Nithya Raman for LA Council District 4!

During my years serving on the board of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition I learned that Los Angeles is one of the most corrupt and dysfunctional cities in the U.S. It’s run by a machine, is fundamentally un-democratic and, to top it all off, incompetent. Our city’s appalling homelessness crisis and transportation gridlock is the result of this disappointing leadership.

If there’s a silver lining to this dark cloud it’s that things have gotten so bad that a new generation of activists is rising up to toss out the incumbents. Last Friday, Root Simple friend and podcast guest Jessica Rath hosted an intimate gathering with one of those activists, Nithya Raman, who is running for Council District 4.

In the course of the evening, Raman discussed her homeless policy, how to make the city council more democratic and ways to escape gridlocked traffic. Raman has an urban planning degree from M.I.T., helped start the SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition, served as executive director of Time’s Up Entertainment and worked for the city on homeless policy. Frankly, she’s one of those people who have already accomplished what would take me ten lifetimes to get around to. She is much more qualified than the incumbent David Ryu, who has a thin resume and a record of opposing housing and transportation improvements.

This is an important election. City councilpersons in Los Angeles wield much more power than the mayor. CD 4 has a population of 253,000 people making it larger than most U.S. cities. If you live in CD4, a gerrymandered district covering Los Feliz, part of Koreatown, Sherman Oaks and North Hollywood please vote for Nithya Raman!

Moms On Bikes

Kelly and I spent a good part of the week going through boxes of old photos and found this one of my mom giving me a ride on her bike. I’m guessing this must be sometime around 1968. My mom liked to ride bikes, an unusual activity for adults in Southern California in the 1960s. She took me all over Culver City this way until one day when we took a tumble, probably caused by a pothole. I vaguely recall a long haired and bearded young man helping us off the pavement (that I can remember “hippies” shows how old I am). None of us were injured but it shook up my mom enough that she didn’t bike after that accident.

I found this photo on the same day that I read a sad story in the New York Times about a sharp increase in bike and pedestrian accidents in the past few years. And just last week, here in Los Angeles, a child was killed in a crosswalk due to a driver being “blinding by the early morning sun.” Like so much of the bloodshed on our roads the driver will, likely, face no consequences.

The mayhem on our streets has, ironically, scared me back into driving more and biking less. I know a lot of my fellow cyclists feel the same way. There are too many SUVs, too much texting, too many angry drivers and too little concern from our corrupt elected officials.

We are living in a time of climate, economic and political crisis. If we care about the children in this world who are the age I was in this photo, we need to all stand up and make a difference. We need bike lanes, road diets, bus only lanes, public housing and we need to ask our elected leaders not to take any money from fossil fuel and automotive interests. The minor inconveniences we will have to put up with in a transition to a walkable and bikable future are small compared with the rising seas, fires and climate-based refugee crises our children will face.

Our Hot Streets Are an Opportunity

I can’t remember where I got this idea from but I think it was Alissa Walker or someone she was writing about who had the bright idea to go out and check the temperature of our streets on a hot day with a IR thermometer. Since I have one of these handy gadgets for firing up my pizza oven, I thought I’d head out in the neighborhood at around 2:30 in the afternoon and take some temperature readings.

The asphalt in front of our house measured an egg-frying, temperature of 135.3º F (57.3 C).

A rare, tree-lined Los Angeles street one block over was a lot cooler at 80.9º F (27.1º C).

A few blocks north, and to much fanfare, our city coated an asphalt street with a gray coating as part of a “cool pavement” program. The temp on this street was 120.8º F (49.3º C).

Being a crank I have two conclusions:

1. Let’s plant trees.

2. How about instead of painting streets gray we do something really radical and pull them up entirely and start cooling people rather than serving cars?

According to the Los Angeles Times, “Recent research has found that when manufacturing emissions are taken into account, most cool pavements hurt the climate more than they help.”

So, as is typical for our mayor Eric Garcetti it’s all about the press conference and not so much about the actual science. The one glimmer of hope that I have is that people younger than myself are catching on to the empty gestures of neo-liberal, pseudo-environmental politicians like Garcetti and the rest of the Los Angeles City Council. They are beginning to see a more radical alternative to business as usual. As Mark Fisher says in a book everyone should read, Capitalist Realism Is There No Alternative?,

The long, dark night of the end of history has to be grasped as an enormous opportunity. The very oppressive pervasiveness of capitalist realism means that even glimmers of alternative political and economic possibilities can have a disproportionately great effect. The tiniest event can tear a hole in the grey curtain of reaction which has marked the horizons of possibility under capitalist realism. From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly anything is possible again.

So how about we tear a hole in these hot streets and plant some trees?

Hey New York Times Let’s Dump the Wheels Column

“Sacrifices to the Modern Moloch” a cartoon in the New York Times published January 1922.

Dear New York Times editors, you need to retire your “Wheels” column. At the very least you need to insert, in all automobile coverage, a disclaimer that cars cause climate change, asthma, lung cancer and over 1.2 million deaths around the world every year due to “accidents.” The ghost of your fellow New Yorker Jane Jacobs would also add ugliness and the death of communities, thanks to the insatiable hunger for space cars claim in our urban spaces. Failing to point out these objective facts makes your auto columns little more propaganda.

Where is your bike column? Where is your transit advice column? Where is your walk-ability coverage? Sure, you touch on these issues elsewhere but these subjects have no dedicated column like “Wheels.” Perhaps it’s time to start treating cars the way you might treat cigarettes. NYT editors, would you have a weekly column devoted to reviewing cigarettes? One could easily imagine such a column. I’m sure some cigarettes taste better than others. You’d also have a lot of vape devices (the Teslas of smoking) to review. But I’m guessing you won’t debut a “Smokes” column in the near future.

Taking the cigarette analogy further, your hypothetical “Smokes” column would be wise not to blame smokers for their addiction. Just like those tobacco CEOs, there are real villains in the auto addiction story. While I bike and take public transit I live in a city (Los Angeles) that yoked its future to the automobile in the 1920s. Mostly out of fear for my safety, I’m forced to drive more than I would like by the way the city is designed. So I don’t buy the “we’re all at fault” argument. As Hannah Arendt said, “When all are guilty, no one is; confessions of collective guilt are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of culprits, and the very magnitude of the crime the best excuse for doing nothing.”

German diplomats awarding The Grand Cross of the German Eagle to Henry Ford, Detroit, 1938.

If we’re looking for who to blame we might begin with Henry Ford. Adolf Hitler kept a framed portrait of Ford on his wall and mentions him by name in Mein Kampf, “Every year makes them [American Jews] more and more the controlling masters of the producers in a nation of one hundred and twenty millions . . . Only a single great man, Ford, to their fury still maintains full independence.” Ford returned the favor by publishing a virulently racist and anti-Semitic newspaper that, among other editorial atrocities, serialized a set of articles entitled “The International Jew.” And the Nazi leadership’s ideology was inspired by the worst aspects of Fordism: the alienation of workers and the suppression of unions and democracy.

Speaking of Nazis, you’ve spent the past week breathlessly covering the pre-auction and post auction-kerfufle of the first Porsche. If I were the editor I would have insisted on a paragraph detailing the fact that the Porsche company went on to use Polish slave labor during WWII. Those laborers had a “P” sewn on their uniforms and that “P” stood for “Poland” not Porsche. And would it be snarky to include a paragraph about the tackiness of today’s oligarchs bidding millions on a Nazi car?

I have a proposal. How about a livable cities column? We have a terrific writer here in LA who covers alternative transportation named Alissa Walker. You should hire her and put your auto columnists on a bike in LA to see how it feels. I have an extra bike and helmet . . .

Scooters? Not a New Idea

Sun, Oct 8, 1916 – Page 58 · New York Herald (New York, New York) · Newspapers.com

It turns out the urban scooter craze isn’t a new idea. From a story in an October 8, 1916 newspaper, “Skidding Through Fact and Fancy on an Autoped: Solo Devil Wagon Taken Up in a Serious Way Might Add New Terrors to City Life” is a description of motorized scooter not all that different than the ones we see today:

You stand on the cute platform and get your feet neatly fitted on the rubber mats which seem to have “Welcome, little stranger,” written all over them, grab the handle and away you go. First you careen like a lugger in a typhoon and then you lurch over until the lee scuppers are awash. You skim along the asphalt and say “Whoa!” just like that.

In your frenzy you give the handles a twist and then fall all over yourself and meet your spats coming back. The autoped has the disposition of a bronco and the guile of an eel. However, take heart of grace and go to it for one has but one neck and two legs and is likely to come away with some of them.

The autoped was patented in 1913 and manufactured by the Autoped Company of Long Island City, New York between 1915 to 1921. It was propelled by a 4-stroke, 155 cc engine. After the autoped company went out of business Krupp made a version in Germany between 1919 to 1922. I going to take a wild guess that it didn’t catch on for two reasons: car companies successfully bribed city governments to design our roads to favor cars and push out any competition and the fact that a motorcycle or bicycle, with their larger wheels, are more stable than standing on a scooter.

The 1916 article echos some of the contemporary paranoia about scooters. On that note, I’m happy to see anything that gets people out of cars which are the real, “Devil Wagons.” Let us remember that our auto addiction is responsible for 1.3 million deaths around the world every year. Here in Los Angeles, like many other cities, there is a “first mile/last mile” problem with using our subway/light rail system. That is, the trains here in LA work as reasonably as any train in our backwards country, but it can take a long time to get to the station if you don’t live within walking distance. I can definitely see something like rental bikes and scooters as part of a transportation solution that addresses climate change, first mile-last mile problems and congestion. I also have hope that the folks trying out the scooters will see how bad conditions on our streets are and will help fight for better infrastructure for alternative transportation.

That said, I’m not crazy about the companies that run the scooters. They are the same predatory tech bros who care nothing for their employees or for the niceties of working with communities and governments. I’m also skeptical about braving LA’s many potholes on something with small wheels but maybe that’s just cranky old risk-averse me. At least electric scooters are an improvement on the autoped’s internal combustion engine.

Thanks to @PessimistsArc for the tip.