzilla), after obstacle courses of orange cones and K-rails, after widening three bridges and carving into the side of a canyon, the newly expanded carpool lane will debut Friday morning. There will now be one contiguous high-occupancy vehicle lane on the northbound 405 from Orange County to the 5 Freeway. Combined with the existing southbound HOV lane, the 405 Freeway will have the two longest continuous carpool lanes on the planet. Well, in the nation, for sure.

The good news is that Metro is ahead of schedule; earlier this year officials predicted the carpool lane wouldn't be completed until summer. The bad news is that, alas, the job is not entirely finished. Crews will still be doing landscaping, electrical work and, yes, intermittently closing lanes and ramps. Metro and the contractor — Kiewit — should keep in mind that everyone who travels the 405 is suffering construction fatigue and anything that closes a lane or a ramp is one more inconvenience in a four-year series of them. They should work on getting out of the Sepulveda Pass, like, yesterday.

 Still, the main purpose of this project was to create a new lane of traffic on the 405 between the Santa Monica and Ventura freeways and turn the far left lane into a carpool-only lane. That's done. So now comes the real test: Will traffic be less congested?

In some ways, traffic flow has already improved. Some onramps and offramps were widened and lengthened and untangled. So there are fewer cars backed up on surface streets to get onto the freeway and fewer cars queued up on the freeway to exit it.

 Caltrans estimates that carpoolers save one minute per mile in the HOV lane during peak hours. Since the project just added 10 more miles of HOV lane, that alone should save carpoolers 10 minutes. In addition, carpoolers moving to the HOV lane improve the flow of traffic in the remaining lanes.

Others argue that the freeway, with its increased capacity, will simply attract more drivers who would otherwise take surface streets or stay home or take a bus, and that many of them might not be ride-sharers. That doesn't mean the project was pointless; there is a value to providing more options for more people who need to get to schools, jobs, doctors' appointments.

But there is a finite amount of widening that the freeways and the region can sustain. In the long run, the better way to cope with increasing traffic — and the environmental problems caused by fuel emissions — is to get more people out of their cars. That's a matter of improving public transit and creating incentives for people to use it. The day a subway train spans the length of the 405 will be the day people get off the 405.

Metro Board votes to raise most fares in September but postpones further increases in 2017 and 2020


By Steve Hymon, May 22, 2014

The Metro Board of Directors voted Thursday to raise Metro bus and train fares no earlier than September 1 but declined to impose the agency’s staff recommendation for additional increases in 2017 and 2020. The Board also decided to freeze fares for students.

Under the new fares, the regular fare will rise from $1.50 to $1.75. The cost of a day pass will increase from $5 to $7, the weekly pass from $20 to $25, the 30-day pass from $75 to $100 and the EZ Pass from $84 to $110.

However, the new fares will include free transfers for two hours unlike the current base fare which is only good for a single ride on a bus or train, no matter the length of that ride. For example, a rider who currently rides two buses to reach their destination and pays $3 (the cost of two $1.50 fares) would only pay $1.75 under the new fares as long as the second bus ride begins within two hours.

Metro CEO Art Leahy, who began his job in 2009, and many experts outside the agency have said that encouraging transfers is a far wiser and efficient way to run a transit agency, given that about half of Metro’s riders must transfer to complete their trips. The Metro Board voted to drop transfers in 2007 as a way to reduce fraud and raise revenues.

On Sept. 1, the senior/disabled regular peak-hour fare will go from 55 cents to 75 cents, the day pass from $1.80 to $2.50, the 30-day pass from $14 to $20 and the EZ Pass from $35 to $42.

This is the fourth fare increase since 1993, when Metro began operating as a new agency. The last fare increase was in 2010 when the regular single-ride fare was increased from $1.25 to $1.50. Fares for seniors, disabled riders and students have not changed since 2007; the Measure R half-cent sales tax increase approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008 froze those fares through mid-2013 and they remain at 2007 levels.

There were two key votes on Thursday.

First, the Board voted 12 to 0 with one abstention (by Board Member Gloria Molina) for a motion by Board Members Mark Ridley-Thomas, Eric Garcetti and Zev Yaroslavsky to postpone the 2017 and 2020 round of fare increases pending further analysis that also asks Metro to identify potential revenues that could offset the need for any more fare hikes.

In the second vote, the Board voted 12 to 1 to accept Metro’s staff proposal for fare increases for 2014. The vote against came from Gloria Molina.

Metro staff have said that fare increases were necessary to keep pace with rising operating costs and to avoid a budget deficit of $36.8 million beginning in 2016 and potentially rising to more than $200 million within a decade because of inflation and the increase cost of operating a transit system with more than 2,000 buses, 87 miles of rail (and many more miles on the way), van pools and other services.

Staff also have repeatedly pointed to two statistics: the average Metro fare — when discounts are factored in — is only 70 cents. And each fare only covers 26 percent of the cost of providing service. Metro officials say that they want that number to reach 33 percent to better cover expenses and to ensure that the agency continues to receive needed federal grants.

Metro currently has three rail lines under construction. Both the second phase of the Expo Line and the Gold Line Foothill Extension are scheduled to open in early 2016 while the Crenshaw/LAX Line is forecast to open in 2019. Two other rail lines — the Regional Connector and the Purple Line Extension of the subway — will soon begin construction and are forecast to open in 2019 and 2023, respectively.

Discussion among members of the Metro Board revealed that many were highly uncomfortable with raising fares given the $16,250 median household income of the agency’s bus riders and $20,770 for rail riders. 

Board Member Eric Garcetti expressed disappointment that many low-income riders do not get discounted fares for low-income riders even though they qualify.

Gloria Molina offered the most pointed criticism of Metro, as she has in the past. Molina said that Metro has far more low-income riders than in other metro areas with vast transit systems. She criticized the agency’s efforts to reduce its subsidies for riders, saying it’s inappropriate in a region with so many low-income riders, many of which are making the minimum wage or less.

Instead, Molina offered a motion asking the agency to trim its operating budget by 1.5 percent, which she said would prevent the need for fare increases. That motion failed to secure a second from other Board Members. However, it was folded into the Ridley-Thomas-Garcetti-Yaroslavsky motion a request for Metro staff to determine what cutting 1.5 percent of the budget would entail and if it could be used to defer any fare increase.

And she said that Metro is not running a bus system effective enough to attract a diverse ridership that would raise more revenues. “You can’t ghettoize our buses,” Molina said.

The Board heard nearly two hours of public testimony before casting their votes. The prevailing sentiment from speakers — many from the Bus Riders Union — ran against raising fares.

One key factor in the fare discussions is a potential ballot measure that Metro is considering taking to Los Angeles County voters in 2016. Such a ballot measure — if approved, which is no easy task — could potentially raise more money for operating buses and trains, which the Ridley-Thomas-Garcetti-Yaroslavsky motion cites as funds that could possibly be used stave off the need for more fare increases.

On the other hand, the same ballot measure could also fund the acceleration and/or construction of more Metro transit projects, which in turn would raise operation costs. And a fare increase in close proximity to a potential ballot measure requiring two-thirds voter approval (under current law) could also be politically tricky.

Metro Board adopts fiscal year budget for 2014-2015


By Steve Hymon, May 22, 2014

The Board unanimously approved a $5.5-billion budget for the fiscal year running from this July 1 through June 30, 2015.
Here is the news release from Metro:
The Board of Directors of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) today approved a balanced $5.508 billion Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15) budget, set to begin July 1, 2014. The budget includes continued commitment to the largest highway and rail building program in America, bus headway improvements and $283.4 million in maintenance expenditures to keep the system in top form.

As part of the $283.4 million targeted at maintenance, Metro will spend $192.7 million on bus service including the purchase of 550 new clean-burning CNG buses and about $50 million for rail improvements on the Blue Line and the Red Line subway in the next fiscal year.

Safety is critical to Metro passengers and the FY15 budget contains $48.7 million to keep the system as safe as possible. Enhancements include improvements to cameras and video monitoring, security kiosks are various rail stations, signal system rehabilitation on the Metro Blue and Green lines and pedestrian safety improvements on the Metro Red Line with an underpass and overpass bridge planned for Universal City and North Hollywood stations.

Metro continues construction on the most comprehensive public works program in America with Measure R and other funding sources. In FY15, Metro will have five major rail projects either under construction or prepared to begin including the Metro Gold Line extension to Azusa, the Metro Expo Line extension to Santa Monica, the Crenshaw/LAX Line and the Regional Connector. The Metro Purple Line extension to Westwood has received a $1.25 billion Federal Full Funding Grant A   agreement and $856 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan.

In terms of highway projects, the mammoth undertaking of modernizing and expanding capacity of the I-405 will be completed in FY15 and other projects are moving forward including I-5 widening from Orange County to the I-605, the I-710 South Corridor, the North SR-710 study and a variety of other improvements including continuation of countywide sound wall construction and the Freeway Beautification Pilot Project designed maintain landscape and remove graffiti and debris.

The Metro ExpressLanes Project continues to provide travel options on the I-10 and I-110 freeways with future expansion of ExpressLanes to be studied. The Kenneth Hahn Countywide Callbox System continues operation along with development of the Motorist Aid and Travel Information System (MATIS).

Metro will continue to contribute both operations and capital funding to the Southern California Regional Rail Authority with FY15 capital projects including the Bob Hope Airport/Hollywood Way station, Van Nuys Second Platform, Vincent Grade/Acton and Lancaster Stations, Doran Street Crossing design, Raymer to Bernson Double Track and Southern California Regional Interconnectivity Program (SCRIP), which will increase Union Station Capacity.

Stay informed by following Metro on The Source and El Pasajero at metro.net, facebook.com/losangelesmetro, twitter.com/metrolosangeles and twitter.com/metroLAalerts and instagram.com/metrolosangeles.

L.A. Transit: Breaking Down the Enemies, the Lawsuits and the Future


By Stephen J. Smith, May 21, 2014

Ethan Elkind, an environmental attorney and professor at UCLA, just published a book on the history of rail in Los Angeles, “Railtown: The Fight for the Los Angeles Metro Rail System and the Future of the City”. I spoke with him by telephone on Monday about his book, the history of rail in L.A., and his desires for the future of transit in America’s second-largest metropolitan area.

 One recurring theme of your book is that politics, not ridership or cost-effectiveness, often determines rail priorities in Los Angeles.
What would happen is that the staff and politicians would figure out where the density was and sketch out a map of the best routes. But then, once you started from that base, you ended up with political compromises that ended up twisting it. They just ended up getting gerrymandered, and the best lines weren’t always chosen over some of the more under-performing lines.

If you could start over and there were no political considerations, and you could base it purely on ridership and cost-effectiveness, what do you think would’ve been the sequencing of the network?
They really should’ve started with a heavy rail subway down Wilshire Boulevard, going at least as far as Westwood. And it should’ve had 10-car train platforms instead of the six-car platforms they have now.

I know that the Beverly Hills School District is still fighting the Purple Line subway, but it seems like this is the last gasp of anti-rail NIMBYism in L.A. County and the Westside.
I think a lot of the real heyday of NIMBY activism has passed to some extent. Just getting the Expo Line routed out to Santa Monica, past some neighborhoods that were really vehemently opposed — the fact that that happened is a good sign.

Now a lot of the debate is focused around specific alignments and specific station areas. A great example is what just happened in Santa Monica, where residents came out against a planned office and housing complex along the Expo Line, and got a ballot initiative qualified. And it basically convinced the city council to back off from that project.

The most surprising part of the book was the crucial pro-rail vote cast by Wendell Cox in the early days of rail in L.A. Obviously he’s turned into a bitter foe of rail — do you know anything about his change of heart?
I haven’t really tracked his evolution on it. My guess is that his role in the L.A. system somehow made him change his tune. Certainly there is a lot to be critical of with the L.A. rail system, but I think that the point that I was trying to make in the book is that it’s still very much a work in progress, even though it’s been decades and billions of dollars have been spent.

Another theme of your book seems to be the role of the courts in shaping transit in L.A.
There have been a number of lawsuits against the rail lines based on environmental reviews — the California Environmental Quality Act [CEQA]— and for the most part Metro has been successful. But it has affected the system, more in a micro way, like where stations have gone, or when they’ve had to build an overpass as opposed to continuing on at street level.

For example, Compton sued when the Blue Line was being proposed through their city, and they got a pretty expensive overpass to keep it out of traffic. It’s nice to have that safety and there’s also speed for riders, but it comes at a huge cost. All those little lawsuits and challenges ultimately prevent the region from doing more with the resources it has.

In your book, every time a Republican makes an appearance, I’m always waiting for them to push for something cost-effective, or oppose some sort of wasteful spending, and it never seems to happen. It seems like they’re either opposing good projects on the Westside, or pushing not-so-great ones in the San Gabriel Valley, for example.
It is too bad that Republicans didn’t have more constructive ideas with the L.A. rail system. They tended to take a very oppositional attitude and just looked at rail as wasteful spending, without coming up with a lot of great alternatives. And then you had a few rare exceptions, like David Dreier, who did like rail, but they’re unfortunately coming from a suburban base. He was proposing a rail line that was not going to serve a very high-ridership area.

There’s a lot of very cost-effective steps that government could take to alleviate the traffic in L.A., and L.A. does not have to wait decades and decades for a few new rail lines to become available. They could take some cost-effective steps now, and I think Republicans would have been logical champions for some of those reforms, and probably could’ve convinced some Democrats to come along. But I think they really missed the boat in a lot of ways.

What do you think should be the next transit priority for rail in L.A.?
Metro has laid out its list of rail transit projects that it wants to fund over the next 30 years, and there’s a whole bunch under construction now, so we’re seeing a wave of projects getting completed. But absent new revenue, I don’t think they’re going to be able to build many more lines than what they currently have in the immediate pipeline.

That’s too bad, because I think the immediate priorities are to extend the subway all the way out to Westwood, and possibly out to the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center, which is farther west, not all the way to the sea but close. And then they really should have a light rail link through West Hollywood, which they don’t have right now. Currently the Crenshaw Line is slated to end at the Expo Line, but it should go all the way up to the subway and then through West Hollywood. The priorities should really be blanketing the more densely populated Westside with rail.

Those are all the questions I had. Anything I missed?
Now that L.A. has built a good first chunk of the system, I think the key for the region is to fill in those neighborhoods around the station areas and allow more dense development to happen. And that’s a whole other political battle that I think needs to happen. It’s really the missing piece of the story.

Where do you think the development should go, specifically?
The Westside is the prime area. Real estate is at a real premium there and there’s a shortage of new homes, particularly with all the new jobs that communities like Santa Monica have allowed to come in without corresponding increase in housing. Culver City is doing some good things but we could see some more there. And Hollywood and along the subway, Vermont Avenue especially. It’s all low-rise-type buildings, almost as if the subway was never going through there; it doesn’t feel like anything new has really happened in some of those corridors. So I would say around the subway and Expo Line.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Where is the Vast Liberal Conspiracy When You Really Need It?


By Richard Risemberg, May 21, 2014

Last Sunday, I dropped by KCRW’s presentation, the one pumped as Reinventing the Wheel:the Future of Mobility in LA, which I must admit I approached with an undisguised misgiving in my heart. My fear was that it would be yet another view of the future through the windshield perspective.

This feeling was but magnified when the “ample bike parking” they touted on their website turned out to comprise precisely six (6) racks, providing room to lock a grand total of twelve (12) bicycles. Two of those were behind an outlying building a circuitous quarter-mile or so form the actual event gate, and were empty when I finally found them during my Grand Bike Parking Survey after I left the hall. There were dozens and dozens of bicycles there—invitations had gone out to almost every local bicycle organization, and LACBC was there, along with Linus Bikes and a few purveyors of electric motorcycles disguised as bicycles. So it was irritating to see hordes of bikes locked to railings, trees, poles, and parking meters all around the venue:

Also disquieting was the prominence granted to Art Center College of Design on said website. Art Center has traditionally supplied the US automobile industry with most of its car stylists.
So I was disappointed, though not surprised, when the first thing I saw upon entering the hall was a car, dominating the passageway:

An electric car, but so what? Bad as air pollution, resource drawdown, and Global Warming are, even cars that ran on magic would still wreak havoc with the land and our communities, because cars just take up too damn much room for what they do! Sprawl is as deleterious to life on both the grand and intimate scales as Global Warming.

To paraphrase a line from an old blurb of my own, titled Methadone for Road Hogs:

Go stand over the Hollywood Freeway at rush hour and imagine that all the cars you see there are electrically or fuel-cell powered. Then go into the parking lot at the mall and imagine the same thing about the rows and rows of Hondas and Chevys there. They have all been suddenly changed into zero-emission vehicles. What’s different about the scene? That’s right: NOTHING!
 Maybe the problem isn’t what type of cars we drive. Maybe the problem is cars.
Cars as cars are destroying our health, our watersheds, our communities. It doesn’t matter how they are powered; they still cause vast damage.

And of course, rarely does the juice for plug-in electrics come from wind, solar, or hydro; those cars pollute, just somewhere else.

So I was pissed. But, I says to myself, maybe it gets better in the actual hall. Where the first thing I saw was…you guessed it: another car!

After casting about like an aging bloodhound for a while, I did find some bicycles…half-hidden behind—yes!—more cars:

The free beer having run out before I arrived, I turned my attention to the Panel of Authoritative Persons, two of whom even had the English accents that seem to be mandatory for acceptance into faux-progressive forums such as this one. The sound was muddled by reverberation and somewhat reminiscent of announcements on an airport PA system, but it certainly seemed that the panel started off with long, nostalgic reminiscences of the Good Old Days when LA’s freeways were new and relatively uncrowded and one could drive about aimlessly for hours with the top down. This should not have been surprising to me, and it wasn’t…because, according to the website, the panel comprised:
  • Geoff Wardle: “Educated first as a vehicle engineer and then as an automotive designer at the Royal College of Art in London, Geoff has had extensive experience as a professional vehicle designer across four continents and remains a passionate car enthusiast.”
  • Craig Hodgetts, who brought to the table “a broad-ranging background in automotive design, theater and architecture.”
  • Harold Belker, described as “a force of nature in the area of automotive design with a list of design credits that include the Smart Car, the Batmobile for Warner Bros. Batman and Robin film, and the futuristic cars of Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report including the sporty red Lexus.”
  • Michael Lejeune, “Creative Director for Metro Los Angeles” and the lone, beleagured representative of mass transit on the panel.
So really, what could one expect?

Well, one could expect a lot more from a prominent and supposedly progressive entity such as KCRW pretending to discuss mobility in Los Angeles.

But the truth is that you’ll do much better reading bike shop blogs.

Which, I am glad to see, you’re already doing.