Streetfilms: A Rush Hour Conversation with Deborah Murphy

Never let it be said that transportation reform advocates don’t have a sense of humor. How else can you explain the decision to take one of Los Angeles’ best known pedestrian advocates and interview her while driving around the Hollywoods at rush hour on a Friday night?

Streetfilms Nicholas Whitaker took a back seat, rush hour ride with City Planner Deborah Murphy through the streets of Los Angeles in the second part of our series of Streetfilms set in Los Angeles. Murphy pointed out some of the difficulties one encounters in L.A. as a pedestrian advocate, commuter, and champion for change.

  • Man. You want proof of how much the car culture sucks? Just look at our city. I mean, seriously just look at the footage. What an ugly city we live in. I guess upkeep doesn’t matter, as long as you can drive through it and find that free parking space wherever you’re going.

    A city with our weather and natural features should be up there with the most beautiful cities in the world. Instead we truly are a concrete jungle.

  • I think the key in L.A. is in developing a political base of support for pedestrian, transit, and bike friendly interests.

    There are a lot of natural allies to these interests: local business, contractors who can plan, design, or build a new transportation network, and bored millionaires who want their names to live on.

    One thing I found interesting was her talk about traffic engineers not wanting to admit they are wrong. They have been trained to design streets as sewer pipes for cars. This is the primary focus of traffic engineering in the U.S. To admit that was “a mistake” would de-legitimize their trade.

    Traffic engineers in the U.S. are car roadway plumbers. That is their role.

    So working with them to our benefit only happens when you want to drive faster or you can politically ignore or crush their dissent to your alternative transit ideas.

  • Radical Transportation Engineer

    Well, I guess I have to stand up for my profession a bit. We’re not all designers of sewer pipes for cars! But yes, you are correct, training has to do with volume of cars, flow, etc., not streets as “living rooms”, which should certainly be part of the training. I guess that’s why we have transportation planners as well.

    More importantly, Deborah was dead on with the parking pricing. This is congestion pricing and it exists in New York, which is why people take transit. This is an easy way of discouraging driving. Perhaps getting some of the parking owners together to support this idea would be a good idea.

    In any case, GREAT movie, good idea to get Deborah for the video, well done. Keep ’em comin’.

  • donald shoup refers discusses how minimum parking requirements are akin to the science of blood-letting. at the time, it represented the best knowledge about the human body.

    transportation engineers, like blood-letters, are working under severely out-dated, and fallacious knowledge.

  • Clarence

    Sure you must have seen our two videos with Dr. Shoup. Here is one:

    (Hope the link string doesn’t break.)

  • Bob

    Go Deborah, LA needs so much of the work that you do. Planners, builders, and engineers have created this mess and can change it. We need to have positive walking experiences to motivate us to continue to leave the safe comforting isolation of our cars. It’s what has defined LA Culture and created the personal isolationism that exists. But most places have filthy narrow sidewalks, storfronts that open to parking lots not sidewalks, security gates, etc.
    Let’s make sidewalks the pleasant public places they can be.

  • CAB

    This is an interesting piece. I would however caution all the talk of parking pricing as being the savior of an urban environment wrought by overt car consumption. When we talk about pricing we have to understand the basics of elasticity- in the case of parking– the change in parking demand based on the price of parking. However, if we don’t have attractive alternatives…transit, pedestrian and bike-able environments– demand for parking will likely mostly stay the same regardless of increases in prices. I argue parking elasticity of demand is similar to gas elasticity of demand… essentially- people will buy less of other goods to afford gas.. and thus the need for parking will follow- as they are complimentary goods.

    I love Shoup- and consider him one of the finest professors I have ever had the pleasure of being taught by. Unfortunately, pricing parking alone will hardly solve the problem of too much driving. However, it is certainly a great way to increase revenues for city improvements via parking benefit districts- its effects on behavior are less impressive- at least in the short term and with only slight increases in cost.

  • Christa

    “Instead we truly are a concrete jungle.”

    More like a concrete desert!

    I grew up in Oxnard and wouldn’t think of getting around by any other means. Now I live in a bike friendly city (with infrastructure and a bike culture). Quality of life? Great! I just got rid of my vehicle last December and it’s not a problem at all. When I go back to So Cal, I’ll challenge the culture by riding my bike everywhere. I think it’s only a matter of time before people start changing; the younger generation will be the first to welcome the change too.

  • jon

    i think a place of focus should be pershing square, that could and should be a quality and attractive downtown public square again. it would be awesome if they could return it to its original state, i think i heard it originally had a tropical feel. bring in project for public spaces. if they have to seal up the underground parking garage under the square then so be it.

    there is a 1970s square with underground parking in downtown Portland that is being redone and since the garage entrance was a hinderance to the new square plan, the parking will be sealed off and unused. so it can be done.

  • Christa

    “No one would ever visit this area except in a guided group on an educational tour, since if he were found there alone, without credentials, he would be as open to police suspicion as a pedestrian in Los Angeles.” Lewis Mumford, “The Highway and the City”

  • Pamela Burrus

    My husband, David Burrus, was recently killed while crossing, with the help of a cross walk, on Sepulveda & Century in LA. The light in the cross walk was burnt out as well as there seem to be multiple concerns for this particular corner. He died the evening of Sept. 2nd. The news immediately ran an early morning story, Dr. in mercedes kills Dr. jay walking. They were wrong. Witnesses saw him in the cross walk. My husband was a cross walk guy, as well as one who only took smart calculated risks. I have been on this corner. It is posted as a 40 mile per hour speed limit. Almost none are going 4o, it is more like 60 plus. Even the live sig alert clocks the drivers there at 65 to 7o.
    I, our children, the medical community, family and friends every where are overcome with the senseless tragedy of the loss of David. My husband always worked actively, quietly, for the higher good. I am choosing to believe there is some higher good that is ment to come from this horrific loss. I am looking to find out how many other pedestrian injuries and deaths have occurred on this corner, how many speeding tickets are issued there, what is actively being done to create a change which will protect pedestrians and quite possible prevent another death.

    Pamela M. Burrus
    wife of Dr. David R. Burrus

    David was an advocate for safer streets. Cars scared him. He was very excited that we had just chosen a second home, in NYC on Roosevelt Island, where the 5 mile Island has limited personal car use and a bike lane around the entire island. He was working on suggesting a plan in Laguna Beach Ca, where our first home is, to allow for a parking area on the canyon and a busing system which would commute people into and through the town.

  • Garry Pappin

    Wah wah wah ….


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