Monday, November 18, 2013

Bleeding Into Oblivion

The 'free'ways formerly parkways could have been integrated into the Los Angeles urban landscape with much more sensitivity and care.  Check the 110 opened in 1940, curvy and flexible as if attempting to work with the existing urban landscape instead of honing a path of domination and ruination.  Then check the 10, which came later, or the 105, which came much later, and their extended straight paths that (I still almost can't believe if I didn't see pictures for myself) razed complete and intact neighborhoods!  
Completely intact neighborhoods were destroyed to make
way for Los Angeles Freeways.
Santa Monica Freeway ripping through West Adams

Of course, LA wasn't the only city to suffer the nation’s highway expansion project, as there are horror stories from all major cities in the U.S. surrounding the blow that was essentially the destruction of the inner city accompanied simultaneously by the uppercut that was suburban expansion and/or white flight. 

From "Mi Raza Primero" and "Popular Culture In The Age Of White Flight" -
"The Golden State Freeway was proposed by the California Highway Commission in 1953. The proposal drew strong criticism from East Los Angeles residents as it would dissect and eliminate large residential and commercial areas of Boyle Heights and Hollenbeck Heights. The proposal also seemed to indicate a disregard for the ethnic Mexican American population of metropolitan Los Angeles. The "Boyle-Hollenbeck Anti-Golden State Freeway Committee" was formed for the purpose in blocking or rerouting the freeway. Then-Los Angeles City Council member Edward R. Roybal chaired that committee. Despite this opposition, the construction of the freeway went ahead.  When this section was completed in 1956, the newspaper The Eastside Sun wrote the freeway led to the "eradication, obliteration, razing, moving, ripping asunder, demolishing of Eastside homes."

 My hypothesis is that LA found itself in a more vulnerable predicament when freeway expansion began than more developed cities because it was truly just moving into its adolescent phase having just hit 1 million a decade earlier.  Cities like New York and Chicago were wounded but were much more established with an ineradicable rail system that was already fully integrated into both the psychology and ethos of these cities.  Smaller cities (not necessarily younger) like Houston, Phoenix and San Antonio were still waiting for their bones to fuse, so they were much more flexible and mutable to these changes.  LA, Seattle, Portland, SF, Cleveland, Minneapolis etc. all suffered greatly as their quaint and charming streetcar urban landscapes were ripped out by huge concrete dividers that reinforced the divisions between class and "race".  Have any of the latter cities ever really recovered?  In the case of Los Angeles, particularly Central and Northeast LA, I'd have to say no.
The I-405 literally slicing a neighborhood in two halves.
Early 1960's

Having attended a recent Urban Development & Planning meeting hosted by the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council, there were many issues on the agenda that evening.  From the latest Small Lot Subdivision that the neighbors of course hated, because it would block their views of the San Fernando Valley, (I know, go figure) to the latest restaurant owner who would like to cash in on the Silver Lake "Best Neighborhood In The U.S." craze by upgrading his liquor license from a measly beer and wine provision to a more robust full-sale all spirits license cash cow.  I like to remind people that for time immemorial liquor was thought to have spirits that embody certain personality traits that affect the consumer depending on the libation that has been drunk.  Having been a bartender and worked around alcohol for 10+ years now, I have adequate anecdotal evidence that I think makes me an expert.  Generally, rum makes one flirty, happy and talkative.  Vodka on the other hand, starts a person out talkative and upbeat but after continued consumption usually by the third martini, they recall why they're sitting in a bar drinking so much in the first place.  Tequila (a personal favorite of mine) makes you either want to fight or fuck with the two not being mutually exclusive.  And as a rule of thumb, gin just makes you look old, both while consuming it and the long-term effects of it.  Personally, it just makes me feel like that time I ate an entire weed cookie, paranoid, thirsty and feeling like I was going to die. 

Nonetheless, during this neighborhood meeting the one repeated concern was, yep you guessed it, parking!  It was parking, parking, parking! I mean, parking concerns were even brought up surrounding the Doggie Halloween Show, as if dogs drove!  Let’s settle something here and now that you may have or may not have been aware of regarding these inner city communities.  Central LA neighborhoods like Atwater Village, Silver Lake and Los Feliz were never built with this amount of car volume in mind.  And no, that's not to say that there wasn't an inclusion and some accommodation made for the automobile rather instead of dominating the roadway it existed side-by-side with the streetcars and pedestrians and I've even seen old photos of bicycles on the streets as well.  The large homes in the hills had driveways obviously to accommodate an automobile but they also had access to public stairs.  If you wanted to shop down in the flats along Sunset or Glendale Blvd you either walked down from your home in the hills or coming from a different area got there by streetcar.  Very few of these Central LA commercial districts were built with off-street parking and if they were it was very limited.  The nearly consistent and more or less preserved commercial strips of Los Feliz along Vermont, Sunset Junction, Echo Park and Atwater Village all lack “adequate” parking and I’m of the camp that believes it should stay that way.  Providing more space for cars only begets more cars and besides, are we really prepared to witness a 5 story concrete monstrosity to rise amongst the quaint one and two-story shops that grace those boulevards presently?  I mean, if people fall out about a 4-story apartment building rising in Sunset Junction how would they react to a 5-story concrete parking garage going up, let’s say beside the 99 Cent store?  Um, oh yeah…stupid question. 
The thankfully never built LA River Freeway

Perhaps I'll write more about this at some other time because I find it interesting and quite ironic that the same folks who out of one side of their mouth’s squawk about how a new development doesn’t fit into the “character of blah blah blah…Lake, Village, Park…” have no problem with shoehorning more parking=more cars down the throats of these quaint streetcar neighborhoods that isn't in their DNA to begin with to be totally car dependent and sedentary.  Really, the only way to stop the hemorrhaging of Los Angeles due to the ripping out of its central nervous system, which was the streetcar system is to not provide more car accommodation but to clamp down on auto promiscuity and the encouragement of such behavior.  I mean, who doesn’t realize that within a year the newly expanded 405 will be backed up again? This is akin to putting a Band-Aid on the elbow of someone who is bleeding internally in the head.   

We must go about the business of creating an urban landscape that is conducive to walking and being able to make daily errands on foot.  Preserving and enhancing wonderful walkable neighborhoods like Sunset Junction, Larchmont and Leimert Park that already exist.  The expansion of bike lanes, applying road diets where permissible, eradicating minimum parking requirements, creating exclusive or rush hour only bus lanes on ALL major boulevards, the continued expansion of our rail system and directing growth and density around this system without compromise are the figurative clamps on the vessels.

The city will not be able to survive this continued bleed out indefinitely.  For Los Angeles to stay relevant and competitive it must be able to move its people around in a timely manner and in an effectual way.  And through advocacy, education and participation we can be the thrombin (go look it up) of our age.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

We Want Our City Back!

In reference to the recent Hyperion Bridge controversy:

We want our city back! Los Angeles was created by the streetcar.  You've been lied to if you think otherwise.

New urbanism is just old urbanism.

Los Angeles was as big as Dallas is today in.....1930!  Btw, there were no freeways in LA in 1930.

The neighborhoods of Atwater, Los Feliz and Silver Lake all have small "downtowns" which grace its boulevards with small lot shops where streetcars delivered people on foot.  They were originally created for this type of slow strolling pedestrian activity.  Not for cars flying through them at 70+mph on their way to the Americana.  I mean, what would have been the point?

The folks that purport "autocentricity now and autocentricity forever" in a George Wallace vernacular  haven't an idea of the history of their neighborhoods much less their city.  I guess the abundance of public stairs all throughout the central hilly core of the city were built to watch cars do donuts on Sunset?!

Stupid! If you want to build a cartopia don't choose a city that has a mountain range bisecting it with limited passageways. Have you checked out those cities in Texas with freeways looping their entire circumference??  Now that's doing cartopia right!  LA, you fail miserably!  I guess it's just not in your DNA.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Mexico City....LA's Older And Wiser Sibling

On a recent trip to Mexico City, D.F. I witnessed what could be (in part) the future of Los Angeles. LA reminds me alot of Mexico City with its multi-nodes and the activation of its entire metro area as opposed to just the central district.  The similarities between Los Angeles and Mexico City brought to my attention how revolutionary center lane BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) alignments could be in this city by supplementing the already burgeoning rail network. Imagine Sunset/Santa Monica, Beverly, Wilshire (which is already programmed to run an outside lane alignment) Venice, Olympic, Pico, La Brea, La Cienega boulevards with these running down the center of them.  We can quibble about which boulevards would be the optimal placement later but let's get behind the idea of true bus enhancement in this city.

As mentioned earlier similarly with the Mexico City's metro area , the Los Angeles megalopolis is known for its multi-centers and numerous major trip generators spread across a vast landscape.  This is where easily implemented (by rail standards) BRT may be the best choice, take the San Fernando Valley as an example.  Think of BRT running down the center lanes of major boulevards such as Lankershim, Sepulveda and Reseda boulevards north to south and perhaps Sherman Way, Ventura and Roscoe east to west.  Makes a lot of sense considering the demand for transit that already exists along these thoroughfares and the ability to have buses up and running (barring any NIMBY opposition) in less than 2 years.  I intentionally did not mention Van Nuys Blvd because I'm saving that one for rail.  With the conversion of an Orange Line to rail, these San Fernando Valley bus alignments could feed into a future Orange rail line that connects to the Red Line subway on the east and Metrolink commuter rail to the northwest.  Another future connection to a 405 line could instantaneously give the Valley access to a broad swath of LA County.  (As a side note:  Please NEVER use a fully functioning exclusive Right Of Way for BRT.  Use rail. No matter what the NIMBY's say!!)

Changing of existing infrastructure would not be necessary as we would go on using our red Rapid buses that are in existence already and are highly distinguishable.  Though Mexico City uses high floor boarding buses, I'd stick with the low floor boarding for ease of use and a way to keep capital costs down.

 As in Mexico City some opposition will come from proposed eliminations and/or modifications to center and left turn lanes.   Even more vociferous opposition to the destruction of tree lined and enhanced medians is to be expected.  However, increased mobility for millions of people should trump the aesthetics of a median and I would hope continue to speed up the impetus of the building of more small pocket parks within neighborhoods as tangible and usable green space.  Imagine taking a center lane BRT from Downtown LA along Venice Blvd to the beach.  During rush you could longingly wave at the cars as you pass them by?  Or taking a Venice Blvd BRT alternative that would branch off at San Vicente taking you as far north as Santa Monica Blvd into the heart of West Hollywood's LGBT district with its numerous clubs and restaurants.  The entire BRT system would only be but a complement to Metro's expanding rail system and supplemental to the vast local and Rapid bus network.

Upon arriving in Los Angeles back in the early aught's the one thing that struck me about the city was the amount of buses on the road.  I'd never seen so many buses in my life!  It didn't seem as if New York City had that many buses (where I had moved from) or maybe I just didn't notice them since I was preoccupied with underground or elevated train travel.  I remember the blackout in the summer of 2003 in NYC and having to take buses around the city for a couple of days since all subway lines were down.  The traffic was just awful and took me 2-3 times longer to get to my destination than had I been on a train.  I remember those dreadful couple of days whenever I'm on a Wilshire or Santa Monica bus stuck in traffic during rush hour coming back from the beach or the Westside.  Having a bus run center lane down Santa Monica Blvd from the beach at least until the reaching the Red Line subway at Vermont would be a very viable and welcomed alternative to car and local bus travel as it stands now.

I’ll stress again that BRT lines would only be but another transit tool to be used in accordance to a larger and expansive rail network system and to the the existing local bus system.  Where rail can be implemented along existing Right Of Ways and underneath high ridership corridors like Wilshire, Vermont, Whittier and Van Nuys boulevards, rail would still be the preferred mode of transit and is preferred where serious redevelopment/development are key initiatives.