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Vox Civitatis the Sustainable City News weblog

Tuesday, April 1st
CicLAvia + Art Walk in Los Angeles, April 6th
CicLAvia, the Los-Angeles-specific version of the Open Streets movement inspired by Bogotá's ciclovías, is coming back to Wilshire Boulevard again on Sunday, April 6th. It will operate form 9AM to 4PM—an hour longer than last year's—and will again free the boulevard form domination by motor vehicles from the heart of Downtown to the Miracle Mile.

And the Miracle Mile is home to SCN editor Rick Risemberg!

Not to mention several important art galleries and the world-class Los Angeles County Museum of Art. So, in conjunction with the Mid-City West Community Council, I've help persuade a number of galleries that are normally closed on Sundays to open for the event, and prepared a map to be given out at MCWCC's table in front of the Urban Light installation at LACMA's BP Grand Entrance.

You can lock up your bike in the pedestrian zone that begins at Curson and enjoy the galleries on your own, or you can join me for a guided tour leaving from the MCWCC table at 1PM.

Click on the image of the flyer below of a printable PDF of the map:

Click image for printable PDF

Richard Risemberg on 04.01.14 @ 01:13 AM PST [link]  

Monday, February 3rd
How to Transform a City
Though this short film focusses on the justly-renown cycling networks in the Netherlands, what really struck me was the sensitivity of the Dutch to just how much public space is utterly wasted when cities are planned around accommodating cars. The Dutch watched buildings destroyed and plazas paved, simply to make room for metal shells. This, along with increasing commute times—a feature of car-dependent cities everywhere—and of course the relentless carnage that we habitually excuse here in the US, spurred the population to demand a return to human-centered cities.

And with the bicycle as facilitator, they got it!

Richard Risemberg on 02.03.14 @ 03:04 PM PST [link]  

Thursday, January 2nd
Letter of the Law, Spirit of the Law
Los Angeles recently passed an ordinance forbidding markets and other establishments of over 10,000 square feet from giving out single-use plastic bags. The ills wrought by such casual bagging are well known: systemic ocean pollution, wildlife deaths, burdened landfills, and floating ragged litter almost everywhere in our land. That ordinance took effect yesterday, on January 1st 2014.

And it took about a thousandth of a second for the market corporations to figure out a technically-legal way around it.

Yes, the legal advisor found a verbal loophole…. What do the markets provide their customers now? Certainly not the paper bags envisioned to be "sold" for a dime to discourage overuse. They are present, but mostly out of sight. Not much in the way of reusable bags to be sold for a buck or so. No, the markets have loaded the little bag racks by the cash register with extra-thick (a "minimum of at least 2.25 mils thick"), heavy-duty, yet still flimsy—you got it!—plastic bags that are now labeled as "reusable."

What do you want to bet that the vast majority of shoppers will ever re-use one of these plastic bags? Although I sincerely hope I am very, very wrong, I foresee a choking of the waste stream with these extra-heavy plastic bags—which are, after all, made of oil, a diminishing resource whose processing causes a particularly dangerous variety of air pollution, and whose disposal is problematic. I will keep an eye on the checkout lines to see whether anyone is actually bringing back these "reusable" bags to fill again.

The ordinance requires that stores charge a dime for paper bags, but can give away "reusable" bags. Perhaps that's the rationale for the use of these heavy-gauge plastic bags. Or maybe it's just that they fit into the loading racks more or less the same way as the older, thinner bags.

Look, people here have been conditioned to throw plastic bags away by the double dozens. Reusable bags have a certain look that has developed into its own cliché, just as have throwaways. The "reusable" bags I have seen at two markets so far veritably shout out "throw me away!" And of course they are free, so the customer has no investment whatsoever in them….

It looks as though we'll still be killing fish, bloating landfills, and condensing our diminishing supply of petroleum into tossaway bags for the convenience of suicidally-lazy Americans a good while yet. Thank you, private sector, for making my grandchildren's survival in an overburdened world another little bit more difficult!

Richard Risemberg on 01.02.14 @ 05:59 PM PST [link]  

Wednesday, January 1st
Portland Update
A good companion piece to our story, "Portland, Oregon: the Multi-Modal City", is's synopsis of just how the Rose City's comprehensive transportation mix—especially its bikeways and neighborhood greenways—have combined to make the city safer, more diverse, and more prosperous.

Read "The 4 Biggest Portland Bike Stories Nobody Wrote in 2013."

Well done, Portland!

Richard Risemberg on 01.01.14 @ 05:48 PM PST [link]  

Sunday, December 1st
Janette Sadik-Khan on How She Remade New York City
A 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.

Richard Risemberg on 12.01.13 @ 03:52 PM PST [link]  

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!

Let's Make It "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!

Richard Risemberg on 11.25.13 @ 06:59 PM PST [link]  

Sunday, November 3rd
One Step Forward in Los Angeles's Atwater
The 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.

Bike corral in Atwater Village
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.

Richard Risemberg on 11.03.13 @ 04:01 PM PST [link]  

Monday, October 14th
Another Train Station
We 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.

Oakland Amtrak Station

Richard Risemberg on 10.14.13 @ 12:06 AM PST [link]  

Tuesday, September 3rd
Images of the Miracle Mile
Well, 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 on 8th
759 S. La Brea Ave.
Los Angeles
Here's a map

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.

Richard Risemberg on 09.03.13 @ 01:25 AM PST [link]  

Saturday, August 17th
Walk This Way
Zebra crossing on 6th Street in Los Angeles

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.

Broken sidewalk in Los Angeles

Richard Risemberg on 08.17.13 @ 07:32 AM PST [link]