Streetsblog interview with Erin Darling : August 12, 2022

<Note: this transcript has been lightly edited to remove a conversation on e-bikes, an interruption from a member of the Culver City Bike Coalition and a conversation about Snoopy’s brothers in the Peanuts comic strips. All of that is available in the audio available here.)

Damien Newton (Damien): We’re here at Alana’s. This is Damien and Erin on August 12th at 10:15.

We like to always ask easy, groundbreaking questions to start things. Going on your social media, I see images of you walking and biking for transportation. What is your transportation diet like? For the record, I drove here today so it’s not a wrong answer if you don’t tell me you bike everywhere you go.

Erin Darling (Darling): I bike as much as I can. I used to bike to work downtown when I worked at the eviction defense network. I just go straight down Venice Boulevard to La Brea then over to Olympic. The first time I did it I got east of Western and a pothole got so bad I nearly busted…I got a flat my first day on my new bike. 

I have a kid and so I drive him to child care in West Adams in Koreatown. On weeknd’s I bike to the beach. I bike with my kids.

Now walking? I do not walk for chores. There’s a little distance, and it’s just too far enough to walk for chores. 

But the big picture is I’m really excited to get an electric and start being able to bike for chores. I love biking but like the time that cuts with a device and then the fun, the stylishness. 

I’m really looking forward to that.

Damien: I mean it sounds like you’ve got a good transportation diet. I know that has multiple meanings as we sit here outside of Venice Boulevard. The question that comes up next is how do we encourage more people to diversify their transportation diet. Our transportation network is one of the leading causes of Climate Change? How do we make it easier for people to choose something other than single-occupancy trips?

Darling: I think that’s the big picture. How do we create the infrastructure so the people are less reliant on their automobiles in that they have alternatives in the proverbial if you build it they will come.

One, Metro planning extensions are important. Personally, I would like to see the Metro go all the way to Santa Monica, not just the VA. The connection to the airport I will hope will make people less reliant on automobiles as they go to and from the airport. 

Metro mico. First mile-last mile. Connected bike lanes…So people can do chores not just not just go to the beach. That’s a big issue in our first thing 

A high percentage of people travel within less than a mile of the house for chores. That’s low hanging fruit. A lot of people, especially younger people, don’t want to do that in general until we create the infrastructure for that as well. 

Damien: I don’t plan on talking about Mike Bonin a lot in either of these interviews, but when we talked about infrastructure in the neighborhood and the communities; the two road diets are things that are often discussed: the one on Venice Boulevard right here and the other down in Playa del Rey. 

The question is what do we do now that’s different from what we did in 2016? I know you probably don’t know all the details of 2017. What can we do to avoid that conflict and keep the discussion from getting so overheated?

Darling: Overheating is the right term. It’s sad that in politics every conflict feels like it overheats. I think generally public outreach has to be thorough. Design can’t be predetermined, people have to feel like they have a say. Outreach is still huge. So there has to be flexibility, but there also has to be communication that with Climate Change there’s an immediacy that we need to act on. 

We also have to ask, if not here, where? There’s a lot of people that say, “Oh, I’m not against bike lanes, but it doesn’t make sense on” and then they fill in the blank. But people can’t feel bulldozed either.

So I think there’s a balancing act of having community engagement and design input and not feeling like we’re going through the motions on community engagement. But with that said, I think we need leadership on creating infrastructure.

And it’s tough.

Let’s acknowledge that in L.A. when you take a lane people react viscerally like you’ve taken something away from them. But here we are looking at it, and I don’t see massive congestion. Someone just rode by and waved to us. Whatever street we’re talking about, if anything we’re going to see more bicyclists if we have an interconnected system throughout the city and it’s not just a patchwork of a few streets. 

Damien: I don’t know if you had a chance to look at it but there’s a plan to extend this protected bikeway for another five miles. Does that plan make sense to you, or is it something you haven’t had a chance to look at yet?

Darling: I would want a bicycle lane that extends all the way from the beach to Downtown. Whether it’s all on one street or not I’m ambivalent about it. I do think we need an interconnected route all the way downtown.

I haven’t seen the exact design of it. As I understand it, there are different models. That part I don’t have a strong opinion on, but it makes sense to continue this. 

Damien: We talked about a little bit about community involvement and how to do that. Do you have an idea for what the neighborhood councils role should be  in determining Transportation projects? Some people think meeting with them is just checking a box and other people think they should have a veto. Having served on one, I’m somewhere in between.

Darling: Likewise. I feel that no, neighborhood councils shouldn’t have veto power. On the other hand, it shouldn’t just be perfunctory.

We should also acknowledge that neighborhood councils speak for people, but they’re not completely reflective of society.

I served on the Venice Neighborhood Council. One time I got the second most number of votes, and that was under 150. So let’s be honest in terms of the scope of the role.

On the other hand, neighborhood councils shouldn’t just be ignored. If anything, this is the grass roots mediation that is important. It makes sense that the forums come from that.

Damien: Yeah, it’s not an easy one. Having been on them, I don’t want to say bad things about them, but…

Darling: It’s not saying bad things, they are important. How else do you organize a neighborhood forum? They’re crucial. But we also have to acknowledge how the city designed them. THey don’t have veto power in how power was vested by the city. That’s just a legal fact.

Damien: The last two council members have both chaired the City Council Transportation Committee and have served on the Expo Board. Mike’s been on the Metro Board of Directors too. Are those the types of positions you’ll be pursuing again?

Darling: Going downtown from the westside, you can’t be entitled. There’s already a sense that you’re entitled just because you’re from the Westside, so I can’t be like, “Oh, I’m from the Westside. We deserve it.” That being said, I do plan to pursue it.

Traffic and westside travel is so bonkers that I think C11 constituents expect that and hope that. Let’s also not forget we have LAX, so we have a magnet that the entire region comes too. And the job pull on the Westside… in my lifetime has reversed itself. Now the jobs are on the Westside.

I’m so focused on housing and how it intersects with transportation, I would love to be in that intersection of housing and transportation.

Damien: Is there anything specific that you would have as a  transportation agenda as a council member? Specific projects or ideals or goals that you would put out?

Darling: Big picture I would say, first-mile last-mile, intra-Westside travel including Metro micro and making it easier for seniors to get places. Expanding LADOT transfers for seniors.

Creating a system interconnected bike lanes and bus only lanes to make it easier for people to get out of their cars. 

Damien: I think it is interesting because you specifically brought up seniors and they often get left out of the transportation discussion. It’s similar to other things we talk about, but what specifically can we do to provide greater mobility to seniors?

Darling: With the pandemic what we learned is how many seniors are isolated and how many working class seniors don’t even have money for food. Access to basic services often requires a month or  a week ahead of time to arrange for a shuttle to the appointment.

It shows the classism of getting old in this country. That should be addressed by local government. A lot of seniors are reliant on their automobiles. The group of people least likely to start biking for their errands are people north of seventy. So I think it’s important to have an infrastructure they can rely on and make sure basic car access isn’t lost for people that are unable to make the transition.

Damien: I have sort of a set of questions I want to give the two of you so that you’re answering some questions about transportation, the environment, Mobility…is there anything I didn’t touch on that you’d like to bring up?

Darling: Well I think there’s a big difference. I was endorsed by Streets for All. It’s important to me that the Citywide transportation vision, of which we’ve achieved 7%. It’s not like we’re starting from scratch, we have a plan. It’s whether or not we can execute the Mobility Plan. 

Big picture, the day I got in this race I was talking about Climate Change. Transportation is important, but so is electricity. We have a public utility in this city, most cities can’t brag about that. Angelenos can elect a city council that can push the public utility to get to 100% renewable energy. Most cities can’t do that. 

In this city of almost four million people, a small country essentially, in the face of federal inaction and quite frankly the Supreme Court handcuffing federal action on this issue. The City of LA has to push DWP to get to 100% energy ASAP.

I’m pushing that and  my opponent is not. If you look at who’s backing her, there is a reason why and so I think it’s a big contrast. To the folks reading you’re going to get a lot of mail and it’s going to be a reason for that. There’s financial interests that don’t want to see us make the expensive but needed investment in renewable energy. Because of that you’re going to see a lot of euphemistically named groups sending out random mailers.