What Would It Take To Transform LA Into A Walkable/Bikable City?

What Would It Take To Transform LA Into A Walkable/Bikable City?

What would it take to rapidly and fundamentally transform LA into a walk/bike/transit haven?

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself for a few years now. I’m a native Angelino. I love this city, it’s diversity, it’s art scene, its weather, it’s multitude of activities.

But LA has a huge livability and sustainability problem: the car

Here are some of the reasons why cars are terrible, especially in Los Angeles:

  • Traffic: “The typical driver” in LA sits in 104 hours of traffic each year (Source)
  • Emotional toll: “…if you can cut an hourlong commute each way out of your life, it’s the [happiness] equivalent of making up an extra $40,000 a year…” (Source)
  • Health toll: “Shortening your commute by 20 minutes might lower your risk of neck and back pain by 14%, obesity by 20%, and heart attack by 300%” (Source)
  • Deadly: In the US, there are over 2,500 car crash deaths per month. That’s almost the equivalent of a 9/11 type tragedy happening EVERY MONTH (Source)
  • Terrible Space Efficiency: Least space efficient mode of transport
  • Terrible Energy Efficiency: Lease energy efficient mode of transport
  • Pollution: Air Pollution Kills More Than 5 Million People Around the World Every Year
  • Unhealthy Communities: Kill cities, neighborhoods

WHY LOS ANGELES?

Because we live here!

A walk/bike/transit oriented LA would make our city even more amazing for ourselves and our kids!

  • Safer and more accessible: We would be able to move around freely without a car, without endangering our lives, or feeling like a second class citizen. We would dramatically open up the city to the elderly, children, and folks with disabilities who are often reliant on others to ferry them around in cars.
  • Stronger, healthier: We would create stronger, healthier citizens who walk and bike on a daily basis. We would transform communities and neighborhoods which are currently at the mercy of of dangerously fast, loud, polluting, and space consuming metal boxes. People would see each other’s faces for once, neighbors would become more neighborly, and so on.
  • Greener, more sustainable: We would dramatically improve our air quality and decrease our city’s carbon footprint.
  • Wealthier: We would keep much more of our wealth from leaving LA. When we spend money on cars, for the most part that money leaves the city because buying and using a car funds corporations, oil companies, and corrupt governments. In addition to that, walkable/bikable streets have been shown to generate much more revenue for local businesses than car-centric streets. So creating a walkable/bikable city would allow us to keep much more of our money circulating in Los Angeles by having more money to spend because of less car spending and by spending more at local businesses because of more time spent walking instead of zooming by shops. This virtuous cycle would significantly boost LA’s economy.
  • Calmer, less stressful: We would eliminate traffic. That alone would be worth it! And we would also dramatically reduced road noise.

To live up to our legacy as a city of dreamers and inventors

Dreaming, creating, and even exploring new worlds is kind of our thing: From JPL whose day job it is to literally explore new planets, to George Lucas who took us to a galaxy far, far away, to Walt Disney who not only created one of the most influential companies in history through his stories, but who imagined and designed the city of tomorrow, EPCOT.

To boost our sorely woeful biking efforts

LA’s meager steps towards becoming a better, healthier, greener walkable/bikable city is painful to watch. Any attempts in a positive direction are always overshadowed by our automobile addiction. With all the talk of decreasing car deaths, decreasing pollution, increasing public transportation ridership, our transportation budgets and scope of infrastructure efforts tell a completely different, sad story. THE RATIO OF CAR TO BIKE BUDGET

To inspire the world

Los Angeles is ground zero in the global effort to cure humanity’s devastating car addiction. Here’s why:

  • If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere: Our city is literally designed around cars. Our roads are large and our city is sprawling. If we can make a radical change here, no politician, city planner, or curmudgeon in any other city could ever use the tired old line “it can never happen here.”
  • We would be the ultimate case study for figuring out how to crack the car culture: LA Car culture is huge. Cracking it here would give the world invaluable guidance about how to crack it elsewhere.
  • Our cultural influence is international and momentous: From Hollywood, actors, movies, TV shows, tastemakers, Snapchat, YouTube stars, the world watches LA. They live our culture. This influence is only set to increase in the next decade as we decide how to react to new transportation technologies as well as prepare for the Olympics.

WHY RAPID AND FUNDAMENTAL?

Walk/bike/transit is at a watershed moment

Biking/walking/transit is in the spotlight with a big worldwide push for cleaner, greener, and healthier cities and communities. It has momentum even in the notoriously car-centric LA:

  • Measure M: We voted for a huge new expansion of our public transportation lines with the passage of Measure M.
  • Measure M acceleration: With the Olympics being hosted here, these plans are looking to be accelerated.
  • Bike sharing: Metro launched an awesome bike sharing network and they continue to expand.
  • Growth of private bike/scooter/e-wheel companies: Southern California has seen the birth of a host of new bike/scooter/e-wheel companies over the past few years such as URB-E, Bird, Sondors, OneWheel, OjO, Lithium Cycles, Pure Cycles, and so on!

 

But these developments are still new and fragile

For the most part, efforts at creating walkable and bikable cities are new and susceptible to shifting politcal winds. Especially here in LA, politicians can easily get away with killing any bike infrastructure efforts with almost any excuse.

Here’s a sad example: the excuse that bike lanes are too much of a liability! Politicians in LA are now using their own incompetently designed bike infrastructure as an excuse for potential bike accidents. This is Trump level irrationality!

And we have the looming threat of a real carmaggeddon approaching

Although the walk/bike/transit is having a bit of a moment under the spotlight, there doesn’t seem to be the massive worldwide groundswell of support required to truly de-car our cities and planet and achieve this walkable/bikable future.

In fact, it feels like most people are simply sitting back and waiting for technology, self-driving cars, and Elon Musk to solve all our problems. Most worryingly, too many cities themselves seem to be simply assuming that personal mobility will inevitably be self-driving car-centric. Hardly a day goes by without reading such headlines: How 53 Cities Are Preparing For Autonoumous Vehicles

We should be deeply worried about what self driving cars will do to city health, personal wellbeing of citizens, burgeoning biking infrastructure, transportation efficiency, cost of transportation and infrastructure, global warming, etc, etc.

This alarming possibility is particularly salient in Los Angeles.

  • While Metro lines are increasing, ridership has been declining for several years now.
  • While we have ambitious LA2035 plans, there seems to be no serious, wide-scale adoption of walk/bike/trasit due to severe lack of serious efforts to cut down on car usage, other than in small pockets.
  • Elon Musk seems to be doubling down on cars in LA with Tesla and the Boring Company.
  • Because our entire city is built around cars, self-driving cars will utterly dominate the landscape in a few short years if the status quo continues. Think your local street feels like a freeway now? Wait till cars become as convenient to use as elevator buttons (one of Elon Musk’s favorite examples) resulting in a dramatically increase in vehicle mobility. In such a future, we will bid farewell to the lofty LA2035 goals, which are now simply words on paper.

So we need to act rapidly and swiftly to reclaim the mindshare of politicians and the public for better, healthier, more enjoyable, sustainable cities, and reclaim as much street as we can back from cars for human beings, not machines, before it’s too late.

 

HOW WOULD IT WORK HERE?

How Might A Car-Free LA Work?

If you’ve ever suggested a car-free or even a less-car dependent LA, you know the funny look most Angelinos give when posed with such a suggestion.

“LA is a big, sprawling metropolis,” they say. How on earth would one be able to do anything without a car?

And for the most part, they’d be right. Our city is design 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 requires riders to be near a station and requires your destination to also be near a station.

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.

So last year I set out to explore the possibility of a realistic, viable plan for a less car dominated LA without such huge time and money requirements.

It was actually simpler than I thought! The concept I came up with was using featherweight electric wheels (like e-bikes) for short to medium range trips and to use freeway buses for longer trips.

This concept lead me to writing a post fleshing out the details of such a scheme.

So with at least one affordable, practical solution at hand, the real hurdles are no longer physical, technological, or budgetary; now the are public opinion and 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 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 largely 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.

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 such a movement for a bike/walk/transit LA?

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

Over the past year, I’ve realized that we don’t have time for Micky Mouse solutions. We don’t have time for little wins. If our cities are going to be pleasant places to live 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!

I started this website, Have a Go to help educated and excite folks about non-car mobility options with the goal of increasing the number of non-car vehicles on our roads.

Then I started attending city planning meetings to speak up for walking/biking infrastructure.

However, I’m quickly realized that my solitary efforts would accomplish very little. What would few more lightweight wheels on the road and token bike lanes here and there accomplish?

This is where 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.

 

So Let’s Put Our Heads Together

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

Let’s start brainstorming about ways in which we can grow a movement, sway public opinion, and gain significant politcal influence for a rapid and sweeping walk/bike/transit revolution in Los Angeles.

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!

If you’re a skeptic and don’t think any of this is possible, don’t bother leaving a reply! We’ve demonstrated that while revolutions are hard, they’re absolutely possible and history shows it. So we’re looking for ways to achieve it, not excuses for why “it’ll never happen here.”

We’ve purchased the domain carfreeLA.city. Click on the link and start brainstorming! We’ll start publishing the most bold and creative ideas on this site.

Some Ideas To Kick Us Off

Here are some of our ideas to kick us off. This is not meant to bias your answers. It is simply meant to show the scope of the ideas we’re looking for!

Ideas can be about educating people or getting them excited or inspired. They can be marketing campaigns, legal actions, politcal measures, coalition building, direct actions (like building DIY bike lanes), nonviolent actions (mass collective bike rides), events, petitions, exponentially increasing existing bike coalitions’ members and funding, etc, etc.

Create a wholistic vision and prototype of a walk/bike/transit Los Angeles
Form a coalition of bike, scooter, skateboard and other lightweight wheel manufacturers and fund the design and prototyping of exciting, innovative walk/bike/transit infrastructure to excite and inspire citizens and politicians to pour money into such project. This idea is directly inspired by the ways the car and oil industry collectively conceived and eventually got the national highway system built:

A campaign to get all city officials, especially transit officials, to walk/bike/transit to work for a whole week
It should be mandatory for public officials who make decisions for millions of people’s transportation infrastructure to use the full range of transportation options to better inform their policy, design, and budgetary decisions. Hopefully such an experience will allow them to feel firsthand how bad mobility alternatives are in our city, while helping them understand the benefits of walking/biking/transit. If they use a Metro line for instance, they may realize how great it is not to get stuck in traffic, but they might realize that the short stretch to get to the Metro station is difficult to access without a car. Or they may realize how slow buses go due to sharing the road with cars.

Priority streets
Instead of trying to accommodate all modes of transportation on every street city planners should consider designating each street by prioritizing only one or two modes of transportation per street such as “car priority,” “bike priority,” “bus and bike priority,” “pedestrian and bike priority,” etc.

This would alleviate many of the problems of trying to mix the safety, physical, size requirements of 10 ton 18 wheelers going 40 miles per hour, 150 pound cyclists going 12 miles per hour, and a 20 pound curious toddler going 2 miles per hour.

We’ve written about this idea in more detail in a blog post.

Winning Conservative Hearts And Minds
Flipping the script on those least likely to support walk/bike/transit changes. A marketing or social media campaign where young or liberal people who wish to see a walkable/bikable/transit oriented future admit to their grandparents that they wish to be true conservative on issues of urban design, urban transportation, and urban life. That they wish to rid the city of the historical novelty of cars and return streets to the people and to their rightful place in civic life:

“For 7,000 years, since our cities were first formed, streets…were the space in which we transported ourselves…the space in which we met, gathered, talked to our neighbors, gossiped, where we sold our goods, where our children played. They were extensions of our homes, of our living rooms, they were public domain.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pX8zZdLw7cs)

Possible names for such a campaign “Sorry grandma, you were right” or “Make our streets great again.”

Car Free Day
The entire city could become a CicLAvia event. We could ride our bikes on the freeways! There could be festivals, food truckes, and farmers markets on the now empty, wide open streets. Instead of the oppressive noise of cars, the city will be filled with laughter, music, and bike bells.

We were able to do this once. Remember Carmageddon? It was expected to be the worst traffic nightmare? Instead, what happened? Everyone stayed at home or did things around their house. For the most part, no one used the freeways and greatly reduced the car use. So much so that all the freeways were all green that weekend. It was pure bliss.

 

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