WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO RAPIDLY AND FUNDAMENTALLY TRANSFORM LA INTO A WALK/BIKE/TRANSIT HAVEN?

That is the question we started out with in our previous post spent that post making the case for why we should want to rapidly and fundamentally transform Los Angeles into a walking/biking city.

In this post, we’d like to start answering the question of how to set in motion such a transformation. We will argue that:

  • A car-free LA could be feasibly accomplished from without spending billions or spending decades.
  • That such a transformation, while difficult, is by no means the insurmountable political/sociological challenge most people would have you think.
  • That we should take the first step in this transformation TODAY by putting our heads together and brainstorming ideas and strategies towards this ambitious vision.

HOW WOULD IT WORK HERE?

How Might A Car-Free LA Work?

Before asking what it would take to transform LA, we need to know that LA can physically function with far fewer cars.

If you’ve ever suggested going car-free in LA, you know the reactions people give.

“LA is a big, sprawling metropolis,” they say would say, after their initial shock wears off. “How could you do anything in LA without a car?”

And for the most part, they’d have a point. Our city is designed for the car. There are brave souls who are starting to lead a car-free life, but it’s not easy. Buses often take twice as long as cars and rail doesn’t have wide coverage of greater Los Angeles.

Of course we could spend tens of billions and decades in massive bus and rail extension projects to fix LA’s car problem. But that would take, well, billions of dollars and decades.

What we need is at least one realistic plan for a less car dominated LA without such huge time and money requirements.

Coming up with such a plan is actually simpler than you’d think! We came up with one possible concept using featherweight electric wheels (like e-bikes) for short to medium range trips and utilizing our freeways almost like subway lines, where freeway onramps would serve as rapid transit bus stations to allow speedy transportation to anywhere in Greater Los Angeles.

For the nitty gritty of this idea, check out this post!

So with at least one affordable, practical solution at hand, the real hurdles are no longer physical, technological, or budgetary; now they are politcal.

All It Takes is 3.5%

Sometimes, change seems impossible. With so much vested interests in maintaining and even doubling down on our disastrous car-based transportation system, a walking/biking/transit future can seem like a pipe dream: an unrealistic, even utopian vision, that isn’t possible in “a big city like LA.”

Yet a careful study of human history shows a different picture. Sudden changes, both positive and negative often come from a very small minority. Wars are usually started by a few individuals. Movements are usually started by small groups. Technological breakthroughs are often developed by small teams in garages or labs.

Further proof about the power of small number of people can be found in politcal revolutions. In an empirical study of the last 100 years, Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan reveal their surprising finding that even under dictators, in environments with the least amount of citizens power, it only takes 3.5% or less of a population to participate in non-violent actions to overthrow their oppressive regime.

This revelation is extremely eye opening because it shows that all it takes for change to happen even in the worst circumstances, is a minuscule, yet organized, vocal, and visionary 3.5% of the population using nothing but non-violent strategies.

Furthermore, we LA isn’t the special case we think it is. Cities with much bigger challenges have begun their transformation towards walkability and bikability:

Much poorer than Los Angeles, yet geographically similarly spread out, Bogota now has over 100km of protected bike lanes and a very large, successful bus system. So tight budgets and geographic scale aren’t deterrents.

For some reason, we all have fallen for the idea that it’s only normal that “European cities” would go car free. Yet if you think about it, Copenhagen is a city that’s literally frozen half the year. Who in their right mind would expect biking to become a primary means of transportation there? Yet the Dutch managed to make the transition while having some of the harshest winters on the planet. So even weather isn’t a deterrent.

So what’s our excuse?

Compared to toppling a dictator, the goal of achieving a transportation revolution should be extremely realistic.

As bike/walk/transit advocates and supporters, should we not consider a mass movement to demand such a change for a better Los Angeles?

How might we build a mass movement to demand a rapid and fundamental walk/bikability/transit revolution in LA?

We don’t have time for Micky Mouse solutions. We don’t have time for little wins. If our city is going to be a place we want to continue enjoying and raise our children, and more importantly, if we hope to avert global disasters like climate change, we need to think completely differently about the scale of change required!

So we need all hands on deck.

We need to think about how to grow a movement, sway public opinion, and gain significant influence politcal influence.

Let’s put our heads together and think about what would it take to achieve this mobility revolution.

Let’s think BIG. While no one idea will achieve a transformation, we’re looking for big ideas that on aggregate, over time will usher in this mobility revolution! So don’t let the magnitude of this goal hinder your imagination. Let it inspire you to think big and get creative!

We’ve created a page for what we hope will become a place to brainstorm, organize, and take action toward the goal of transforming LA for the better!

Check it out and sign up to show your support or willingness to help: CAR FREE LA