Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Learning L.A.: Part II - Transportation

"Heather, the car was not a part of the deal," were the words that came my way after the van, which I had been sharing, came under another somewhat punishing wave of traffic trama. After 14 years and 3 trips across the nation, I might have been able to convince you it had recently returned from Iraq - it was usually covered in dust/dirt/accumulated smog, was missing a hub-cap or two, had some peeling paint here and there, 2 major dents on both sides of the vehicle and now a dented front bumper, smashed headlight, and replaced engine. Occasionally it was loving refered to as "Wayne." But I had always wanted to try out the mass transit in L.A., so I considered it a good thing that there was now a little pressure to get me hiking down to the train stop.

Sadly though, a person who shall not be named (who was also having a bit of a rough summer thus far) accidently left the keys in the van on his way to work. For those of you who haven't lived in Los Angeles I'll make it clearer:

Goodbye Wayne, we'll miss you.

And especially me. A little encouragement to use alternative transportation is nice. Having no option is a little daunting, especially in this city. In fact, I don't even know where to start my rant. Maybe a brief summary is a good starting point.

Los Angeles is a city that has to change, but many of its residents either don't want it to, or believe that it can't. That's probably important to note in a lot of situations involving the city, but of course it comes into play with its traffic dilemas. At this point I forget the actual statistics, but the city is expected to grow immensley in the next 40-50 years (I think somewhere around 62% - in short, millions of people), and it's quite clear that city will reach a state of crisis if something isn't done to change the nature of transportation here.

At this point in time it seems like the future-friendly ideal of mass transit in the US is the NYC subway system. But that particular subway system was started at a time of few other options, around 1900. By the time Los Angeles really began to form the higway was the, "way of the future." As a lot of people around here know, there used to be a pretty extensive streetcar-type rail system here, but in the name of progress it was sold to GM, dismantled, and paved over long ago.

So now there are huge, sometimes beautiful, soaring highways that are great fun to drive (when not clogged to the degree of a parking lot). But the downsides are easy to list:

Increasing and often unpredictable traffic jams. Smog. Considerable environmental impact. Increased numbers of car accidents.

And let me go into detail on that last one - because driving has become the chief and really only effective manner of transportation for nearly everybody here, everyone really needs to drive. This includes the young, the old, the sick, the drunken, and the crack-addicted. And they're driving with and without insurance, licenses, or safely maintained vehicles. Hence car insurance is massively expensive here, not mention the general rising expenses of owning and operating a car.

And Los Angeles is, in many places, a nice city with good weather, why wouldn't you want to get out and walk, right?

Ahh, see, return to statment #1. I do believe the term "NIMBY" (Not In My Back Yard) was coined here. I know there are a lot of people back east who seem to think that all of California is the land of the hippie people. They probably think NIMBY has some kind of environmental preservation concern tied with it. No. NIMBY's are people who will point out even the tiniest possible problem with something and complain their head off about it to keep something related to them from changing. More often than not it's something that would widely benefit most people - they just don't want to see it that way. Like a rail line from the east side of L.A. to the west side (so it's a little easier to get to the beach on a hot day when the traffic is worst). The NIMBY reasoning that has opposed this action? The rail line would potentially bring more poverty, violence, and crime to the west-side areas, as well as disrupting people's lives who live near the proposed railway. Likewise are the arguments against building apartment buildings or high-rises in the highly sought-after west side neighborhoods: they would bring with them increased traffic and change the village-like communities.

Hence, the NIMBY's, who to me seem to be conservatives who like to call themselves deomcrats, don't want the city to change, and their kind of ridiculous stubborness has convinced many others that it can't.

Voilà, the headcase that is L.A.

The actual technicalities of travel here are more interesting though (at least to me). And my memories with and recent adventures without Wayne are next on my blogging to-do list.

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