Vox Civitatis the Sustainable City News weblog
Sunday, December 1st
Janette Sadik-Khan on How She Remade New York CityA wonderful TED talk by NYC transportation commissioner on how taking streets from cars and giving to pedestrians and cyclists boosted business, reduced crashes for all road users—and even made car traffic flow more smoothly:
Despite the teeth-gnashings of NYC's reactionary tabloids, things have gotten better for every sector of the city's population and economy because of these changes, and the approval ratings are sky-high.
Monday, November 25th
How About "Green Friday" Instead?Here's a little musing from our sister 'zine, Bicycle Fixation, on how to do a makeover on Black Friday, and make it a "Green Friday" instead!
Bicycle Fixation focusses on using your bike, but it would work with transit or walking as well.
Take a look, and if you like the idea, write up something similar for your own town or neighborhood!
Sunday, November 3rd
One Step Forward in Los Angeles's AtwaterThe local council member, Mitch O'Farrell, emcee'd the occasion in his trademark straw hat, ceding the podium to Los Angeles city functionaries and local community activists for a short round of thanks and speeches under a clear autumn noon.
The occasion was a ribbon-cutting, in this case for the city's second on-street bike corral, designated to help entice neighbors and visitors to roll into Atwater Village on their bikes instead of driving the usual two to three ton behemoths Angelenos have long deemed "normal." The corral accommodates twelve bikes in a space where you could barely fit a single SUV, and of course generates no congestion, pollution, or noise.
New bike corral in Atwater Village
Atwater Village used to be a study in shades of dust, a strip of struggling shops, a few bars, and empty sidewalks. About ten years ago that started to change. Some may call it gentrification, but there was precious little to gentrify on Glendale Boulevard; it was mostly a duller-than-usual stretch of a particularly dull drive across town.
But the community—newcomers and old-timers together—started to push for something better. Pedestrian amenities such as better crosswalks and strategically-placed bulbouts that served as little plazas came in; storefronts were renovated; bike lanes arrived. While there are still some canyons of ash-grey cinderblock at either end of the strip, most establishments boast cleaned up and nicely painted storefronts revealing a "Main Street" charm that years of neglect had cloaked in dullness.
While traffic still moves too fast and too loudly, it is not as bad as before, and the sidewalk tables, while not crowded, aren't empty. Bakeries and restaurants thrive, as does an easy neighborliness.
Atwater takes its name from its proximity to the Los Angeles River, which has also benefited from years of citizen activism dedicated to making it both accessible and worth accessing—and this includes a new walking and biking path that will bring hungry riders to the bike corral.
While the city appears poised to scotch all this hard work with a plan to turn the bridge over that river into a miniature freeway feeding high-speed traffic into the now-pleasant shopping street, Angelenos from all around have banded together to fight that project and keep Atwater a place worth stopping in.
So it looks as though this bike corral has been well-placed to support the street's future as a place for people, not a sluiceway for speeders.
Atwater, once forgettable, is now a destination in LA. Let's hope it stays that way.
Monday, October 14th
Another Train StationWe love train travel at Sustainable City News, for its fuel-efficiency, its minimal imposition on the land and watersheds, and of course the pleasure of seeing the world up close through the windows of the parlor car in the company of happy fellow passengers.
Gina and I rode Amtrak's Coast Starlight to Portland, Oregon a couple of weeks ago, a delightful ride to a happy, lively small city, and while stretching my legs at the Oakland stop on the way up I snapped this photo of the train station there.
We have built up quite a file of railroad station images here, but this is the first entirely modern station we have photographed. Not big, but definitely impressive—especially at night.
Tuesday, September 3rd
Images of the Miracle MileWell, your editor has somehow talked himself into showing a few photos at a local coffeehouse in LA's Miracle Mile district. They feature the varied architecture of the area—ranging from whimsical blends of Art Deco and various European fantasies to East Coast brick—and they are on display for a few weeks at:
Muse has excellent coffee and teas, good pastries, and absolutely superb vegetarian and vegan entrées, from scrambles to wraps and sandwiches to chili and more. It's one of our regular places.
There will be an opening on Friday September 6th, from 8:00PM to 9:30PM (or later if we feel good!), and local hero John Vu of Hungry Beat will be spinning vintage sounds for the evening.
By the way, the place is bike-friendly, with racks available on both 8th and next door on La Brea (in front of The Little Bar, whose owner Angelo is a friend of both ours and Muse owner Jennifer).
So drop by, say hi, enjoy some great food and music, and maybe even look at my pictures....
See you there.
Saturday, August 17th
Walk This Way
At long last—and by that we mean after decades of indifference—Los Angeles is making some efforts towards making it less likely one will die while walking the public ways.
The picture above exemplifies the current effort: the painting of zebra crossings at intersections where a great many people walk and so eventually must, if they are to get anywhere, cross the street.
The view in the photo is across 6th Street, nominally a 30 mile per hour roadway, but one that has been typically over-engineered, with wide lanes and long blocks that encourage speeding. Stupidly self-centered motorists typically reach speeds of 60 miles per hour here, with predictably deplorable results for not only pedestrians but other motorists. Even the sidewalk lamp standards suffer greatly, and crashes—every last one of the the result of motorist carelessness—are common. I live a few hundred feet form 6th, and hear (and all too often see) the wrecks and their aftermaths.
A woman who was simply walking somewhere was killed by a reckless driver at the corner pictured not long ago. That may have spurred the local council member, presently Tom LaBonge, to move the paint job up in the schedule, but the crossings have been showing up all over the city. You will note a bike lane in leading away across the street; that is part of the city's efforts (driven by a growing and increasingly angry community of everyday cyclists) to build networks of (relatively) safe bikeways throughout the town.
In fact there are official rumors that a road diet will be coming to 6th, reducing it from two lanes each way to two through lanes, two bike lanes, and a continuous left turn lane. Since the present configuration results in foolish motorists repeatedly swerving at high speeds around other motorists waiting to turn left, this change will undoubtedly reduce the number of crashes. It should also reduce the severity of crashes that do occur, since lane reductions and bicycle facilities have over and over again been shown to reduce speeding on the streets fortunate enough to bear them. This has certainly been the case on other streets in Los Angeles, notably York Boulevard in the northeast.
Still, there's work to be done. As the photo below shows, you're not out of danger even if you cleave forever to the sidewalks…most of which haven't been repaired in seventy years.
Monday, July 8th
CicLAvia Liberates Los AngelesFor those of you unlucky enough not to be in Los Angeles last June 23rd, to see the city's potential for humanity and happiness when it is not dominated by cars, here is a brief taste of CicLAvia. It's a little time-lapse view of happy Angelenos passing by a spot on Wilshire Boulevard's Miracle Mile around noon that day. The street—which is LA's busiest commute corridor—never before carried so many people down its length in the alloted time.
Merchants, of course, had a field day as well!Even the publisher of the stodgy little Hancock Park local, the Larchmont Chronicle, weighed in afterwards with this wish:
Why can't we have a car-free section of Los Angeles every Sunday?I heartily concur!
Friday, June 14th
Shattered Windshield PerspectiveA recent court ruling in Wisconsin stated that proposals for highway projects must consider effects on sprawl, transit, and public health, and may not present project elements in isolation to minimize the appearance of harm:
Though an interim ruling, it is possibly one of the more important opinions to be rendered on land use in the US in decades, and could have huge consequences.
Here's an National Resources Defense Council post describing the ruling in detail:
Federal court says highway sponsors must first study transit, impacts on suburban sprawl
Monday, June 3rd
Wilshire Bus/Bike Lanes Come to LAA stripe, a sign, a stencil: it's a small step forward, but a step forward nonetheless. I came across it yesterday...the long-awaited rush hour bus-and-bike lanes on Wilshire Boulevard.
Wilshire is Los Angeles's real "Main Street," the central and defining boulevard running down the core of the city from Downtown to the sea, and passing through independent cities Beverly Hills and Santa Monica on the way. It also defines the Wilshire corridor, one of the busiest commute routes in the country, which includes the Santa Monica Freeway which parallels it a few blocks south. It will also be the route of the coming Purple Line subway extension, and is already served by the 720, LA's first Rapid bus line, as well as local buses form both county agency Metro and various commuter and local lines from surrounding cities.
The bus lanes were, as such matters inevitably are in this city, controversial, with unimaginative and uninformed residents and commuters predicting terminal traffic jams as a result of dedicating one lane to bikes and public transit during the busiest times of the day.
However: the truth of the matter is that the buses already carry 25% more people through the corridor at rush hour than all the private cars put together, and are far and away the most efficient use of the road. Cars are a minority on Wilshire, if you count the passengers they carry—though of course they take up the vast majority of the space.
Nevertheless, the ranting and raving of the gasoline addicts frightened our ever-timid politicians enough that the bus lanes will not be installed along the Westside's "Condo Canyon," a rogue's gallery of ritzy highrises between Beverly Hills and Westwood. Nor will they exist in Beverly Hills, a city that is slowly being driven towards bankruptcy by pandering to cars, as its money-leaking parking garages inexorably empty the treasury.
And while the concept of a bus/bike lanes may not seem like a favor to cyclists, in fact such have been used with great success around the world, including safety-conscious Germany—and in LA's own Downtown. Wilshire Boulevard's many bicycle users will eventually find their way off the sidewalk and into the wide-open bus lanes, at least during rush hour, and make the boulevard more of a place and less of a mere sluiceway for cars.
They were a long time coming, but they've arrived—or at least the eastern half of the project has arrived. Soon they will come to the Miracle Mile, our own neighborhood. We look forward to seeing them in action.
Monday, May 27th
Rage Within the MachineComic Louis CK recently released a pointed diatribe on how road rage overcomes him when he's driving, and how we accept behavior in ourselves when we are in a car that we would never think of indulging in otherwise. This has been getting a lot of play in urbanist and I've embedded it below:
But this is not a new problem; we saw it coming at the very beginning of the "Automobile Age," as it was called. Witness this Walt Disney cartoon from 1950, exploring the identical phenomenon in much more incisive, and comical, detail:
My own amateur hypothesis is that the car, being a private space that is however employed entirely on public infrastructure, in effect "privatizes" the public realm in the driver's mind. As Louis CK points out, no one but a sociopath would ever behave as motorists typically do when in an inescapably shared space such as an elevator.
The car forms our personalities, and not towards the good. It creates an intractable pathology that no other form of transportation in common use engenders.