Wed, Jun

Beyond the Pandemic Pandemonium: Transportation Might Never Be the Same


ALPERN AT LARGE--As stated in my previous piece, Uber/Lyft, online working from home, and online school (from K-12 through college) has its benefits--and the freeways are much lighter as of late for reasons that go way beyond fear. 

This is hardly "news"--we've seen or heard about it with our eyes and personal experiences, but two key issues exist with respect to the timeframe of this pandemic:

1) What's also not "news", at least not any more, is that this week might be a modern-day "Pearl Harbor" where the number of U.S. cases of the Coronavirus pandemic will explode.

Of course, whether that is because we're testing more people (many of those reading this may have been infected from, and even recovering from, this COVID-19 virus. Furthermore, whether the death rates will also surge in proportion to new cases remains entirely unknown. 

Both President Trump and a host of state governors have been both praised and excoriated, with their commentators often based on political delineations, for their precautions and their actions. But what appears to be true is that the fear factor leading to mask-wearing and social distancing, and staying at home for unheard-of periods of time, is making this pandemic more survivable.

2) Until widespread vaccinations to the COVID-19 virus, and any other new Coronavirus coming out each year (usually starting from China) are available in the same way we immunize against influenza viruses each year, any summer relaxation of our current crisis is almost bound to be repeated this fall and winter.

In particular, so long as the Chinese keep "wet markets" open, and their public health/epidemiology information closed, the risk of this happening again is virtually 100% Not so much the Chinese people, but the Chinese Communist government, poses a risk to the rest of the world that has yet to be confronted.

In other words, this pandemic might be a hellish "new normal" unless technology catches up.

...But not to fret, because humanity is smarter than COVID-19, just as it was smarter than smallpox and polio.

And human innovation, as with human stubbornness, appears to be an inexorable component of past, present, and future human history.

So, let's start with Transportation, a vital issue that has dramatic impacts on our Economy, Environment, and Quality of Life:

1) The rail lines and freeways we enjoy are all based on human innovation and thinking outside of the box. Uber/Lyft came from nowhere, the automobile exploded during the 20th Century and appears ready to re-emerge in the 21st Century as the centerpiece of our mobility efforts, and a host of new markets and applications for online commerce will explode.

2) Kudos for all the transportation agencies moving forward--probably faster than ever, with the markedly reduced traffic on our roads and freeways--with road and freeway repairs and upgrades. Even rail lines, which will still be a vital part of our transportation grid (albeit not as much as the automobile, much to the chagrin of social justice warriors) are moving forward.

Whether it's the 405 freeway project in Orange County of the Xpress West project to link California and Las Vegas (perhaps one of the more urgently-needed components of a California High-Speed Rail Network) things are still moving forward.

3) Online commerce was already moving forward, but now it should explode (Part 1). 

Cost-effective education, from K-12 through college/graduate school, was already a topic of many debates, but now the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of education is undergoing a tour-de-force as our children and adults are embracing education in front of innumerable desktops and laptops. 

Socialization through school-related activities will inevitably suffer, but it should be remembered that school has been a source of both social growth and social stunting/bullying for many if not most of us. Hence online schooling might be an alternative to home schooling, or traditional education, that some students and parents might consider for the future.

Because the pell-mell rush in the mornings to get the kids to school was always a horrible experience for all parties involved, and now that Zoom is becoming a new normal, the ability of sleep-deprived children, and traffic-plagued adults. to avoid the morning and evening crushes on our roads and freeways is one that will NOT go away, and is likely to NOT be able to go away...

...because the need for social distancing isn't going to GO away, or be forgotten, any time soon.

4) Online commerce was already moving forward, but now it should explode (Part 2). 

Traffic and parking for both restaurants and our shopping centers has and will remain obnoxious...but we now know that there IS a different way. For both seniors and families with small children, time is money, and the misery associated with finding parking and leaving the house is very real.

Expect those who came up with Uber/Lyft and similar services to come up with new ways to employ unemployed hotel workers in the hospitality industry, those wanting employment in our stores and supermarkets, and even hardware stores/services to come up with online-arranged delivery services. 

Even if we ARE immunized to the COVID-19 virus, the "service at your door" will almost certainly remain popular...and it's not like we didn't have Amazon to point out where our consumer-driven trends were evolving.

The current pandemic is also forcing telehealth to enter the 21st Century. The reasons we don't have more online/telephone visits are because of legal and financial limitations that were either self-imposed or imposed by Medicare That's all changing--particularly for refills-only circumstances and for those who need a quick phone visit.

5) Transportation will need to alter Sacramento and Downtown L.A.'s silly and unsustainable urban planning policies.

 Time and spacing of this article doesn't permit Planning/Transportation issues to be adequately addressed, but monster overdevelopments, homeless camps, inappropriate/excessive urban infill, and a lack of open space will also be well-highlighted during this "pandemic-that's-not-going-away-any-time-soon" phenomenon.

But home-based commercial offices being cheaper and smarter (and without commutes!) might make many an expensive commercial office a thing of the past, and perhaps create more opportunities to build housing. Furthermore, small, cheap-to-build single family homes, and the associated creation of more suburbs, might be even more attractive than ever after this crisis. 

In short, the unanticipated, nightmarish, and too-often lethal COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us all to take a big, unanticipated "Sabbath". More rest, more time to reflect...and more time to rethink how we should operate in the future. 

Because humanity WILL move forward, just in a different direction. That's who we are, what we do, and almost certainly how (and maybe even why) we were created.


(CityWatch Columnist, Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D, is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties, and is a proud husband and father to two cherished children and a wonderful wife. He was (termed out) also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Outreach Committee, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee and Vice-Chair of its Planning Committee. He was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition and can be reached at [email protected]. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)



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