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Rules of the Road

LOS ANGELES

LA TRANSPO - The cost of gas, the impact of fossil fuel use on global warming, congestion, pollution, expansion of public transportation and bike lanes – all are hot-button issues fueling conflict between increasingly polarized parties. 

These impact different regions of California in disparate ways. 

Even within Los Angeles itself, battles rage between the Bicycle Coalition and drivers who feel that the freedom granted under the Constitution gives them the right to roads that were, after all, constructed for cars. And between Hummer SUV aficionados and advocates for going fully electric. 

Public transportation works well in Europe and densely populated areas of the northeast, but is not economically feasible in rural portions of our state. And, despite millions of dollars invested, had not made significant inroads into changing Angelenos’ commuting habits even prior to the pandemic and fears of catching Covid swaying side-by-side with your fellow bus buddies. 

Policy pundits weigh in with the need to impose fees to encourage increased use of public transit including congestion fees. 

To justify enforcement of penalties, Los Angeles would have to have reasonable alternatives to getting around in the close to five hundred square miles of our sprawling metropolis that wouldn’t take more hours out of our already over-scheduled days, that would accommodate transporting kids, groceries, lumber, and access to everywhere people live all the time. 

In other words, the impossible. 

But what steps could be taken to reduce pollution, reduce congestion, reduce stress, and reduce global warming? 

To move to a better public transit system Los Angeles would first need to attract the ridership to demand the robust improvements and costly investment involved. 

Perhaps counterintuitively, the only way to really move people to public transit here would be to make it free. To everyone. All the time. 

This serves several purposes. Simplifying the gatekeeping bureaucracy will result some financial savings and improve efficiency. FREE! will attract both tourists and residents to significantly increase ridership. Hours of operation, circuitous routes and lack of access force many residents to HAVE to have cars to fill in the gaps. That costs, so why pay twice for travel? Make it free and hook the kids before they become addicted to their own set of wheels. 

Before that, the City needs to ensure safety on and around trains and buses. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I was the one the bus driver evicted in a pretty sketchy area south of USC when I went to him for help when two large gangsta-types starting harassing me. He was afraid and I don’t blame him. He would be driving that route for many years to come whereas I only had to make it out of the hood alive once. 

Reports of attacks in our transit system have escalated during and following the pandemic. Metro cars have become hangouts for the unhoused, discouraging commuters. Since one of the best ways to encourage transit use is for it to be embraced by the upper and middle class, we cannot push it as a solution for the poor and indigent. 

This will require some major social shifts in Los Angeles as we know it. However, they are essential for our individual wellbeing and to improve the City’s self-image. The initial salvo on the homelessness crisis by Mayor Karen Bass may be but the beginning of bona fide beneficial change. 

Moving on, encourage businesses to stagger work schedules so people have a better chance to snag a seat. How can cities, transit systems and public health authorities limit the public’s exposure to illness? Not just Covid but the common cold and more dangerous flu outbreaks? 

Address last-mile issues. This is huge in some areas of Los Angeles. The LA Bicycle Coalition pushes two-wheeled options but that doesn’t work any better than requiring tired office workers to pick up their children, pick up dinner and then trudge the five unlit blocks uphill carrying dinner with kids in tow. 

Address lack of amenities. 

Hold on there, lack of amenities? Absolutely. And not just cell phone chargers in advertising kiosks masquerading as bus shelters. 

Push the benefits what can be achieved when people aren’t at the wheel, health benefits from reduced stress, time to prepare for a meeting, to read the book that has been gathering dust for the past six months, or just catch up with friends. 

Comfort is a factor. People need to sit and be able to read, text, play games on their smart phones and catch up on office calls – activities they do when driving or as a passenger. 

Congestion pricing, where vehicles get charged a fee to enter busy city centers during business hours, has pros and cons. The costs would probably come in the form of a digital hit along the line of the charges for using the HOV lanes now. And too often such a system favors those who can pay creating further evidence of inequality. 

But there is no advantage to public transit if congestion is not resolved. Transponders can keep scofflaws from dodging compliance and Big-Brother cameras ensure stiff fines, but buses still sit in traffic jams along with the rest of us. 

Looking at the issue from the environmental point of view, bike lanes and other traffic-“calming” measures are probably the worst approach since these practices constrict traffic flow creating more congestion, increasing engine idling, and in many areas exacerbating the inability for trucks to make deliveries, moms to drop off kids, or even to back into a parking space if that rara avis should become available. 

This again unfairly impacts those who can’t or choose not to join in the Carmaggedon of California streets since the buses are caught up in the same traffic morass. If a VP is late for work, no-one bats an eye, but hourly workers are looking at docked pay and the risk of losing their job. Leaving earlier and earlier extends their day leaving less and less time for their families and to enjoy any personal quality of life. 

Mmm. I wonder what would happen if employers had to pay workers for their travel time?

(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions. In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)

 

 

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