(NOTE: This is a rehash of a piece originally published in the TERA newsletter. On re-reading that one I found it a bit preachy. I think this version is better.)
There’s a problem in our city. In every city, really. People are out of shape and the air is polluted.
These two problems are intertwined in a deliciously ironic manner: we drive around so much the only way we can get any food at all is to drive through some place.
At a conference last Spring Robin Blair of MTA said, “We are spending our resources to make ourselves unhealthy.” Yeah, we burn up fossil fuels so we can get food to harden our arteries. There’s a symmetric quality to this process that’s almost beautiful.
There’s a simple solution to these problems: walking.
Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard that before. Get to exercising, get back in shape. Live a greener life.
The problem is that even in Southern California, ripe with healthy culture, most of us don’t exercise.
The conference Mr. Blair moderated, “Walking Into The Future,” had a more radical agenda. Make our cities, especially this one, so pedestrian friendly that people walk as part of their lives, not as a special program.
Their selling point is that walking, cycling, and, hold your hats, taking the bus leads to a more intimate relation with the neighborhood. That may be why cars are so popular, a chance to avoid real human contact, to interact with your own city through an avatar. Walking I’m one person, driving my pickup I’m two and half tons of person, gives you a different perspective.
The benefit lies in that by really living in your own neighborhood, instead of driving through it, gives more life to your neighborhood. The very act of walking through your neighborhood changes the place.
One of the other speakers at this conference, Fred Kent President of Project for Public Spaces proposes, “turning a neighborhood from a place you can’t wait to get through to one you never want to leave.” In addition to striking a poetic note, there are compelling economic reasons to make this sort of change: destination neighborhoods are more prosperous than transit zones, the surrounding properties are worth more.
That’s where MTA’s angle on this is. We can’t all drive to destination neighborhoods because there’s no parking, but we can take the train or the bus.
This is how the bus becomes an integral part of the workout system: it takes ten minutes or so to get from your house to a stop, another ten to your destination and before you know it, you’ve got an hour of exercise in without having to pay a gym fee.
If you tried to find parking for the Eagle Rock Music Festival, you may still be looking. It was easier to hit the Plaza and take the shuttle, than to try and find parking close by. Hopping on the Gold Line to the Red and up to Hollywood and Highland puts you at the Bowl, and you know how that parking is. For those situations the MTA makes sense.
Changing the culture of Los Angeles is the agency’s next goal. For that they need more destination neighborhoods with inadequate parking.
Eagle Rock would seem a natural for them. There’s some public parking in Highland Park and York Valley, but in the Rock the overflow inundates residential streets. A nice little trolley perhaps running up and down Colorado would be a great improvement.
Eagle Rock is an interesting laboratory for this sort of development. The once moribund business district is definitely picking up. There is naturally more pedestrian traffic. The peds will require more services, or at least to make crossing the Boulevard nominally safe.
There is likely not enough money in the budget to change from three lanes to two, make attractive, landscaped bump-outs, or provide increased pedestrian safety.
Some things can be done that won’t break the bank. Look how New York has been able to transform Times Square by painting some stripes on the streets and buying a few hundred beach chairs.
Some demonstration projects can be done on a temporary basis. Think of having a chalk drawing festival that eats a lane of traffic once or twice a year. Wouldn’t kill anybody to slow down a couple of Saturdays annually and give people a visual of what Colorado could be like.
Finding simple, and cheap, ways to transform our streets, here in Eagle Rock and throughout the City, is something citizens can do without needing a huge budget. I mean, really, if NYC can spring for some beach chairs, maybe we can have a bake sale and buy some for ourselves.
Some places have parking days, where citizens just bring their own beach chairs and occupy a space, feeding the meters. LA is so auto-centric that even if you feed the meter you can’t park your body there, only a car. We would need support from the Councilman’s office or be willing to pay fines. I wonder if you can go to jail for illegal use of a parking spot.