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Posts from the Car Culture Category


L.A. Weekly Claims the Mantle of Defender of Dangerous Drivers

There was a decent amount of outrage aimed at Hillel Aron at L.A. Weekly for his web-exclusive op/ed boasting about his driving prowess and defending his habit of texting-while-driving. I’ve considered myself something of a Hillel fan since his “Bikeroots” piece in 2011, so I was both surprised and a little dismayed while reading a piece that seemed so wildly tone-deaf.

A sample:

And so when we get a call, we’re forced to go digging through our glove compartments like desperate raccoons, looking for our filthy ear buds, an act infinitely more dangerous than simply holding something up to our ear.

Well I say: nuts to that.

I started a draft criticizing the piece, then scrapped it. I thought I should email him first. We had talked several times before. I’ve been quoted in some of his articles. So, I started an email last night I was going to send to him this morning.

Then, I saw the piece in Media Bistro, a web site that does little more than critique other media, and I realized the problem is bigger than Aron (whom I never emailed). Media Bistro corresponded with Sarah Fenske, the Weekly’s Editor in Chief. Fenske’s defense of the editorial decision to run the piece was even more bizarre than just reading Aron’s piece. From Fenske’s email response published at Media Bistro:

“When Hillel pitched this idea at our news blog meeting, it’s fair to say several jaws dropped. (Personally, as a chronic speeder, I consider any driver meandering along, texting, while I’m trying to get somewhere fast to be a mortal enemy.) But it was very clear to all of us as we chewed it over that he was only admitting to something that a vast majority of LA drivers do with impunity.”

“I suspect that at least half the commenters shaking their fist in his direction will send a text, or check their phones, or Tweet something, on their way home tonight. Everyone’s outraged about it; at least on the roads I’m driving, everyone’s still doing it.”

“And behind all the provocative rhetoric, he does make one good point: Distracted driving has long been illegal. As it should be. Texters are not necessarily any worse than the drivers putting on makeup, or eating breakfast. Yet texting is what we get wound up about (as, yes, this story proves!)”

Yes, this article proves that people get upset when someone brags about how they engage in dangerous behavior which proves your point that…wait, what?

And what’s up with the defense of speeding? Speeding has a long deadly track record; it’s arguably more dangerous than distracted driving or texting. Anyone in Fenske’s way considered a “mortal enemy”? Yes, it’s an email using hyperbole for effect, and I had to double-check the definition to be sure Fenske wrote what I thought she wrote, but Fenske appears to be stating that slower-moving drivers (in the way of her speeding) are actually trying to kill her.

I will give Fenske credit for one thing. I had never thought of texting-while-driving and searching-through-your-glovebox-for-a-filthy-earpiece-while-driving as akin to traffic calming. Kudos for thinking outside the box.

A couple of years ago, I had a story idea to write about why LAist, L.A. Weekly and the Daily News (to name a few) publish the locations of DUI checkpoints. Each organization explained to me that they believed that publishing these locations actually made the roads safer, and a public relations person at the Sheriff’s backed them up. While this seems counter-intuitive to me, I never got around to writing the story.

But now that the Weekly is on the record in favor of texting while driving and driving at unsafe speeds, it’s getting harder and harder to believe that public safety on the roadway is something they take seriously at all.

Hillel Aaron’s piece states: “Let’s face it, we all text in the car some of the time.” Sarah Fenske further states “everyone’s still doing it.”

For the record, I can name a whole group of people who don’t text and drive or drive at unsafe speeds.

They’re known as “people who don’t drive.” Because you are driving around with a suit of armor known as a car, and they are not, you are responsible to pay close attention to them at all times. These people are your grandparents, your weird friend who bikes everywhere, and, most importantly to me, THEY ARE MY CHILDREN. So if I sound mad or outraged, it’s not somehow proving your point. It’s because you’re acting like an asshole.


The Teachable Moment Everyone Is Ignoring

By all accounts, Paul Walker was a great person.

This cropped image of Walker and Rodas comes from the worst coverage of the crash I could find. The conservative news website ## Media## actually had the gal to end their bizarre piece by sighing that at least Rodas and Walker died doing what they loved, "driving fast and furious."

This cropped image of Walker and Rodas comes from the worst coverage of the crash I could find. The conservative news website Pajama Media actually had the gal to end their bizarre piece by sighing that at least Rodas and Walker died doing what they loved, “driving fast and furious.”

He was a movie star who cared about people. He raised millions for charity. He loved his daughter. He did all the things that one hopes celebrities do in their lives, by using his money and fame to make the world a better place.

Except for the part where he made a terrible decision with his friend on Saturday that led to both of their untimely deaths.

On Saturday night, after leaving a toy drive organized by his charity for victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, Walker got into the passenger seat of his friend Roger Rodas’ 2005 Porsche Carrera GT. The next thing we know, the Porsche collided with a tree a couple of hundred feet from Rodas’ specialty car shop on Hercules Street in Santa Clarita and burst into flames. Both men died in the crash. Based on camera footage and tire patterns on the street, authorities estimate that the pair were going well over the posted 45 mile per hour speed limit…perhaps as high as 90 miles per hour.

The tragedy is being mourned across the world. Social media and news websites are filled with tributes. The memorial at the scene of the crash looks larger than some of L.A.’s parks. Walker is survived by a teenage daughter who is, of course, completely heartbroken. The Sheriff’s Department is looking into the crash.

This isn’t a surprise. By all accounts, Paul Walker was a great person.

But by ignoring that Walker and/or Rodas made a stupid and selfish decision on Saturday, the media and their fans are deliberately letting a teachable moment slip way. Both men were accomplished and skilled drivers. But by going at excessive speeds on a road not meant for high speed travel, they made a mistake that cost them their lives.

After living a life that was full of giving, Walker’s death can give us something else…a lesson that is too often lost in the drumbeat of a car culture media:

Cars are not toys. When they are treated as such in a public place people die. Read more…


Asm. Gatto: Don’t Turn Hyperion Bridge Into Highway

As reported on Tuesday, Assemblyman Mike Gatto is now the first elected official to publicly oppose the currently proposed redesign of the Hyperion Viaduct over the Los Angeles River. Critics of the redesign argue that the proposed widening the lanes and adding crash buffers will only encourage more unsafe driving both on the bridge and through the connecting communities.

Asm. Gatto

Gatto agrees. In a letter written to the Department of Environmental Planning, which is overseeing the environmental review of the $50 million project, Gatto writes:

I am concerned that the current project proposal would create something freeway-like, in an area where such a structure is not needed, wanted, or safe. A freeway-like bridge would also encourage unsafe automobile speeds and would fail to create a multi-modal transit route, which locals want and deserve.

Written comments are due by October 11, but a public hearing has been promised (but not scheduled.) For more on how to comment, and a draft letter, visit the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s action alert.

A full copy of Gatto’s letter can be found after the jump. Read more…


The Looming Disaster of the Hyperion-Glendale Bridges Re-Design

The Glendale Hyperion Bridge, circa 1928. Image via WikiMedia

Earlier this week, Streetsblog published an article about how the Hyperion-Glendale Complex of Bridges Rehabilitation Project was giving short shrift to bicyclists and pedestrians and everyone that lived in the area. At the time, based on information provided to us by the Bureau of Engineering, I assumed that the issue could be resolved by arguing for a complete streets approach to the right people.

L.A. Eastsider has a full rundown on all of the proposed changes in the redesign. After reading the article, and hearing from people that attended Wednesday’s meeting, I’m a lot more concerned about the bridge project than I was on Tuesday.

The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition explains what makes the new design for one of L.A.’s most iconic structures so scary:

Caltrans and BOE are designing Hyperion Ave. to freeway standards with a design speed of 55 miles per hour. Based on that design speed, they are pursuing a median crash barrier, banked turns, and supersized car lanes. Those decisions leave no room for bike lanes and just a narrow sidewalk on only one side of the street.  Simply designing the street to normal city street standards would leave enough room for everyone.

Why in the world would anyone design a bridge that connects two smaller communities in Los Angeles to be a freeway in today’s world is beyond me. Fortunately, Streetsblog contributor Don “Roadblock” Ward was at this week’s community meeting on the bridge and he left the answer in the Streetsblog comments section: Read more…

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Southern California’s roadway terror is back in the news

Bieber with his custom Fisker Karma in May 2102. Photo: Show Auto Review

Evidently, the Terror of Calabasas is at it again.

The LA Times reports that pop singer Justin Beiber was ticketed in Calabasas early this morning for running a stop sign and driving his Ferrari without a valid license. The Beib was reportedly cooperative, and Sheriff’s deputies allowed a passenger to drive the car away with Beiber inside, even though the car could have been towed.

This is just the latest in a long line of automotive mischief involving Beiber.

And that doesn’t even include charges of instigating brawls, throwing up onstage and peeing in public. Or parking his car illegally in Beverly Hills. Read more…


L.A.’s Real Growth Is in Car-Free and Car-Lite Families

I’ve never made it a secret that I’m one of the few Streetsblog editors that owns a car. But in the new Los Angeles, the one that prioritizes transit projects over highway expansion, that my family of four only has one car that we barely use is becoming the new normal.

Yesterday, reported on a review of census data by Bike Portland which showed that most of the residential growth in Portland is by households that are either car-free or car-lite. Later in the day, USC graduate student Shane Philips did the same review for Los Angeles at his website, Better Institutions.

The result? Los Angeles’ residential growth is even more car-free and car-lite than Portland’s. Let’s take a quick look at Philips’ chart and graph:

Philips: *This is a conservative estimate. The numbers exclude households with adults who aren't working and don't own cars (presumably including the elderly and retired), as well as households with one working adult and one car, even though many of these households are likely to be couples with one working parent and one stay-at-home parent. Unfortunately, the survey data didn't differentiate between these households and those with only one adult. Because of this, the actual share of growth attributable to low-car households is almost certainly greater than 90%.


Wow! According to census data, L.A.’s growth is far outstripping its fabled car-dependency. Because the data is using census information that ends in 2011, before the city striped over one hundred miles of bike lanes, completed construction of the Expo Line, opened the Orange Line Extension, turned CicLAvia from a curiosity to a must-do event on the calendar, and painted bus-only lanes on Wilshire Boulevard. Read more…


New Report Outlines How CA Can Kick Its Addiction to Oil, Foreign and Domestic

If you want to reduce oil dependency, go after the big dark green area first.

The government is encouraging you to drive a car, and if California is truly serious about reducing its oil dependency that needs to change. This is the unequivocal conclusion of Unraveling Ties to Petroleum  a new report commissioned by Next 10 California and written by UCLA researchers  Juan Matute, Director of the UCLA Local Climate Initiative, and  Stephanie Pincetl, Adjunct Professor and Director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA.

“State and local policies that promote autos over other modes make it hard to drive less, even when someone is determined to do so,” writes Matute.

In addition to compiling mountains of statistics about car use, energy use, and gasoline dependence, the authors looked at fifteen policies that change incentives for driving or land use, and evaluated their total effects on statewide petroleum use.  Most of the time, the incentives were not transparent.  Together, the policy choices made at the state and local level impact statewide petroleum use by as much as 50 percent.

It used to be that CA got almost none of its oil from other countries. That has changed.

The biggest change governments can make? Change the non-residential parking policy by changing or removing parking minimums, encouraging different land use through zoning and creating a more attractive urban form. The researchers estimate these changes could reduce gasoline demand in the transportation industry by nearly 25% under the best circumstances. Other potential areas for reform include encouraging insurance companies to offer per-mile rates (an estimated 8% drop), an affordable rideshare and taxi program (up to an 18.35% drop) and even allowing jitney and dollar van services to operate (a whopping .1% drop.)

Sadly, the buffet of options for reducing oil usage also points back to one of the reports’ other main points. The government is encouraging car usage, and has a variety of ways to soak the car-free and car-lite. These include: Read more…

Let’s Find a Freeway Project for Which to Advocate

Doesn’t That Look Like Fun!?!?

I have to admit, I’m feeling left out.

Everywhere I went today, people were talking about “710 Day.” It was all over my Inbox. My wife brought it up at lunch. The regular news reports on KFI devoted regular coverage to it throughout the day.

For those of you that missed the news, Alhambra declared July 10 to be “710 Day.” The city is planning to celebrate all of the progress being made to one day  connect the I-10 and I-210 freeways and doom the entire region to an even more rapid increase in truck traffic.

I’m not jealous because they have a truly awful project to celebrate. After all, I live on the Westside. If I were Payton Manning I could hit the Sepuveda Pass Improvement Project with a strong throw from my house if the 405 were wearing a Patriots jersey. No, I’m jealous because I want a road project for which to advocate. It looks like so much fun.

So, I reached out to the Streetsblog L.A. Editorial Board for some help, and got some great ideas. Leave your own ideas for truly, amazingly awful freeway projects we can advocate for. We’ll vote next week on election day for the best bad project idea and on July 10 we’ll have our own celebration. If you need a cheat sheet, click here.

Some of our ideas can be found after the jump. Read more…


The MyFigueroa! Doubters Speak: Fig Too Special for Cycletracks

After years of whispering in the ears of CRA and LADOT staff, and avoiding public comment, the opponents of the MyFigueroa! project to put a road diet, cycletracks, bike lanes, improved crosswalks and better transit facilities on South Figueroa street broke their public silence in the L.A. Downtown News .

The basic argument against the plan is that it is bad for car traffic, hasn’t been done in Los Angeles before, and that Figueroa Street is a regional street that needs to have as much traffic capacity as possible. This is good to know, because these arguments are simple to refute.

“The whole problem of access and mobility for automotive vehicles needs to be seriously considered before we experiment with something that hasn’t been done anywhere else in L.A.,” said Darryl Holter, CEO of the Shammas Group, which owns eight car dealerships on Figueroa….

Although protected lanes in other cities may have been successful, Figueroa Street is different in part because it is a key regional transit corridor, said Hamid Bahadori, manager of transportation programs for the Southern California Auto Club.

“We should keep in mind that people on Figueroa are not all going between USC and L.A. Live and Downtown,” Bahadori said. “This is a regional corridor and the city should not lose sight of the need to accommodate regional mobility.”

I’m not sure what Holter is referring to when he says “something that hasn’t been done anywhere else in L.A. before,” but the good news is that road diets, cycle tracks, and opening streets to all users is something that has been done all over the world. The other good news is that the results of these kind of changes bring positive change throughout the world. At the same time, it would be nice for the AAA to realize that many of the people on Figueroa do live between USC and L.A.. Live and would love a safe alternative to the car reliance that AAA peddles and advocates on behalf of.

Even just a quick email to the other Streetsblog editors revealed that cycle tracks on major streets and road diets are hardly new or untested.

From Chicago, John Deerfield reminds us of the Dearborn Street Bike Lane that received a road diet and separated bike facility in late 2011. Mayor Rahm Emanuel brags about taking out a lane of mixed use traffic to put in a two-way cycle track. Read more…

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Scared by Dangerous Traffic? Take a Xanax

Why should these women be able to cross the street safely when we can prescribe them drugs instead? Photo: Ilya Boyandin/Flickr

Once in a while, a story comes along that perfectly encapsulates how dangerous traffic forces people to re-orient their lives. This example, relayed to us by a reader, comes from a recent lecture at the psychiatry department of a major Manhattan hospital about anxiety disorders in the elderly.

The lecturer brought up the case of an 80-year-old woman who uses a walker. The woman told her doctor that she was afraid to cross First Avenue to make her appointments because of the traffic. She wasn’t afraid of leaving her apartment or walking across smaller streets; it was First Avenue that scared her.

So the doctor prescribed Xanax to help her deal with her anxiety.

Xanax was not endorsed by this group of doctors due to its side effects, but our reader was taken aback when no one — neither the presenters nor the audience — raised concerns about applying the diagnosis of an anxiety disorder to an elderly person simply because she is concerned about crossing a dangerous street.

“Nobody said, ‘This is an inappropriate response to a dangerous situation,'” our tipster recalled. “Have we so given up on managing our streets in a rational way that we’re now just medicating people?”