TRANSIT TALK-The sidewalks are my refuge, my safe passage, the paths that let me walk to and from bus stops, train and subway stations.
Riding transit entails being a pedestrian too, sometimes navigating the city on foot while the traffic rolls by. Now, while on foot in gridlocked Los Angeles, it also means passing by stopped vehicles as I maintain a safe distance away from them on the sidewalks.
Crossing streets and major boulevards can be fraught with drivers who do not understand that pedestrians have the right-of-way, but once I’ve crossed and have reached the sidewalk, the concrete beneath my feet is a welcome haven.
Since 1992, I’ve ridden transit to do my part to reduce my carbon output in the battle, first, against air pollution, and now against what Governor Brown calls the existential threat to our lives -- global warming and climate change.
I’ve ridden countless buses and trains and walked over many sidewalks throughout Southern California.
While buses are the mainstay of SoCal transit, and now match some travel times compared to cars, trains and subways are becoming even faster, offering a better ride.
I am particularly fond of – and have become a steady rider on -- the Expo Train, not only because I was lucky enough to join Friends 4 Expo, one the most dynamic, intelligent, and scrupulous grass roots groups I’ve ever belonged to, but also because the Expo Train takes me to Santa Monica.
With the opening of the Expo Train, the City of Santa Monica has re-engineered and continues to improve the walkability of areas around the stations and within the city. Santa Monica Big Blue Bus has been outstanding in increasing bus service for better connectivity.
I take the Expo Train to the 17th Street Station and to the western end of the line at Fourth Street and Colorado and walk the sidewalks to my destinations. Some walks are up to a mile.
This has created a marvelous feeling of belonging to a greater whole, defining city life with all its energy, inspiration, and diversity.
But now this experience has been shattered with the invasion of the electric rental scooters which have taken over the sidewalks, changing them from a safe place for pedestrians, to a place of nuisance and danger.
These scooters are haphazardly left on sidewalks where they have no business being. Sidewalks are for pedestrians, not for people to use as a dumping ground for these scooters after their rides. These things are left in doorways, and in the sidewalk curb cut-outs for the handicapped. They are also left in front of emergency exits which will undoubtedly cause tragic incidents.
E-scooters are promoted as the solution to the “first and last mile gap” in riding transit. They are not. When I exit the Fourth Street Expo Station most people exiting with me do not jump on scooters; these people do as seasoned transit riders do -- we walk. There is no gridlock of scooters going to trains stations or bus stops.
The marketing of these scooters as a “transit solution” must surely come from the mindset of car drivers who do not know what it is to ride transit. I read and see news reports with scooter riders touting the convenience of not walking a few blocks. This is not convenience but a reaffirmation of the car culture that believes in driving everywhere all the time, this time exchanging the steering wheel for the scooter handle bar. It is the height of laziness not to walk a few blocks.
When an occasional scooter rider does go to a train station, the scooter is left on the ramp, blocking access for the handicapped. This is a violation of the American With Disabilities Act (ADA), with further violations of that law occurring when scooters are left in the cutouts of sidewalk corners needed by handicapped people and required by ADA. Fines should be levied against the scooter companies and the riders.
People illegally ride scooters on sidewalks and expect me to move for them. I am a pedestrian, the sidewalk is my rightful refuge, and I will not give up my space for these scooters. There is a sense of entitlement inherent in thinking that since this is a new business model of “the disruptive economy” the rules and laws do not apply. But they do apply, and the lack of decency and consideration towards others -- and towards pedestrians in particular -- is the result.
These electric rental scooters (e-scooters) are not part of the disruptive economy. Rather, they are a rude disruption and an attack against pedestrians and transit riders.
(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native. He is a transit rider and advocate, a composer, music instructor, and member and president and executive director of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.