Today the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed critical of efforts to plan for multimodal mobility. Titled, ‘Mr. Mayor, L.A. is not Stockholm,’ by 29-year Santa Monica resident Bruce Feldman. “As I’m sure you know, cyclists make up just 2% of all road traffic…[yet] your road diet would make congestion in our expansive region much worse than it already is,” the writer says of the city’s new mobility policy. Such measures will diminish quality-of-life, he adds, yet paradoxically he finds his cure to the region’s mobility morass in the very policies that today ail us.Why highlight an op-ed that rehearses stale ideas? Because it repeats a spurious argument we hear all the time from critics: equal access to roads for all road users is a giveaway to those who bike and a takeaway from those who drive. As if a motorist’s right-to-the-road – the whole road – were granted by the divine. (The crux of his complaint seems that he simply doesn’t want to share the road.)
We believe that this is the wrong way to frame transportation challenges and choices. Mobility is not the zero-sum game that opponents of road diets and bicycle lanes say it is. On the contrary, only steps that increase access for all users will make our transportation system(s) more efficient and, as important, more safe for road users. We think about it as an intermediate step toward the urban future we envision. We’re not there yet, but we won’t get there without sensible mobility policies. Have a read and then scroll down for our rebuttal.
This is not Mr. Feldman’s first rodeo. In a previous op-ed titled, ‘From Santa Monica, the lament of an “urban villager,”‘ he objected to increased residential densities (a key element of Santa Monica’s embrace of the ‘urban village’ concept). “My beachside community’s downtown core works fine for those who can afford to live there,” he lamented in January of 2014. “They can walk from their $4,000-a-month studio apartments in the hip center of town to their choice of half a dozen coffee joints, and they can pick up the latest fashions on the way so they’ll look good when they get there.”
Well, that sounds pretty good to us. If Santa Monica’s policies are making the city so desirable to, well, the desirables, then we say Beverly Hills needs a bit of magical thinking too.
Feldman also took potshots at those who ride a bike because, evident to him, we clog his roads. And we misbehave! We ride either too fast or too slow; ride in the middle of the lane or alongside stopped traffic; and of course we blow every stop sign (a favorite bugaboo of critics who themselves undoubtedly obey every traffic control).
“Of course, sometimes we’re forced to drive — say when we need to buy food from a nearby grocery store,” he said in his first op-ed (with emphasis added). “Then we have to run a gantlet of empowered cyclists.” Empowered! Sounds like the ‘bicycle lobby‘ is making some impressive gains of which we weren’t aware.
Then as today, he can’t win! On one hand he’s “forced” to drive on city streets; on the other, officials are making that journey even more onerous by squeezing his roadways so others can use the blacktop. By helpfully offering Mayor Garcetti a menu of recommended options (like making main boulevards one-way to facilitate throughput and expanding surface parking to accommodate those who, like him, are “forced” to drive) he’s really just pleading to maintain the status quo – a century-long auto-centric planning paradigm that got us into this mess. “I’ll have some hair of the dog that bit me please!” he seems to say.
Our Reply to Mr. Feldman
To the Editor:
In ‘Mr. Mayor, L.A. is not Stockholm,” Santa Monica resident Bruce Feldman objects to increased residential density and contemporary mobility measures like ‘road diets’ and bus-only lanes. He says they exacerbate traffic congestion. I’m a walker, bicycle rider, and drive, too, and I find travel inconvenient. It’s often hazardous too.
Yet would Mr. Feldman double-down on the policies that over time have brought us to a near-standstill on the Westside today? I fail to see how eight lanes of one-way travel, with increased traffic throughput and higher speeds, will improve our quality-of-life. We’ll see more devastating crashes, that’s for sure. He seems to recommend as the cure more of that which ails us.
Most planners know better. This metro region will welcome millions of newcomers in the coming decades, each of whom requires housing and transportation options that make travel not only more efficient but safer too. Consult the recent Los Angeles Times analysis of county-wide crash injuries and fatalities to see that the hazards we walkers and riders face every day are not a bug but a feature: the’ve been engineered-in the design of our roadways. That must change.
We can no longer afford to view city streets as merely a playground for motorists. Indeed planners 150 years ago recognized that city streets are our greatest of public spaces. And cities including Santa Monica acknowledge as much in city plans. We must recover them not only for safe travel for road users but as an opportunity to collectively enjoy one of the greatest of human achievements, the city.
As Mr. Feldman observed back in early 2014 in this very paper, newcomers to Santa Monica’s downtown “can walk from their $4,000-a-month studio apartments in the hip center of town to their choice of half a dozen coffee joints, and they can pick up the latest fashions on the way so they’ll look good when they get there.” That sounds great! A different approach to urbanization seems to be working very well for Santa Monica.
And today in your pages Mr. Feldman continues to celebrate the Los Angeles of old and, for good measure, then contrasts it with Stockholm, among the world’s most beautiful (and livable) cities. Yet the Stockholm of his description, characterized by a “compact, well-defined central downtown business and shopping core with a large number of residential units,” suggests the Swedes are doing something right too.
Meanwhile, in the Los Angeles metro region we must daily accommodate the diminishing returns of an outmoded approach to urban planning, one based on principles more than a half-century old and less-relevant to today’s challenges than ever. And we want to double-down on that?
I have some advice for Mr. Feldman. I suggest you relocate to Beverly Hills if you want to bear-hug yesterday’s planning paradigm. Here you will share our civic leaders’ continuing embrace of mid-20th century auto-centric planning policies. Here you will enjoy every day the congestion that it has wrought. And here you can sit comfortably in your car, queued at a light or stop sign, while “smug urbanites” pass you by on a bicycle.