If A Tree Falls In A #RoadBond, Do Editorial Writers Hear?

Trees are just one amenity that this RoadBond really needs. photo: Thue via Wikimedia

Trees are just one “amenity” that L.A.’s RoadBond really needs. photo: Thue via Wikimedia

Today’s Los Angeles Times has two editorials that don’t quite go together.

In the editorial South L.A. needs trees, the Times reviews tree removal underway for Metro’s Crenshaw rail line. Almost channeling their inner Lorax, the Times lauds the city and county’s “ambitious post-construction plans” for “planting twice as many trees as they remove, and adding seating, lighting and walkways.” The Times values South L.A.’s trees for “fighting against drought, desert climate, urban blight and concrete streets.”

Indeed, trees are critical for urban livability. Especially for pedestrians and transit riders, trees provide much needed shade. Trees are often an important buffer between pedestrian space and vehicle space. They clean air and water, and lessen noise pollution.  

On the other hand, the editorial Fixing L.A.’s asphalt jungle won’t come cheap isn’t so keen on those same tree, seating, and walkway “amenities.”

(SBLA tries hard not to use that a-word to describe important infrastructure for biking, walking, or transit. When was the last time someone called a parking lot or a freeway an amenity? Who ever heard of a “car amenity”? Just googled it and they do exist – stuff like jeweled hubcaps – but amenity is nearly never used to publicly funded car infrastructure. We digress.)

Here’s what the Times editorial has to say:

Los Angeles’ streets are a potholed mess and its sidewalks are cracked and jagged. Some 35% of the streets have been given a failing grade by the Bureau of Street Services, and a city consultant estimates it will cost nearly $3.9 billion to fix the worst of them. Add to that the cost of repairing the sidewalks and the tab jumps to $4.5 billion.

In the past, City Council members have floated the idea of a bond measure, to be approved by voters and repaid by property owners, to cover the cost of repairs. [...] Community groups have since called for the proposal to also include sidewalk repairs, street trees, streetscapes, “green streets” to absorb storm water, “complete streets” that incorporate bicycle and pedestrian enhancements — all great amenities, but ones that could increase the project’s cost and complexity. City leaders must define their mission. Is it to fix crumbling asphalt? Or remake L.A.’s urban landscape? Can both be done affordably?

Should livability fans be happy that at least there’s sidewalk icing on this asphalt cake? Should those pesky “community groups” be content that bike and walk stuff are at least “great amenities”? The Times could have called them “lousy amenities.”

It’s going to come as no surprise where SBLA stands on all this stuff. In an era of ubiquitous car congestion, rising gas prices, and declining car usage, Los Angeles can ill afford a road bond that looks backward, trying to solve 2014 problems with solutions straight outta the 1950s.

This road bond needs complete streets. And less of those car amenities. And trees. Plenty of trees.