Councilman Dennis Zine: Southern California Car Culture Here to Stay


The above ABC News story on this Monday’s meeting of the Los Angeles City Council Public Safety Committee’s hearing on the anti-harassment ordinance for cyclist has a couple of jaw dropping moments.  One bike messenger describes being the victim of a hit and run crash four times and Ted “Biking in L.A.” Rogers recounts the hate mail he’s received in the wake of the conviction and sentencing of Dr. Christopher Thompson.  Scary stuff.  But perhaps the scariest thing is the comment by City Councilman, former LAPD Officer and former member of the Bike Advisory Committee Dennis Zine who clearly states that this is a car town and it’s going to stay that way.

Gleeson: Councilman Dennis Zine says he sympathizes, but doesn’t know how police would enforce such an ordinance.  He says L.A. isn’t designed to be bicycle friendly.

Zine: “I think we are a car culture here in Southern California.  I don’t know if we’re ever going to change that.”

I think anyone that regularly rides throughout the city would agree that there’s a major design problem, but an elected official that wants to show leadership on transportation and public safety should be looking for ways to make things safer for all road users.  After all, our streets should be a public space for everyone to use, not a funnel for people who happen to own expensive pieces of personal property.

  • “After all, our streets should be a public space for everyone to use, not a funnel for people who happen to own expensive pieces of personal property.”

    Poor people drive, too.

  • DJB

    Car culture isn’t inevitable. It’s the product of a set of decisions about how we build our neighborhoods and streets. It’s the product of public subsidies, cheap gasoline and free/cheap parking. It’s the product of a society that puts too much emphasis on individual displays of wealth, and insufficient emphasis on the environment.

    Most urbanists believe that cars will persist to some extent in the cities of the future, but that doesn’t mean we have to be so slavishly dependent on them.

    Zine’s west valley council district doesn’t have enough walkable neighborhoods. (Proof: http://www.walkscore.com/rankings/Los_Angeles, http://cd3.lacity.org/map.htm)

  • Just because you have lesser means, doesn’t mean your car ownership isn’t expensive.

  • JD

    I agree that we need more bike friendly policies, but cars out number bicycles by maybe, just a guess and I could be wrong, 500 to 1 in this city. There is only so much space on the streets.

  • This is uploading to YouTube here:

  • JD, your point is exactly why we need to create better bicycle infrastructure. If more people feel it’s safe to ride, there will be more space on the streets and less congestion (because there will be fewer cars on the streets). (In addition, people would be healthier and happier (because of the whole endorphin affect of exercise); there would be fewer weather warnings for bad air, etc.–okay, I’m extrapolating a bit far here but I think the benefits hugely outweigh the costs in the long-run.)

    Wow, Zine’s “oh well” attitude is sad. The safer our streets are for vulnerable road users, the safer our communities will be for children and families and everyone. What a missed opportunity for someone to exhibit leadership and fight for the quality of life of all LA residents. These issues really do affect us all, not just cyclists.

  • Roadblock

    Transit advocates and cyclists then need to concentrate on removing Zine at the next election if he is going to be this ignorant.

    Aren’t the city council elections uber low in turnout? What would it take to hold Zine’s feet to the fire? What kind of coalition can be built between anti-traffic groups to get this guy defeated? When is the next election?

  • Just for the sake of full disclosure, the comments I read at the committee meeting didn’t come in an email to me, but rather, it was a comment made on Will Campbell’s YouTube account, which has since been removed. However, I have received similar emails in the past, particularly following the Thompson conviction, and have seen many such comments on online forums, which is a point I made before the committee.

    As for cars outnumbering bikes, according to Bikes Belong, somewhere between 17% and 38% of Americans ride bikes, depending on the methodology used. Either way, that suggests that a sizable percentage of people in L.A. ride, may of whom might be willing to use them more often if we did make room for them on the streets.

    As I said to Channel 7 — most of which didn’t make it onto the final report — every bike on the road represents one car that isn’t. And providing safe biking infrastructure would encourage more people to ride, and could eventually result in less pressure on the streets.

  • @JD: You state “cars out number bicycles by maybe, just a guess and I could be wrong, 500 to 1 in this city.” You certainly could be wrong.

    Car commute trips to bike commute trips from the 2000 census for L.A. County show about 80-85% car trips and about 1-1.5% bike trips. So you’re off by at least about 420. I expect that for the city of L.A., which has more population density than the rest of the county, the ratio is less than this. Also, I expect that the 2010 census will show some increase in the percentage of bicycling.

    Also, you expressed it as “cars outnumber bicycles” – I think that ratio is much less. Not per-trip – but just raw ownership – the number of physical cars to the number of physical bicycles. I don’t have any statistical source for this, so I could be off… but I suspect that it’s something on the order of something between 1 to 1 and maybe 3 to 1 – many many folks who drive also own a bike (whether they regularly use it or not.)

    I am not happy to be on the low end of all these numbers… but it’s pretty clear to me that your “500 to 1” is way off.

  • Eric B

    The measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. The idea that there are more cars makes it no less important to guarantee safe passage for bicyclists. Beyond that basic minimum, there are very significant benefits to a public policy that intentionally favors bicycles over private autos (clean air, lower cost, public health, etc.). Only after bicyclists are treated as legitimate road users can we start to have the broader policy discussions. The harassment ordinance is about the most basic right to not be discriminated against as a road user. If we can’t even agree on that, something is seriously wrong.

    @Joe: great job distinguishing the physical car or bike and the motorist and bicyclist. Many of us are both (and transit riders too).

  • The lazy meme of Los Angeles as car culture central shows a lack of interest in our own history. Sure, freeways have existed here all of Zine’s life. (How old is he, about 60? That’s when we started building our freeway system, 1950-55. Zine can’t possibly remember before that, so for him, that’s the way it’s always been.)

    How about the 1920’s when the Pacific Electric was the largest interurban railway in the WORLD, with over 1000 miles of track? Were we a “car town” then? Sure, starting in the 1920’s, there were plenty of cars. But they existed side by side with the PE and the Los Angeles Railway for over 40 years, before both systems were unceremoniously ripped out.

    And they could exist side-by-side again. In spite of Zine’s lack of vision.

  • skd

    Dennis Zine needs to lose his job. This is exactly the kind of idiotic crap that spews from the mouth of an ignorant and outdated politician. These words will come back to haunt him. Zine needs to be retired and replaced with new blood. Someone who is forward-thinking and environmentally aware. Good riddance Dennis Zine, your City Council days are numbered.

  • Somehow I don’t think very many people realize that there actually is an anti-car culture bubbling beneath the surface of Los Angeles. And do you want to know why I am so certain of this? Because if most people knew the backlash would be about as intense as anything this state has seen in decades.

    You are not going to be able to dictate this change from the top. What needs to be done is provide a public transportation experience that is superior to driving a car. Then people will vote with through their preference. And unfortunately, Metro and the rest are lightyears from that level of acceptance.

  • John

    Zine needs to add “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” to his Netflix queue.

  • “Zine needs to add “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” to his Netflix queue.”

    No he doesn’t.

  • I am disappointed with Zine’s statement… but I think it’s more an opportunity for us to educate him. He’s actually a cyclist – formerly a member of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee and, I think (I heard this… but it could be hearsay), even spent some time as a bicycle policeman.

    Zine’s actual quote (which Damien unfortunately transcribed slightly wrong above) is “I think we are a car culture here in Southern California. I don’t KNOW if we’re ever going to change that IN OUR LIFETIME.” I don’t think it’s a portrait in farsightedness or vision, but it’s a little less dismissive than what’s transcribed above: “I don’t think we’re ever going to change that.”

    To a certain extent, what he says is unfortunately true – L.A. is all too car-centric… and it doesn’t appear that car-dominance will radically change really soon. This is probably more true in Zine’s relatively suburban West San Fernando Valley district than nearly any part of the city.

    Rather than demonize, write-off, or dismiss Councilmember Zine, I’d suggest let’s work with him to help him better understand bike issues… how they can help his communities to be healthier, safer, more economically viable, and better for the environment. Let’s work with him to implement more bike facilities in his district – including extending the Reseda Boulevard bike lanes north of Vanowen.

  • e.n

    i once got a ticket in van nuys and went to court to contest it. it would be no exaggeration to say that 80% of the pleas heard at arraignment were undocumented immigrants with no license or insurance, who were pulled over for an infraction.

    the judge very matter-of-factly applied each a fine and informed them that their car would not be returned to them. at one point, he announced to the court that “this is how it works.”

    well, this is how it works in a city where bicycling and public transportation are not options for the majority of residents. that’s a big problem.

  • roadblock

    thanks for the clarification Joe. right on point.

  • Pete Kaplana

    One way to look at it is, there are 25 million drivers in California and they generate more than $100 billion a year to the economy. Now, who would a Judge, Politician or Cop rather side with, drivers or cyclists?

  • @Pete Kaplana, another way to look at is, there are 25 million drivers in California and they generate nearly half of greenhouse gases that are heating up our planet to make it uninhabitable for the next generation. Now, who would you side with, drivers or cyclists?

    (Insert injuries/deaths, oil wars, water pollution, cancer, obesity, etc. as you see fit. There are also ways that cars adversely impact the economy – from sending local money out of state and country to pay for oil, to traffic congestion making places less livable.)

    So… (take a breath) chosing sides between “drivers or cyclists” a pretty polarizing way to look at it. Often they’re the same people – for shorter trips they choose to bike, for longer ones they may drive. The way I see it, we need a robust system that gives people options. If our system is a monoculture that only serves drivers (or only transit, or only bikes) then it probably won’t work very well for a diverse population with diverse needs.

    I wouldn’t ask for Councilmember Dennis Zine to choose bikes over drivers… I would hope that he respects us all, though.

  • I think respect for all road users – pedestrians, bicyclists, and yes, cars and trucks – is important. You have to avoid extremism like Critical Mass corking rush hour traffic with 10 and 15 minute long bike trains like has happened in San Francisco, but also the counter extreme where elected officials like John Moorlach in Orange County advocate elimination of public transportation completely. For better or worse, the tipping point is more towards the latter than support for the former.

  • roadblock

    Argue-ably antagonistic mass bicycle rides such as Critical Mass will melt away when cycling is no longer a “novelty” and IS a normal part of living in Los Angeles. It took one trip to the Netherlands to realize this fact… Naively intent on starting a Midnight Ridazz chapter in that country I spoke to locals about organizing a ride on a recent visit to that country… “Why would we want to ride in a big group at night? There is nothing special about riding bicycles. We do it everyday already.”

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