Monday, December 21, 2009

Ride Report: Monday, December 21, 2009

An extraordinary and unlikely run-in with a motorcycle cop today.

It's 2:13 PM, and I'm climbing a small hill on Olympic just east of San Vicente, already feeling a little edgy about sharing the road with crazed last minute holiday shoppers. If they are the same people who come into the bookstore (where I just worked a 7 hour shift) and cut in line, yell, and leave mess everywhere, I don't particularly want to ride with them.

The rightmost lane on Olympic is available for parking, and I'm in what's left of it, technically in the door zone. I'm fine being in the door zone when I'm going pretty slow. All of a sudden someone SCREAMS in my ear. They seem to have direct access to my eardrum and they have let a scream rip at maximum pitch. I jump in my (bike) seat and look up to see an SUV with a teenager's head sticking out of the back window. As they pass me, in a total failure of my principles, I flip them off. Well... it was a heated moment. I was very startled and frightened.

I managed to note the SUV's license plate and I pulled over to call the LAPD. I have actually practiced noting license plates, because I call the LAPD regularly when I am harassed, or when someone drives recklessly around me. I've been on the phone for literally 10 seconds when a motorcycle cop passes by. Perfect! "I need your help!" I yell frantically. "Police!"

The motorcycle turns around and sort of scoots over to me. "Are you yelling for me?" he asks. I say, "Yes, I've just been harassed by an SUV... it was white, and it's headed that way, this was literally under a minute ago." He says, what do you mean harassed? I tell him that someone leaned out of the car and screamed in my ear.

He seems irritated. He tells me that there is no crime in yelling out of cars. He gestures toward the pavement and says, "Well, how were you riding, I mean, if you're in the roadway then..." I interrupt him. I show him where I was riding and he sort of shrugs. Then I say, "It's a good thing that they're writing that anti-harassment ordinance to deal with the problem of bicyclists being harassed. He leans his motorcycle-helmeted-head back slightly and squints his eyes. What "problem"? he asks skeptically. I tell him, you know, people yelling at us, passing us closely, throwing stuff at us.

"Oh." he says, as if admitting that such a problem might exist in Los Angeles. "Well, here's the thing, though... lots of bicyclists don't know the rules of the road, and lots of them are running lights, riding the wrong way..." I don't remember if the officer used the words "asking for it," exactly.

I actually interrupt him and tell him that if this is gonna be a lecture on bicyclists and the law, I'll pass. I tell him I'm intimately familiar with the laws. And anyway, I say, aren't motorists breaking the laws constantly, too? I cite some examples, like how they are always speeding. And how they never stop behind the limit line at red lights.

Turns out, Officer Corbett (? Collett? I forget.) is actually a speed patrol on Olympic and San Vicente, and he warms up to the idea that motorists are always breaking the law. Yes, he says. And what's more - "Wanna know the top speed I've ever seen? 98. Ninety-eight miles per hour on San Vicente. If somebody pulls out of their driveway in front of a car going that fast, they're dead." He goes on to tell me that he does more than the average officer for bikes and pedestrians, and he seems sincere. We talk for a while about Assault with a Deadly Weapon and how if a car ever veers toward you intentionally, it's ADW with a vehicle. He speaks with some venom, as if he has had experience with it, and he actually derides the fact that so many folks want to classify ADW with a vehicle as a traffic accident. Yes, that definitely happens in Los Angeles, I think as I listen, recalling the recent Hummer incident in downtown LA. Later he goes on a rant about how motorists don't know when pedestrians have the right of way, and how drivers need to slow down in this area, which has a hospital, a school, and plenty of elderly people crossing at unmarked intersections. We're on the same page about that, I think. I briefly consider enlisting the officer's support for traffic calming on Olympic.

Our conversation goes on for about 15 minutes longer, and we reach a much more level, respectful rapport than when I interrupted what I presumed to be an oncoming lecture. Ok. I want to end here with Three lessons from this.

1) Bottom line is, in our initial exchange, the officer's first question toward me was whether I was breaking the law or riding illegally; his first impulse was then to educate me regarding bike law and describe the rampant problem with scofflaw cyclists. I called him over asking for his help, and his first assumption is that I did something to deserve the harassment, like ride "in the roadway." (Ummm.... not against the law! I suspended my urge to give him a lecture about that. anyway...) Imagine if you called the cops because someone was harassing you and their first question was whether you were breaking any laws.

Even an officer like this one, who was fair and respectful, professed to be pro-bike and pro-ped, and viewed cars as deadly weapons, displayed anti-bike bias. That's just one more indicator that the anti-cyclist bias is huge and rampant among LAPD particularly.

2) We definitely need the cyclist harassment ban proposed by Councilman Rosendahl's office. I know that most of the vehicle code can't be touched by cities because its considered a "matter of statewide concern," and legally only the State of CA can create laws like a three-foot passing law or a stop-as-yield law, but we need to find the legal areas the city actually does have jurisdiction over and regulate on this. (By the way, the city does have a local ordinance against throwing things out of cars, apparently because of a problem with motorists and their passengers spraying people with fire extinguishers (?!) a while back. Officer Corbett explained this. So if you do get something thrown at you, definitely note the license plate and call it in to LAPD.)

Here I was with the improbable, fortunate coincidence of blatant harassment and the arrival of a police officer, and unfortunately for me, he couldn't do anything. If we had an anti-harassment ordinance, I could have cited the code, listed the license plate, and watched justice speed off.

3) There is no evidence that cyclists use their discretion to break the law any more than motorists do - no, definitely no evidence. But we must be ready to face the "scofflaw cyclist" stereotype at every turn. Our law-breaking stands out in motorists' minds because we break laws that would be VERY dangerous and stupid for cars to break. Their law breaking is just routine. I had some success tempering the "scofflaw cyclist" stereotype with 1) mention of the routine criminal activity of motorists, and 2) meticulous knowledge of the law and 3) meticulous following of the law. I think we need all three of these things to prevail in the face of this stereotype, which is why I basically never break the law on a bike when there is any kind of witness around (and of course not when it'd be stupid).

Geek note: this whole "motorists come in all shapes and sizes, but cyclists are all arrogant scofflaws" actually reflects a broader psychological/sociological phenomenon called "out-group homogeneity bias."

Rosendahl and City Hall, pass that law. Cyclists, know your laws. And LAPD, stop assuming we're breaking them.

View Larger Map

(The scene of the crime. In the background you can see the unmarked intersection the officer and I discussed.)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Open Urban Planning Degree 2: Carpool Fail

In an earlier post I explained my efforts to make my urban planning papers accessible to a knowledgeable, interested, general audience by imagining that I'm writing them for this blog. An added benefit of this exercise is that by posting my papers here, I make available some planning related ideas. The questions, "What is urban planning?" and 'What constitutes (or should constitute) an urban planning education?" are highly contested, and I certainly cannot, at this point, answer them. But a sort of practical answer may emerge as I pass on these papers. And I like to think that this could be of some use to someone considering going to planning skool, or to folks who do planning-related work, like community organizing, local politicking, etc., (see - I write etc. because the bounds around urban planning are perpetually implacable). Like MIT's OpenCourseWare does, I'll use the internet to make knowledge available outside the ivory tower, except unlike MITs OCW, I'll do it in a tiny, unsanctioned - let's just say it, meek way.

I wrote this paper in response to an "economic naturalist" prompt. It says, go out into the world, observe some urban phenomenon, and analyze it with economics. This assignment evinces the imperative in urban planning to address what is practical. Economics for urban planning only has worth inasmuch as it can explain some real behavior.

A final sidenote: I've read a lot of Chomsky and Naomi Klein, and had always thought of economics as an ideologically broken discipline, focused on currency and unquestioning of capitalism. This class sort of converted me. I want to use concepts such as opportunity cost, marginal cost, and externalities to create organizational systems (maybe markets - not necessarily "free" markets) that place value on the environment and distribute benefits equitably. I no longer believe that a microeconomic analysis of choice is incompatible with my ideological leanings toward anarchy and social democracy. Perhaps that's all for another post. Now, here's the paper.

Why are there so many empty seats moving (slowly) down the freeway? Wouldn’t commuting be faster and cheaper if we filled up all the vehicles?

Most cars seat 4 or 5 people, but most traffic consists of solo drivers. That’s a lot of underused capacity moving down the road. During the morning and evening rush hours, solo drivers are stuck in a sea of empty seats, yet nobody attempts to take advantage of all that potential mobility.[1] Drivers don't sell their empty seats to passengers who want to go the same places, and we don't see would-be passengers lining up to bid for rides.

The absence of such a market is most puzzling when you consider that the road is very congested, which means a lot of people want to travel along the same route. An economist would say that demand for travel on this freeway is high.[2] Whenever there's some demand for a good, anybody who can supply that good has an opportunity to charge a price for it. Then we have a seeming economic paradox. A service (mobility) is in high demand, and the ability to provide this service (empty passenger seats) is under private ownership and available for profit. This same scenario exists on the LA Metro, and there is a market: used fare tickets, still good for a few more hours of travel, are sold at informal (and illegal) markets around the stations. Why isn't there a market in casual carpooling?

In order to answer this question, let's imagine how such a market would have to work. Such a thought experiment addresses some logistical questions, like how would carpoolers match up with drivers going to their destination? And what about safety concerns? Let's just imagine the most low-tech solution possible. Let's say I am one of the many Angelenos who does not travel to work by car.[3] If I want to get to UCLA from the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles, I walk to the nearest on-ramp to the 10 W freeway. I stand there with a sign saying “405 N – Wilshire” which represents where I want to get off the freeway. In a robust market, I'd find another passenger hoping to go my way so that we could get in a car together, because traveling in twos alleviates safety concerns for the driver. With all the rush-hour activity at every on-ramp, eventually someone going my way would roll up. The two of us would get in and we would pay the going price. The driver would drop us off shortly after the freeway exit, and we would be on our own to reach our final destinations.

It would seem that everybody gains in such an arrangement. That's the talent of private markets: they match up buyers and sellers who are both better off when the transaction is made. In this case, my fellow passenger and I are better off because we can get to work without owning a car. We save a lot of money, even if we spend some of it on the commute. The driver, who has already sunk a lot of money into the cost of owning and maintaining the car, gets to recoup some of this while getting to her final destination in nearly the same amount of time. So let's return to the question, why doesn't such a market form?

First of all, the market depends upon a level of robustness, or else passengers look like crazy commuter hitchhikers. The whole thing has to be established at many locations and well-known. This means there's a significant start-up cost. Whoever invested the time and energy wouldn't receive any special benefit, and everybody else who participated in the market afterward would be a free rider on the founder's original effort.

More importantly, the marginal cost per mile of driving is very low. Economists distinguish between fixed costs, which must be paid upfront to engage in some activity, and marginal costs, which vary with the level of use. In the case of driving, there are huge fixed costs: the cost of ownership and maintenance. Even the cost of a tank of gas is a fixed cost when you're behind the wheel. You already paid for the tank of gas, so the next mile is free. The distinction between fixed and marginal cost doesn't necessarily defray the driver's general incentive to recoup his costs. But a basic precept of bargaining (and markets) is that everybody tries to get the best deal possible.[4] In this case, consumers know that the marginal cost to producers is zero, and they will try to bargain them down that low. Why should I pay you to give me a ride when I know that you're going there anyway, and you already bought the car and filled the tank? I should get this ride for free.

Relatedly, even if the market were already established (perhaps by some government wanting the road to function better) and even if the marginal cost per mile of driving were higher, driving alone may actually confer a significant benefit on some people. Perhaps they really enjoy rocking out to music in the morning.[5] Alternatively, drivers may perceive the risk of inviting strangers into their car to be very high. Either way, for these people picking up a paying hitchhiker would entail a large transaction cost. Whenever transaction costs are higher than the going price, a market will not form.

In the places where we do see casual carpooling markets, some of the above criteria do not hold. In the Bay Area, casual carpools form to cross the Bay Bridge. In this case, the market's logistics are simple: there is one pick-up spot, and one drop-off spot. This solves the free rider problem that comes with establishing the market. In addition, the marginal cost of driving is much higher than normal. Single occupancy vehicles pay a toll of $4 to cross the bridge; carpools of three or more can bypass it. Now that there is a monetary benefit, more drivers are willing to take on the transaction cost of picking up strangers.

If casual carpooling were widespread, freeways would carry more people, and overall we might spend less money on commuting and less time in traffic. Unfortunately, because no one wants to do the work to coordinate all these carpools, and because driving another trip to work is basically free, all those empty seats remain an untapped resource.

[1] Except the government, which does provide a meager incentive in the form of a less congested carpool lane.

[2] Technically, they would say that the quantity demanded is very high because the price is very low. The term demand on its own refers to a dynamic function of price.

[3] About 20% of Los Angeles’ workforce, according to this document:

[4] In economic jargon, consumers try to maximize their consumer utility.

[5] Surveys suggest that this benefit is nontrivial. When people were asked to name their ideal commute time, the mean response was 16 minutes, not “no commute.” This is chronicled in the 2008 book Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt, p. 139.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Prius Ad Campaign on LA's Freeways Violates Public Space, Federal Law

Since I now do it so rarely, driving a car makes me feel like I'm in an alternative reality - either a dream state where everything floats by without any tangible sensations, or an exhilarating video game where I maneuver around vehicles and accelerate through curves.

Last night the 110 North was all video game thrill, the lane lines blurring and the curves making me lean in my seat. But today, driving East on the 10, just past Overland, I rubbed my eyes, 'cause what I was seeing disoriented me and intrigued me. Was it a dream? It looked like this:

It's an elaborate flower arrangement like you'd find in the Rose Parade. That orange thing in the middle? It's a 2010 Prius.

Why did it look so odd and disorienting? Because ever since 1965 when the Highway Beautification Act was signed, advertising has been restricted on Interstate Highway landscaping. Toyota themselves recognize this - check this excerpt from their press release:

Since federal regulations require that the Floralscapes be non-commercial in nature, abstract images of the new Prius will appear in different settings, capturing the essence of its marketing campaign developed by Saatchi & Saatchi LA – “Harmony Between Man, Nature and Machine.” All of the images have been approved by California’s department of transportation, Caltrans.

I just spent 20 minutes re-reading the beginning of that sentence, and poring over relevant federal regulations, and I can't find any evidence that this is legal. The flowers obviously form a Prius, and this is obviously an ad campaign. This isn't the only spot Angelenos will be forced to stare at an orange flower 2010 Prius; they're at seven locations along LA freeways.

Will someone with legal training help me out on this one? I'm sure Toyota is prepared to defend their actions, considering that they have the time and money to make sure their multi-million dollar ad campaigns are actually legal. On the other hand, I still think the State Attorney General Ed Brown should bring charges against the parties who facilitated this ad: Mayor Villaraigosa, Caltrans, Toyota, and Saatchi & Saatchi. Attorney General Brown should file charges because the states can lose a portion of their federal highway funding for violating the Highway Beautification Act. Caltrans and Mayor V have definitely violated the act, at least in spirit, and what was a green public landscape is now lost to branding and commercialization.

What are we getting in the trade-off? Is Toyota going to maintain the landscaping around these ads? The press release implies as much:

California-based businesses are contracted to install and maintain the Floralscapes. The non-profit Los Angeles Conservation Corps, which provides training, education and work experience to at-risk young adults and school-aged youth, will maintain the areas surrounding the Floralscapes.

But the passive voice in that first sentence leaves some important questions unanswered. Hmm, who is paying for the Los Angeles Conservation Corps to do this? Toyota? Or our tax dollars? Inquiring minds want to know.

So much irony abounds here. Mayor Villaraigosa celebrates the advertisements as a symbol of "the city's progressive approach to solving environmental issues." He's right, technically. The Prius does pretty well symbolize Mayor Villaraigosa's idea of a greener LA. It uses fancy modern technology to produce basically no results (a Prius gets worse gas mileage than a Geo Metro), it maintains the car's hegemony, its costs are borne by your average Joe and Jane car-buyers, and it pleases big corporate interests. Oh, and let's not forget that Priuses cause just as much congestion as Hummers.

The Prius 2010 campaign intrudes on our lives by design, and this is not the only way it does that. First, we found ourselves in Prius "solar flower" playgrounds, like this one in the Americana. Then, Toyota found a legal loophole so that they could stick their ads in a place where no ads have gone before. LA is already embroiled in controversies about supergraphics and digital billboards. The Prius ads on 7 LA freeways mock the citizen movements against enormous advertisements that have popped up all over our city.

Caltrans and Mayor V have never allowed the everyday organizations that adopt stretches of highway to spread their message to this extent. That's for the best. Anybody and everybody can and will adopt a stretch of highway. I don't want the gun club or the Mormons (sorry, gun-loving LDSes - I'm sure there are many of you out there reading this) creating a flowery mural of this:

Anyway, that's beside the point.

This Prius ad isn't going to disrupt my personal view, and let's face it - even if I did drive a lot, sights and sounds on the freeway have never been that exciting or beautiful. The real scandals here are (1) the ever-encroaching privatization of public space, (2) the successful greenwashing of a technology that really doesn't do much to solve our climate and oil problems (3) the fact that our leaders think we buy this greenwashing, and think they can strike a sketchy deal like this with a huge car company like Toyota.

Come tomorrow, I'll be back on Olympic on my bike, and I won't be looking at this ad. But it should come down.

Then the 10-W at Overland will look like this again.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Road Anti-Rage, or We Will Meet Your Physical Force with Soul Force

There's no dearth of guides on how to ride a bicycle in a city -- on safe urban cycling practices, legal rights on the road, even how to cope when there's an accident.

This is not a how-to of any of the types listed above. This concerns how to talk to drivers, and how to engender their goodwill by displaying goodwill ourselves. This is a method for road anti-rage.

Though this method applies to the most extreme cases, and certainly must hold up in their light given the recent case with Dr. Thompson, I mean it primarily as a way of everyday riding and interaction. We must use nonviolence in each and every interaction we have on the streets. Every single day we face honking, yelling, dangerously close passing, purposeful braking, and buses buzzing us. Most drivers mean no harm. Some do. Most, we are confident, are ignorant of our perspective, and ignorant of how vulnerable we really are and all the dangers we face.

Ultimately, drivers control the heavy weaponry and they will win in any violent contest. What I am suggesting is that we embrace the fact that we are weak and a minority, and we champion the very vulnerability that often fills us with fear. If we take a principled stand against violence, we will always win.

Many of us bike because of our principles. Perhaps we want to take a stand against wars for oil, environmental degradation, and an automobile industry that shrugs at fatality counts. Or we want to see and engage with our city and our neighbors. Or we want to take charge of our health and body. For whatever reason, when we bike, we endure some unpleasant situations in the name of these principles, these commitments.

The issue of road rage and how we respond to it is then essentially an issue of how a principled movement should respond to violence. We must draw on the nonviolent tradition, the same tradition that peacefully overturned dictatorships in countless countries. The methods and philosophy of nonviolence gained civil rights in the U.S. It is a method that has proven to win remarkably. More important than that, though, we must adhere to nonviolence if we are ever to achieve more peaceful, civil, and humane roads, and that's the goal for which we all strive.

Then I say, let us do away with the finger and with retaliation. Those are violent responses. Let us do more than put away the finger. Let us also refuse to hate the drivers that act violently towards us.

To be specific, I am suggesting that:
  • When we are honked at, we nod humbly.
  • When we are yelled at, we respond with calm.
  • When we are passed closely and want to either fight or flee, we must engage in discussion with humanity and love.
Here's a rough template for how such an interaction would proceed:

  1. Unsafe, unpleasant, or hostile encounter with motorist
  2. Assume that motorist is a well-intentioned, good (but maybe ignorant) human being. This assumption shows on your face as you treat the motorist with kindness and respect. Empathize with the motorist.
  3. Attempt to find a moment to interact. This may occur naturally, at a light. Or, you can yell, "Do you have a minute?" Motorists usually don't. They're especially unlikely to pull over if you show even a hint of defensiveness. But I've had some success with a genuine entreaty to have a conversation. For example, I'll say, "If you have a minute, I'd be happy to explain to you why I have to take that lane position."
  4. Kindly explain why you were riding where you were riding. (Note that (4) requires you to be conscious in your riding style and choices, and confident in them. If you're rude or unjustified in the way you ride, this method won't work.) Some kind explanations can reference the law, but none focus on it. When interacting with a neighbor in a civil fashion, and searching for a way to share the road, the law becomes beside the point. Technically, yes, the law can keep us safe, but its not adequate as a guide for how to interact as citizens and human beings sharing space.
  5. Kindly explain how the motorist's actions affect you. For example, "When you pass me so closely, it makes me feel very afraid." Readily admit fear and vulnerability. These are truths of our lives when we ride bikes.
  6. State your needs offer the motorist a suggestion for how to meet your needs For example, "I need more room in the lane in order to feel safe. Would you be willing to pass bicyclists while giving us half a lane to comfortably ride in? I'd really appreciate it."
  7. End by reiterating that you're cooperative and friendly. "Well - no harm meant on my end. I just want to get to work on time. Thanks for listening, take care!"
  8. Just as it is important to learn how to state our feelings, thoughts, and fears without making judgment or using violent language, it is also crucial that we remain open to the driver's needs, thoughts, and feelings. Listen to what the driver might have to say. Listen for the fears or feelings driving their communication, even if the words come out as harsh or defensive. Acknowledge that motorists also need a safe space to drive.

It might be infuriating to consider this approach when so often motorists carelessly endanger our lives. But I'd argue that if we really want our interactions with them to increase our safety and make the world a better place, then we have to keep our side of the street clean, act like the upstanding citizens we are, and kill them with kindness.

I realized some time ago that my ultimate goal was mutual understanding with motorists. So I started practicing. For example, a driver would lay on the horn for a block, then pass me very closely, yelling "sidewalk!" and zoom away. We'd meet again at the intersection. I assume, going into this encounter, that this is a person, a human, with whom I can empathize. I show that assumption on my face. I say, hello. Usually I am greeted with what I perceive as disgust and anger. The motorist may expect a fight. But if I can remain calm, explain my perspective, and remain open to the motorist, we usually end the conversation on a good note. A much better note, at any rate, than if I tried to argue with them.

Martin Luther King said, Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.

For all the attention that's been paid to the most minute questions of legality and safety, very little attention has been paid to how we interact with others on the road. In the absence of this attention we're left with crude advice and cruder instincts. This is an attempt to draw on the most old-school, time-tested philosophy of movements for social change. It takes the rage part of road-rage seriously and doesn't shy from the spiritual. So I'll end this post with a quote from the preacher of all preachers:

So in many instances, we have been able to stand before the most violent opponents and say in substance, we will meet your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you.

Throw us in jail and we will still love you. Threaten our children and bomb our homes and our churches and as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half-dead, and as difficult as that is, we will still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Open Urban Planning Degree, Installment 1

I'm now getting a Master's in Urban Planning. The conventions of writing in this field are much different from the conventions in either English or Mathematics, the two subjects I studied in undergrad. We are supposed to write for a general audience, primarily because when we graduate and actually become urban planners, we will be responsible to some (city's) public who must understand the reasoning behind our decisions. Jargon, obfuscation, and anything that smacks of an internal academic conversation is discouraged. The field of Urban Planning makes few claims to be a natural, coherent division of knowledge, so we don't really have a basis for that type of self-important internal discourse anyway. (Mathematics, on the other hand, is famously inaccessible to a layperson, and mathematicians are famous for not caring. As a field, math is stuck in a dark age that still believes in the universality of knowledge; because math is the naturalized basis for the "natural" sciences, few people feel compelled to think about its social dimensions, and who is excluded and included by the language of mathematics.)

So, to help me adapt to these new standards, I've adopted the following conceit: when I write urban planning papers, I pretend that I'm writing for this blog. Sometimes the constraints of the assignment make this difficult, but the attempt feels worthwhile, because: I posit that your average internet-accessing city-dweller is made a better citizen by understanding something about urban planning. Further, your average community organizer or activist (who unfortunately may not have internet access, but oh well) needs this knowledge even more. The structure and functioning of our cities directly bounds civic engagement, community work and activism.

So here's a paper on the 1924 Traffic Street Plan for Los Angeles, and how it relates to the problems with LA's streets today. And to reinforce my claim that this knowledge directly relates to civic engagement, here's one petition you can sign to improve the LA Bike Plan, and here's some background links on all the controversy surrounding it and how you can participate in improving LA's streets for all users. I'm currently working with LACBC to organize a grassroots response to this plan in cooperation with other community-based organizations, so more about that later.


The 1924 Major Traffic Street Plan of Los Angeles

and its influences upon contemporary urban planning practice, particularly the 2009 Bicycle Master Plan Draft of Los Angeles

October 14, 2009

Today, almost 80% of commuters in the city of Los Angeles travel to work in a private automobile. (LADOT 14) In the popular imagination, LA is the archetypal car city, famous for its sprawl and smog. Although sprawl is typically considered a consequence of the suburban housing boom and of highway and freeway building in the post-WWII era, in Los Angeles it dates back to the era between 1900 and 1930 (Wachs 1). During this period of tremendous population growth and fast-rising automobile ownership rates, the city made key transportation and land-use decisions that gave LA the decentralized form it has today. One of the most important of these was the 1924 Major Traffic Street Plan.

[my argument: the link to contemporary planning practice]
The adoption of the 1924 Plan began LA's fervent commitment to the automobile. Nationally respected urban planners wrote it, and a broad coalition of government officials, business owners, and citizen-drivers approved it and financed its implementation. Private vehicles dominate LA's transportation network because of the infrastructure called for by the 1924 Plan, the consensus around the private automobile it helped to cement, and the decentralized urban form that these produced. Contemporary urban planners, faced with a city whose mobility depends almost solely upon the auto, now have difficulty proposing anything that takes away space or money from cars. This legacy makes a bikable Los Angeles very difficult to plan or achieve.

[context for the plan]
The plan was written as a response to traffic congestion, which was already a problem in the early 1920s. Angelenos embraced the car earlier and to a greater extent than any other American city. In 1920, there were 3.6 residents per automobile in LA, whereas the national average was 13.1 (Bottles 93). By 1925 there was one automobile for every two Angelenos (Bottles 92). Compounding this effect, the city was rapidly acquiring new residents: LA nearly doubled in population from 1910 to 1920, from 320,000 people to 580,000. By 1930 it had doubled again, reaching 1.2 million. Prior to this wave of migration, LA already had a relatively decentralized form due to the fact that its first period of rapid growth, from 1870 to 1910, coincided with the introduction of street railways (Wachs 4). The rising population, high rates of auto ownership, and already decentralized shape caused traffic.

Before 1924, no comprehensive system for road maintenance and construction existed. Property owners could petition for local improvements, and there were some traffic regulations passed to expedite the flow of traffic, but none of these meager and piecemeal solutions had much effect. Most people considered traffic an ominous problem, and in 1921 a broad coalition came together to "assist the city" in solving it (LATC 3). The Los Angeles Traffic Commission was an unofficial advisory board of business leaders, utility officials, government officials, and newspapermen. In 1924 the Commission came up with $23,000 in privately-donated funds to obtain the services of nationally renowned urban planners Olmsted, Bartholomew, and Cheney to produce a comprehensive highway survey.

[the 1924 major traffic street plan]
In the following discussion, I focus on those elements of the plan that have had staying power; that is, the road widenings and new roads whose influence remains in the layout of Los Angeles and those ideas and methods which continue to have influence in the field of urban planning.

The causes of congestion that the plan identifies are not much different than the causes of congestion widely recognized today. They are: "the volume of traffic," "unscientific width and arrangement of streets," "promiscuous mixing of different types of traffic," and "limiting capacity of street intersections" (MTSP 11). The plan never proposes to limit the volume of traffic, and in fact explicitly anticipates a truism of transportation planning for the remainder of the 20th century:

"Traffic will be limited by the width or capacity of the streets, and by that only. If that capacity is doubled, the limit will be raised, but when it is again reached, the final degree of congestion will be just as bad... Congestion will reach a point approximating the intolerable whether the street is wide or narrow" (MTSP 18).

The plan even goes so far as to ask, "Why not be fatalistic and do nothing?"

Its answers are twofold: first, looking at the street system as a whole allows the planners to ensure it is well balanced, so that no portion is used far below its capacity. Second, major technological developments, i.e. the shift from horses to streetcars and automobiles, require cities to make dramatic changes in scale in order to remain economically productive.

Towards these two ends, internal system balance and increased overall capacity, the planners proposed to widen a set of “radial thoroughfares,” providing access to the central business district from all other parts of the city. First street would be widened significantly to connect to Hollywood and the Cahuenga Pass to the San Fernando Valley. Wilshire and 10th (now Olympic) would be widened, extended, and straightened to become major east-west thoroughfares. A proposed Arroyo Seco Parkway would connect with Pasadena to the northeast. The plan recommended that LA always distinguish between major and minor streets and attempt to segregate different classes of traffic (i.e. streetcar, private automobile, and heavy trucks) as much as possible.

[impact on the field of urban planning]
Many of the plan’s recommendations were carried out. In particular, Wilshire and 10th (now Olympic) became major thoroughfares; the Arroyo Seco Parkway was completed; and the call for a direct route to Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley beyond was eventually answered in the 101 Freeway. Freeways descend from the 1924 plan’s approach in that they segregate non-motorized modes and they are the ultimate products of widening compounded upon widening.

More generally, the plan’s overall to the problem of traffic congestion continues to be adopted today: widen roads where possible, maximize the efficiency of existing roads by segregating uses and speeds, and make consistent traffic regulations that speed up movement. In the intervening decades, transportation planners have followed this general program of increasing road supply in anticipation of greatly increasing demand. The Plan also set a precedent of public finance for expensive automobile infrastructure. This was not trivial. Most of the “public transportation” at that time, i.e. the streetcars and railways, was privately owned and operated. Thus the Plan paved the way for successive large public works transportation projects, like the freeways built in the 1950s and 60s. Altogether, the Plan facilitated the rise of the automobile in Los Angeles, which prefigured the rise of the auto in other American cities. In this sense the Plan contributed to the car-dominated transportation landscape planners face today.

[relation to contemporary planning practice: the 2009 Bicycle Master Plan draft]

The City of Los Angeles just released a draft of the 2009 update to the city’s Bicycle Master Plan. This document, if adopted, will guide “the development of bicycle policies, programs, and infrastructure citywide” (BMP 1). Via the connections listed in the previous paragraph, the 1924 Major Traffic Street Plan influences the 2009 Bicycle Master Plan. The 2009 BMP aims for a very low share of trips, 5%, to be taken by bicycle by 2020. This is the heritage of decentralization and decades of the car’s dominance. In fact, the plan’s main constraint is that it cannot take away space from cars. The plan identifies over 404 miles of roadway as “key corridors where bicycle lanes are desired but would require a policy change in street designation standards… the removal of vehicular travel lanes, removal of on-street parking; or roadway widening (42).” To give a sense of the magnitude of this mileage of infeasible roads, the plan only proposes a total of 206 miles of separated bicycle travel lanes and paths (41).

Not only does the 2009 BMP draft propose almost no improvements to high-volume thoroughfares, it actually removes 57 miles of bicycle lanes that were designated in the 1996 Bicycle Master Plan (BMP 6), the vast majority of these on major streets. Thus, we can view the BMP update as a direct descendant of the 1924 Major Traffic Street Plan. Both plans aim to increase space for cars.


Bottles, Scott L.1987. Los Angeles and the Automobile. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Foster, Mark S. 1981. From Streetcar to Superhighway: American City Planners and Urban Transportation, 1900-1940. Temple University Press.

Los Angeles Department of Transportation. 2009. The City of Los Angeles Transportation Profile 2009.

Los Angeles Department of Transportation Bicycle Services and Alta Planning. 2009. Complete LA Bicycle Plan DRAFT. Accessed October 13, 2009.

Olmsted, Frederick Law; Bartholomew, Harland; and Cheney, Charles Henry. 1924. A Major Traffic Street Plan for Los Angeles. Prepared for the Committee on Los Angeles Plan of Major Highways of the Traffic Commission of the City and County of Los Angeles.

Wachs, Martin. 1984. “Autos, Transit and the Sprawl of Los Angeles: The 1920s.” Irvine: Institute of Transportation Studies.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Love, love, love, I want your Love

It has recently come to my attention that Lady Gaga is the shit. Well, maybe I should tone that down a little bit. She is the most shameless exhibitionist in showbiz, that's for sure. She is a master of media saturation, marketing, and multiple genre post-modernism. (All that alliteration makes me want to sing Roma, ro-ma-ma!)

Her new video, "Bad Romance," was just released to general excitement, controversy, and ogling.

Part of me wants to demolish Gaga with a feminist / anticapitalist critique. Yes, this video is a microcosm of a society that spends billions of dollars on advertising and where little public space remains without some kind of arches or swoosh adornment. And yes, this video is a total feminist dystopia. The camera-as-male-gaze renders the women sex objects, a role the video actually casts for them explicitly. Female bodies are covered in makeup and alterations that I hope to God are computer generated. Norms about what is feminine and what is beautiful dictate that all the women are skinny, white, and hairless. (Although I guess all the men are hairless, too, and while we're at it so are the cats).

Ok. Now that all that is dispensed with, I have to say I really can't stop watching this video. It's partly because it's such a freakish cultural artifact, and equal parts because of the straight-up eye candy, both fascinating and disturbing. Gaga has played on some fundamental tensions, and these make the video rich. Let's examine these one by one.

The liberated sex-object tension: This video is a perfect metaphor for Gaga in real life. She's a high-priced sex object cloaked in high-priced adornments. It seems like she's being exploited, and truth be told her legitimacy and agency are seriously limited, but in the end... she wins.

Detachment vs. old-school romanticism (no pun intended): Notice the slightly time-delayed close-ups of Gaga lip-sync-ing sans make-up. A traditional staple of the music video genre, these cast the singer as expressionist, channeling her emotion into music. These shots appear at the video's climax, pulling on our romantic heartstrings. On the other hand, most of the video exhibits a wierd detachment that is part of Gaga's overall character deal. She doesn't care, she's just selling crazy razor sunglasses and walking in freaky ass crab claw heels. But wait! She does care - she's singing in slow motion and crying. Which is it?

Hipster irony vs. high fashion: The dance moves here reek of hipster irony, especially the wierd twitchy hand distraction at the beginning and the slow hip-shiftingin the middle. But most of this video is about hipster irony's evil cousin, high fashion. With all the elaborate props and model-ly poses, the video resembles a photo shoot with some dance scenes spliced in. If Gaga were on America's Next Top Model, Tyra would congratulate her for "working the garment." She also works the headphones, and the vodka, and the beats laptops... Point is, Gaga is way too cool to dance outside the self-aware hipster paradigm, but unlike most hipsters, she's got diamonds raining down on her while she looks aloof.

(Non-sequitur: I self identify as a hipster and I am NOT down with the shit-talking that surrounds this term. A post on this is due.)

Postmodern low-attention-span collage vs. old-school narrative: There's a storyline here. I would argue that few of us really know how to relate knowledge without narrative, and this video demonstrates that a little narrative goes a long way toward making a piece of art compelling. There's a big literary debate about this. On the other hand, the narrative is totally spliced and confused by the short takes, costume changes, and just general non-sensical-ness. I want to know how to fit these into my narrative, i.e. what are the folks in red doing at the end and why does Gaga then put her black glove on her face and wink like that? Is that future Gaga knowing that present Gaga is about to burn this motherfucker down? I try to piece a narrative together, and I'm compelled in the process.

Whiteness: Whiteness is its own tension, as any white person can tell you. There's something hip and kind-of-black going on here: "I'm a freak bitch, baby" sneaks in as if on a side track, dropped onto the record player and then shuffled off by an expert and extra-subtle DJ. And the Thriller-esque moves recall Michael Jackson, which makes them fraught with racial ambiguity. Gaga shouts herself out throughout the track ("Ga GA Oh La la") like a rapper would, and uses nonsense syllables to rhyme like a rapper, but the whole thing is happening in a pop song that sounds kind of like a Russian folkdance. AHH!

Best of all, the video is totally shameless about containing all this contradiction and allusiveness. All Gaga really did here was dress up a pretty standard surprise-ending story in as many ridiculous outfits and aesthetics as possible. Fucking shameless, and that's all I ever want out of pop.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

KPCC Will Give the Bike Discussion Another Try!

So many people complained about last week's show that they will run another "Airtalk" segment on sharing the road, this time with some people who know a damn thing about bicycles. It's tomorrow at 10:20 AM on 89.3 KPCC.

Tune in! This is what Sharon McNary had to say in reply to my letter:

Hi Kristen – Great points all, and sorry to get to your note so late. There’s been a wide call from listeners asking for a followup show. So yes, I’m happy to announce….

Due to the intense interest in this topic and response to this week’s show, AirTalk with Larry Mantle will revisit the issue, this time with some expert guests. It’s set for 10:20 to 11 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11. You can listen live on the air at 89.3 FM or online at We’ll have an archive of the broadcast available online after the show, and places on the show website for simultaneous comments, and to continue the discussion afterward.

Please feel free to pass the word. I’ll be e-mailing cyclists who are in the Insight Network an alert to the follow-up show. Also, anybody who wants to add their bicycle story and photo to our Insight Network of news sources is welcome to do so at this link:

Thanks very much for making your voice heard on this issue.

Sharon McNary
Public Insight Journalism at KPCC

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

KPCC Botches Bike Discussion

The following letter concerns this on-air discussion, which aired the morning that Dr. Thompson was found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon - his car.

It's worth listening to the first few minutes of the show just to hear an insane caller who is a resident of Mandeville Canyon, where the incident took place. The caller just keeps repeating that cyclists are rude. They ride "in front of cars" and "don't get out of the way." This call has to be the low point of the whole discussion. The lowest point, in particular, is when this caller says that someone is going to die on Mandeville and that none of the residents are going to feel bad about it. Wow.

Wow, wow, wow.

[The picture, by the way, depicts 8th Street near my apartment. It's a very typical LA situation that could have been discussed with a level head. The right lane is too narrow to share if a biker is doing the safe thing and staying out of the door zone. Luckily for motorists, the city has placed for your convenience ANOTHER LANE just to the left of the one the biker is occupying. All motorists must do is step on the brakes lightly, wait for an opening in traffic, and change lanes, allowing plenty of room for the biker to breathe. It's not rocket science people. ]

Roadblock's logical suggestion in a midnightridazz forum on the show was that we write Sharon McNary, who handles programming for KPCC. So I did. My letter follows. (By the way, if you want clarification on the all the legal issues that were mishandled on this show, wikipedia did a bomb job of summarizing California vehicle codes relevant to bikes).


Dear Sharon,

Wow, I am really disappointed with how this show was handled. A bunch of misinformation regarding the law went unquestioned. Caller after caller gave the impression that bicyclists are legally required to ride single file, which is not true. Mantle never clarified the law. I cringe to think how many motorists listened to this show and came away with the incorrect impression that riding side by side is illegal. It's actually a very safe and reassuring thing to do when the lane is too narrow to share with a car but wide enough to accommodate two bikes.

Moreover, Mantle gave a lot of air time to motorists complaining about bicyclists on "busy streets" or "narrow mountain roads," but never clarified that the bicyclist has the legal right to be on any road (excepting the freeways). He could have said this right at the beginning. The horrendous comment from the Mandeville resident should have been tempered by some sort of sane follow-up. A caller suggests that "someone is going to die, and nobody in Mandeville is going to feel bad" and Mantle doesn't bat an eye?

It was not until much later in the show when a caller finally made the point that roads are public and cyclists have the full right to be on them (even when they are too narrow and require drivers to - gasp - slow down). Nor did he offer the sensible observation that drivers, too, act "arrogant" and constantly break the law. He seemed to vindicate angry motorists when he said it was "unrealistic" to expect drivers to adjust their behavior and pass safely.

The worst moment was when Mantle claimed that we have "minimum speed limits," which is just obscenely incorrect.

Mantle had a huge opportunity to encourage safe behavior by both cyclists and motorists. It's really not that difficult for us to share all the roads. Cyclists might slow motorists down a little bit; but motorists pollute the air a little bit, and we all have to breathe. I wish more of a civilized discussion could have taken place. Too much airtime was given to venting, misinformation, and resentment.

KPCC could do a great service by covering the ongoing bike boom in LA and the fact that more and more of us are getting on bikes. Follow the LA Times' lead and discuss how to ride safely, how motorists and bicyclists can make their interactions more pleasant, and base this dicussion on the facts in the law. Yes, infrastructure in LA does not exactly facilitate bicycling. Cyclists have to take the lane A LOT on our narrow streets. We really need the media to recognize our rights so that we don't have to suffer from any more road rage.

Kristen "Herbie" Huff
Los Angeles
commuter cyclist and urban planning student

Friday, September 11, 2009

The first ever Los Angeles Bike Count!

September 11, 2009


Contact: Yogi Hendlin (510) 472-2948,

Dorothy Keiu Le (213) 629-2142,

Herbie Huff (805) 404 3751


LOS ANGELES, Calif. –September 22-26th: Los Angeles will finally get what most large cities have long benefited from: a bicycle count. The first ever Los Angeles Bicycle and Pedestrian Count is happening all over Los Angeles, conducted by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC). The Count will achieve a clearer picture of how many people travel by bicycle and foot in Los Angeles, and where the bicycle and pedestrian traffic is the heaviest.

Bicycle counts empower volunteers to count the number of cyclists and pedestrians at key intersections throughout the city to track year-to-year changes in cycling and walking as policy and urban infrastructure change. Gathering this vital data, LACBC encourages policy-makers to include bicycling and walking considerations into all urban planning and design.

LACBC will work with over 200 volunteers participating in the count at over 45 locations on Tuesday September 22, 7-9:30am and 4-6:30pm, Wednesday, September 23, 7-9:30am and 4-6:30pm and Saturday, September 26, 10am-1pm. LACBC welcomes collaboration with partners wishing to sponsor or financially underwrite this effort.

According to the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project, “Without accurate and consistent demand and usage figures, it is difficult to measure the positive benefits of investments in these modes, especially when compared to the other transportation modes such as the private automobile.”

“Here in New York City, our annual citywide bike counts provide the biggest proof the our investment in more bike lanes is bearing fruit,” says Wiley Norvell, Communications Director of Transportation Alternatives. “No other fact has validated our city's bike program like the 35% increase in bike commuting shown in last year's counts.”

LACBC is working with LADOT to ensure that the counts inform the Bicycle Master Plan and all future city planning. LACBC plans to do it right while having a good time with volunteers by providing them with snacks, drinks, and a final Saturday night appreciation party.

Founded in 1998, LACBC is a membership supported advocacy organization working to improve the bicycling environment and quality of life in Los Angeles County.

For more information on the LA Bike Count, visit:

For more information about LACBC, visit:

To volunteer for the LA Bike Count, visit:

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I am Gentrification

I drive a Prius in Pico-Union.

I look white.

I am gentrification.

That is all.

Monday, July 13, 2009

My Comments on the Bike Plan

The following is my response to the City's recently released Bike Plan maps, which were released for public comment about a month and a half ago. Honestly, it has taken me this long to write to the city because the plan is 1) so confusing and 2) so underwhelming that it's hard to know where to start. But I sat down and tried to comprehend the mess of color coded and overlaid lines and then wrote the following letter.

Dear Ms. Bibas and Mr. Turner,

I am a commuter cyclist who lives in Pico-Union, about a mile west of downtown. I ride about 14 miles a day: it's 12 miles round-trip to my job in West Hollywood, and I tack on another 2 miles for errands. Next year I will be a graduate student at UCLA and will be doing the downtown-Westwood ride at least 3 times a week. Thus, my main areas of concern in looking at this bike map are East-West connections in the "Central" region (as you've broken it down). I find it glaringly devoid of those.

I usually ride on Olympic between Hoover and San Vicente, and San Vicente between Olympic and Orlando. Olympic is a horrific road that came up multiple times during the Transportation Committee meeting, which I attended. It is the quickest, most direct route to both my job and my school, and the plan proposes no improvements to it. Furthermore, I'm confused as to why it is not marked as a Class III Bike Route. In the April 2006 Bike Map distributed by the Metro, Olympic between downtown and La Cienega is listed as a Class III. Has this distinction (and the accompanying Share the Road signage) been removed?

The proposed improvements to 4th and 8th Streets to make them Bicycle-Friendly streets will help. However, the design standards for bicycle-friendly streets have not yet been released so it is impossible to tell what the impact will be. Neither 4th nor 8th extends very far, so there is a need for a longer east-west connection.

3rd and Fountain, two roads that I ride often, are proposed to be Shared Roadways. However, the shared roadway distinction for 3rd only lasts for about 2 miles. In my experience cyclists need to go farther than that. In addition, as I mentioned above, Olympic was a Shared Roadway as of April 2006, and that did not make it a safe or enjoyable road to ride. The design standards for Shared Roadways will determine whether this distinction actually protects cyclists. I add my voice to the many who support sharrows. Putting paint on the street sends a clear signal to both drivers and cyclists about how to share the road safely.

Legally, every road is a "Shared Roadway," whether the city puts signage there or not. Why don't we see more dotted purple on this map? Streets like 6th and 3rd have very narrow right lanes, requiring cyclists to make full-use of the right hand lane. All streets with a narrow curb lane need sharrows and signage. That way, drivers understand that cyclists are allowed the full use of the lane and will change lanes and safely pass. Currently, "taking the lane" on roads like this results in harassment from drivers. The city could easily change this with some paint and signs, but this map shows so very few of the dotted purple lines that would make that part of the plan.

There are no (zero!) proposed bike lanes throughout the area bounded by La Cienega on the west, Franklin on the north, Vermont on the east, and Adams to the south. This area is the heart of Los Angeles: it encompasses Mid-City, Hollywood, Koreatown, West Hollywood, Los Feliz, and more. It is unacceptable that this plan denies bike lanes to all of these communities and to the cultural centers of our city.

I understand that we will need political will to put down bike lanes and bike routes on most of the streets that appear as grey on this map. I echo the voices of many others who call on the Planning Department and LA DOT to make this bike plan more ambitious. We should not be afraid to remove traffic lanes or parking in order to make the city bikable. The community of cyclists will stand behind city planners if they have the ambition to request room for bikes at the cost of cars.

The design standards for bike lanes remain a concern. Most of the city's bike lanes run to the left of on-street parking, rendering them practically unusable. If a cyclist rides far enough to the left to avoid getting doored, she is probably riding outside the bike lane. The dangers of dooring are real and cyclists have died all over the country as a result of motorists opening their doors into bike lanes. This design flaw must not be repeated in the few places new bike lanes are proposed.

I have written this lengthy letter because I care enormously about the future of cycling in Los Angeles. I want to be able to get around this city on two wheels free of fear, and I want our roads to accomodate not just die-hards but also novices, elderly people, and children. This bike plan will have to be much, much more ambitious for that to happen.

Please keep me on distribution lists as the plan goes through its next stages. To sum up my letter: I support the idea of bicycle-friendly streets, but most of these streets do not accomplish the necessary major connections. I would like to see more Shared Roadways as long as the design standards are actually effective (i.e. sharrows). I would like the plan to aim higher so that we can remove parking and traffic lanes and improve more of the city's streets.

I will submit more route-specific comments via the website.

Thank you for your time.

Kristen "Herbie" Huff

Next steps: I have an idea. We should get blocks of people to rally behind specific roads for those website comments. LACBC mentioned some roads they believe should be moved out of the "unfeasible" category. I smell an internet letter-writing party...

I call Olympic.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

My Public Comment at the LA Metro Board

I spoke before the LA Metro board two weeks ago about how I was almost hit by a Metro bus. The video explains all the details of the incident:

The male voice speaking after me is Mayor Villaraigosa. It was pretty thrilling to look him in the eye and tell my story. After I stepped down from the podium, several high-level reps from the metro gave me their cards and asked me to email them, including Chief Operating Officer Carolyn Flowers.

The size and formality of the room, as well as the presence of the County Board of Supervisors and the Mayor, all surprised me. I was expecting something more along the lines of the tiny, crowded, and informal Transportation Committee Meeting I had attended the week before. (You can see me at the very right edge of the picture, standing).

It's very easy to make a public comment before the Metro Board. All you do is arrive a few minutes before the meeting, fill out a public comment card, and then wait your turn. If there are a lot of cards, as was the case at this meeting, you will get one minute to speak, although they are usually pretty lax about letting people go over the time if they are actually getting somewhere.

I'm glad Stephen Box encouraged me to come speak and that he accompanied me to the meeting and made sure I talked to the right people. He said, and after my experience at the board meeting I agree, that the squeaky wheel gets the grease! My conviction to keep riding is renewed. Each time I ride, I contribute in a tiny, personal way to a reduction in air pollution, and to the education of other vehicles who learn how to share the road with me. My conviction to take accompanying political action has never been stronger. Each time I organize with my fellow cyclists and demand accountability from our elected representatives, we wield our political power to make a more bikable and livable Los Angeles possible through large-scale decisions that are made at the government level with public money. A better world will need both personal and political convictions.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Support Sharrows

The LACBC has drafted a letter to the mayor in support of sharrows. These are chevrons painted in the middle of the rightmost lane that indicate that the lane should be shared with cyclists. Many cyclists (including me) prefer them to bike lanes. Most of the bike lanes in LA feature parked cars to the right and the always impending danger of driver-side doors suddenly opening into the bike lane.

Sharrows are all over Portland and San Francisco and working great in those cities. Here in LA County, however, the only sharrows to be found are in Pasadena. (And Westwood, apparently - the above image is from an article on the sharrows recently painted on the UCLA campus.)

Sharrows are so cheap that there's really no excuse they aren't on every single right-hand lane in Los Angeles. All they do is indicate something that's already the law: that all vehicles must share the road and that cyclists may occupy the full lane when their safety requires it.

Here's the text for the petition:

There's no form to fill out, you just have to copy the text into your own email client.

Let's show the mayor that quite a few people support a more bikeable LA.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

3 Morning Pages

Lately, it feels difficult to keep up with life. I injured my left arm somewhat seriously and have not been able to bike for the last seven weeks. Being deprived of what was my primary mode of transportation really put a damper on things, and put me in a funk that I'm just starting to shake off. Non-essential activities like writing for this blog have fallen by the wayside.

But I'm back! And here, in lieu of many half-conceived posts about the 2009 LA Bicycle Summit or modal equity or alternatives to capitalism or my revelations about the power of saying Hello or a million other topics that have run through my mind since January, are three morning pages that roughly encapsulate the form and content of my current life.



Whoa, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today. Had a headache from all those oreos and falling asleep dehydrated the night before. Checked the calendar, and had to reschedule my PT appointment because it was 9:30 and I would run at least 30 minutes late. C was not happy about being rushed and having a lot of work in front of her. We got there on time, but I was pretty out of it the whole ride. Then when she dropped me off, I forgot my running shoes. I had been all ready to turn around this shitty day by banging out that 9 mile run, but it's now pretty impossible with my shoes on the passenger seat and all. OK. New plan. Do morning pages (not a bad fate), text C that my shoes are in her car, read Clarice's friend's book, text C that my memoir class files are starred in gmail and ask if she has a chance to print them out, have lunch, bike to PT (need to get locks ready beforehand), coast back, go for run (2 - 3:30), come back and have plenty of time to call my mom and arrange ride for tomorrow, eat, read Clarice's book, stretch, maybe even do yoga, then ride the metro to class (need to get on at 6 and not be late this time). Have class, go home, the end.

Dillon's friends are talking in the living room. They are waking up, having a civil argument about who is going to drive who where. This guy does not want to wake up. I think it's the same guy who made me feel really icky yesterday with his comments on how all people are selfish and the media is "75% liberal." I was really thrown off by the things he said, didn't know how to respond to them but felt obligated to. He said "meat-eating" Americans would abuse a single-payer universal healthcare system. He kept interrupting me. He said that we are evolved to be selfish and greedy and communism will never work. I wanted to make a critique of global economic capitalism, and I managed to say that it has produced enormous inequality. But I didn't get to say that it's predatory and unfair. I made the point that the media supports the state. Dillon said that he sees a lot of trendy talk about causes but not a lot of people taking action to help the homeless around them. I tried to respond to him and say that I would be down to take action on local, local problems anytime. I am all about the local. This was also meant as a response to Billy's idea that people in college are idealistic but when it comes to taking care of themselves after college, those ideals take a backseat.

Anyway, as you can see the whole conversation stuck with me. Mainly because the chaotic force of Billy disrupted any sense I was making of it. It stunned me all night, left me with the question (which only Caroline Heldman might be able to answer): how can one speak to a person like that, already so convinced of his worldview and willing to be pushy and loud in espousing it? I want to blog about it. I also want to keep taking more actions, with my roommates, my neighbors in the apartment, the CRA-LA advisory committee meetings for rebuilding my neighborhood. It's been a theme of my life for quite some time now that I want to prove wrong all those people (my dad, guys like Billy) who claim that nobody really cares and anyway the actions of one person don't matter. That's not true. I'll be biking and saying hi and protecting pedestrians and eating vegan and monitoring local government. And working on attending the CRA meetings and talking more to my neighbors.

We mentioned that laziness, imperfection can hold us back (Dillon and I did). So it's important that I take care of my health, spiritually through friendships, family, and AA, physically by exercising, doing my PT, and eating well (no oreos all night!) and materially by taking care of money matters and trying not to be so stressed about that. I want to participate more, I've been feeling kind of removed and lazy the past week. Even though I got a lot of recruiting done yesterday, it still felt like staying inside, overeating, and being on the computer. Not good.

Let today unfold and let me be a part of the unfolding. (This is a prayer that I say every day). May I realized that life involves many people, places and things I don't control. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better serve others. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to the power of powerlessness as a way of life. May I be humble and compassionate always, and may all beings be free from suffering.

Elaine hasn't called me back in a long time. Maybe she knows that I've been kind of stagnating. Maybe she is going through something. I hope she's OK.