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Posts from the Car Culture Category


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…

Streetsblog NYC
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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?”

Streetsblog NYC
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Red Bull Racing Lives the Urban Car Marketer’s Sociopathic Dream

There are a lot of gasp-inducing moments in Red Bull Racing’s new video to promote the Formula One Grand Prix of America, scheduled for Weehawken and Union City in June 2013.

First, there’s the introduction: the national anthem being played by the dulcet tones of a revving engine. Then there are shots of the driver speeding along the walkway at Liberty State Park and through the streets of Weehawken, before heading down an empty Lincoln Tunnel to really open up the throttle.

The Lincoln Tunnel shots are spliced with images of crowded Manhattan streets — implying, but not actually showing, the danger of a high-speed tour of the Big Apple. Then there’s the finale: a Formula One driver burning rubber and doing donuts as two cyclists circle around him in what might be a bizarre share-the-road message.

It’s a video that lots of carmakers would drool over as a way to sell their driving machines.

According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the shoot occurred on August 13 and 14, closing the Liberty State Park waterfront walkway to the public. We’ve reached out to the Township of Weehawken Police Department and Red Bull Racing for additional comment on how the video was shot.

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Google-Funded Pundit: Forget Transit, the Future Belongs to Robocars

Last week Salon ran a pretty horrendous piece on the future of transportation called “Oops — Wrong Future.”

Members of the Google robocar team. Photo: Inhabitat

Writer Michael Lind argued that the “case for infrastructure investment has suffered from the lack of a plausible vision of the next American infrastructure.” Things that are not “plausible,” according to Lind, include “renewable energy and mass transit.” He wrote:

The idea that the U.S. could transition quickly from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources like wind power and solar power inspired many liberals to support artificially rigging markets in favor of renewable energy by methods like cap-and-trade and renewable energy standards that force working-class consumers, via utility, to buy expensive power from uneconomical wind, solar or biofuel sources. And for a brief moment in time, the center-left in the United States was entranced by the mirage of a continental high-speed rail system.

Okay, we’ll give you a second to consider that this was printed in one of the country’s leading, left-leaning online magazines.

“Rigging markets” is some pretty debatable rhetoric to describe renewable energy standards and cap-and-trade — a policy that is supported by the overwhelming majority of economists. (Billions of dollars in tax breaks for gas companies and subsidies for road building — some people might describe that as “rigging markets” in the opposite direction, but we digress.)

Unlike “uncritical,” “unrealistic” and “entranced” proponents of rail, Lind has a vision for the future that is very much like the present, or even the past. Brace yourself, readers: In the future, the U.S. will have an endless supply of fossil fuel thanks to “environmentally responsible” shale gas exploration. Plus, in the future, rail and bus transit of all kinds will never be able to complete with Google’s self-driving cars.

Lind is a big fan of Google robocars. He goes on about their many benefits:

Robocars may be fatal for fixed-rail transportation, at least for passengers rather than freight. Google has been test driving self-driving cars in California and Nevada has become the first state to legalize driverless vehicles. No doubt it will take several decades for safety issues and legal arrangements to be worked out. But high-speed trains might find competition in high-speed convoys of robot cars on smart highways, allowed higher speeds once human error has been eliminated. And the price advantage of subway tickets over taxi fares in cities may vanish, when the taxis drive themselves. Point-to-point travel, within cities or between them, is inherently more convenient than train or subway journeys which require changing modes of transit in the course of a journey. Thanks to robocars, much cheaper point-to-point travel everywhere may eventually be cheap enough to relegate light rail and inter-city rail to the museum, along with the horse-drawn omnibus and the trans-atlantic blimp.

What Lind — and Salon — fail to mention is that his professional interests are very much entangled with the producer of those cars.

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Are Americans Driving Less Because They’re Working Less?

Source: FRED

Everyone’s trying to figure out why, after decades of consistent growth, the amount Americans drive is leveling off and even declining. The decline started during the recession, to be sure, but was more dramatic than in previous recessions. As the economy began to get back on its feet, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) just barely ticked upward — and then fell again.

High gas prices probably have something to do with it. Young people embracing cities over suburban living — and valuing smartphones more than cars — might have something to do with it. It could be peak car — the theory that continued growth in driving simply can’t go on forever.

Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider found the trend notable enough to give it this headline over the weekend: “This Collapse In Automobile Usage Is Completely Unprecedented In The American Economy.”

Looking at VMT data now available on the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis’s Economic Research site, Weisenthal posted two charts that put the one above in a little bit of perspective. (Note that these look somewhat different from the first chart because they look at the change from year to year, not the absolute numbers.)

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The Auto Industry Wants Your Thanks

Feeling warmer and fuzzier about the auto industry bailout? With the help of the Obama reelection campaign, the industry is convincing more Americans that the $80 billion they forked over to save it were dollars well spent.

Image: PRLOG

In the latest Pew poll, the public responded more positively toward the bailout than ever before, with 56 percent of Americans agreeing that it was “mostly good for the economy.”

It has taken hard numbers to soften up taxpayers — numbers like the 1.4 million new cars sold in March that made it the best month for car sales in five years. Looking to capitalize on this momentum, a key auto industry association, the Center for Automotive Research (CAR), has published a report that credits the industry with contributing $135 billion in tax revenues to the feds and the states.

(The irony must here be noted that CAR receives 43 percent of its funding from federal, state, and local sources. Yes, this research about how the auto sector partly funds the government was partly funded by the government.)

Sales taxes; fuel taxes; property taxes; licenses and fees; income taxes paid by industry employees; and corporate taxes paid by automakers, suppliers, and dealers were tallied by the group. On the face of it, these numbers are impressive, representing on average 13 percent of state revenues. States in which automakers have significant operations can see much higher percentages; in Tennessee, for example, industry-related dollars approach 20 percent of revenues. For these states, being dependent on an auto industry on the upswing seems like a very good thing.

That is, until they start adding up the year-in, year-out costs imposed by the industry and borne by the public. A truly comprehensive accounting of the economic costs of car dependency might include everything from highway litter pickup (Missouri alone paid $5 million for this in 2011) to the price of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, estimated at $3.2-4 trillion overall.

But this is hardly necessary. To blow the industry’s $135 billion boon out of the water, just a few line items will do, such as:
Read more…

Streetsblog NYC
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Open Thread: The Volvo Pedestrian Airbag

I am ambivalent about the Volvo pedestrian airbag, as seen via Laughing Squid. On one hand, it seems like another way for automakers to help people shirk responsibility for how they drive. Plus, as currently designed, it looks like it’s intended to minimize windshield damage as much as anything.

On the other hand, it is a fact that a lot of people get hit by drivers, and many of them die after making contact with the windshield. It’s entirely possible that this design could save more than a few lives.

What do you think?

(h/t to dave)


Times Victory: Trio of Bills Take Aim at “Buy Here Pay Here” Car Dealerships

A trio of state legislators have introduced legislation aimed at “Buy Here Pay Here” dealerships in California.  These dealerships, where used cars are sold at a marked up price with loans that have abnormally high interest rates, are often used by people of lesser means as a last resort to get a car.   These dealerships not only sell cars, but provide their own financing, creating two ways to benefit from the overpriced sale of a used car.

My favorite "Buy Here Pay Here" promotional picture.

Last year, Ken Bensinger at the Los Angeles Times wrote a three part series exposing some of the business practices of these dealerships that create extra hardship for disadvantaged car buyers.  This year, he has continued to follow-up on the issue as these bills were introduced and begin to move in the legislature.  Here is a brief explanation of each piece of legislation:

A.B. 1447, Introduced by Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-LA)

A.B. 1447 would actually change three parts of the business strategies of Buy Here Pay Here dealerships.  First, dealers would be required to post the selling cost of the vehicle on the body of the vehicle.  This would prevent dealers from setting prices at the negotiating table based on their estimate of what the seller could afford.  The legislation also prohibits Buy Here Pay Here dealers from hasassing references for the buyer after the sale, requiring cash payments in person from drivers and disabling and tracking cars with GPS systems of payments are late. Read more…


Metropolis II and the Enduring Delusions of Car-Centric Cities

Metropolis II, a kinetic sculpture of a futuristic city by artist Chris Burden that will soon start operating for view by the public, raises some interesting questions about the role of cars in cities.

I saw the sculpture, with its elevated roads wrapping around skyscrapers and other structure, sitting still when I visited the museum over the winter break. It might be worth checking it out in action to see 1100 toy cars and 14 train sets whiz and wind their way through the buildings. Metropolis II is a cool contraption and interesting piece of art, like a matchbox car track, erector set, and lego city mashed together and pumped up to gigantic size.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t want to burden such a nifty assemblage with political or planning baggage. But the sculpture’s prominent position in a major museum is drawing lots of attention to the work and the possible future it represents.  The artist’s comments about Metropolis II place it in line with some earlier visions of a vertical, car-dominated Los Angeles that had real influence on the shape of the city today. And I think what Peter Plagens wrote about art critics engaging in urbanism when he reviewed Raynar Banham’s influential book Los Angeles: the architecture of four ecologies, still applies:

” if he wanted to run out and paint pictures of the Roller derby or the Stones it’d be O.K. because it’d be innocuous …  But when you get into architecture it’s big casino, real people’s real lives … and here we go with another strangling round of MacDonald’s, freeways, and confectioners’ culture palaces.” Read more…