What Happens When You Remove 10,000 Parking Spaces

In response to Jeff Bezos’ assertion that he can’t think of anything better to do with his billions than build a moon base, let us collectively imagine a list of more worthwhile ideas he could fund. How about an organization that would gift all expenses paid trips to Amsterdam for any nay-saying, “We can’t possibly do that here” Angelino unable to imagine a future without gobs of free parking? Speak out in favor of parking at a community meeting and, congratulations, here’s your KLM ticket. Drop an angry I-can’t-find-parking-tweet? Get ready to smell the tulips.

This Streetfilms production shows what can happen when we de-clutter the cars from our cities. Here in LA, those cars no longer “spark joy.” Get rid of them and we could have gardens, playgrounds, space for public transit and so much more.

How FilmLA Blocks Bike Lanes

Film crew blocking Spring St. Bike lane. Via @ColinBogart.

What good is a bike lane if it’s always blocked by cars and trucks? As anyone who uses what passes for the meager bike infrastructure here in Los Angeles, pretty much only early on Sunday morning will you find your path unimpeded by an assortment of Uber drivers, beer delivery trucks and FedEx employees. But the most annoying bike lane blocking is courtesy of the film and television industry.

In order to close a bike lane for filming you have to get a film permit from FilmLA, a 501(c)4 not-for-profit public benefit organization that issues film permits in the City of Los Angeles and many other local municipalities as well as promoting filming in Southern California. That dual mission is, of course, a conflict of interest. If the choice is between the safety of bike commuters or making production companies happy, you can guess that FilmLA’s likely to opt for the latter.

Previous attempts to address unsafe closures of bike lanes by myself and other bike activists have gone nowhere. Call FilmLA to complain and you’ll be greeted with either indifference or outright hostility. Call the police to complain and they’ll direct you to parking enforcement. Call parking enforcement and they’ll direct you to the police. Only if the production company lacks the proper permits will the city take any action.

To find out more about this problem I decided to call FilmLA, posing as a producer to find out how I could get a film permit that would allow me to block the Spring Street protected bike lane. To set the scene here, so to speak, I’ll note that the Spring Street bike lane is rare in Los Angeles in that it is a fully protected lane (recently made two-way), and separate from traffic. The bike lane is in the gutter and next to it is a set of flimsy plastic markers that separate it from the parking lane. Next to that are three one way travel lanes.

After a few minutes on hold I was connected to a “planning production coordinator” I’ll call Steve. I told Steve that I was planning on doing a shoot on Spring street at 6th street. I told him there is a bike lane and asked if I needed to do anything special to use the bike lane for parking. Steve told me that the permit would be, “treated as a lane closure just like any other closure.” What Steve was alluding to here is that in order close a lane you are supposed to put up lane closure signage and hire off duty police officers (not just a security guard) to sit around and monitor the closure.

Continuing, Steve added that, “Bikes are vehicles.” He noted that there is parking next to the bike lane and that if I wanted to use that parking he thought that I would need to close the bike lane.

When I asked Steve if I had to do anything special to close a bike lane he seemed a bit confused. He said that I would need a barricade. He was unsure if I would need to do a detour (I’ll note that in years of riding past film locations here in Los Angeles I have never seen a proper detour for cyclists). Steve told me that my permit to close the lane would cost $312. I asked if I had to get off duty cops. He said he needed to check on that and put me on hold. He returned to the call a few moments later and told me, “yeah you have to get a closure and two off duty officers.”

I could tell from the call when Steve noted that “Bikes are vehicles,” that FilmLA must have fielded some complaints. I also confirmed, what I suspected, that shoots that close a bike lane are supposed to hire off-duty or retired police officers. Curiously, most of these unformed and armed “police officers” no longer have peace officer status. It’s a cushy job for a retired cop who just sits around on top of a motorcycle all day with the occasional break to visit the craft services tent.

In practice, a lot of film shoots skirt the rules Steve outlined for me. Many don’t have the required retired “officers” on hand and just have a security guard sitting in a folding chair looking at their phone. And a lot of production companies make use of parking without the required lane closure permit, which seems to me cheap at $312. And as I said before, I have never seen a detour for a bike lane, no doubt, because that would take away lane space from cars and result in complaints. Without the detour you’re forced to veer into traffic, a maneuver that can be a potentially fatal, real life version of Frogger.

In my childhood and up through the early aughts, this stretch of Spring Street was a ghost town, it’s collection of handsome 1920s office buildings making it a convenient stand-in for New York. Now people live, work, shop and eat there and, increasingly, travel by foot, bike and scooters. The constant filming has, long since, become a nuisance. At the same time states and municipalities around the country compete to offer race-to-the-bottom incentives and tax breaks to lure film companies away from expensive cities like Los Angeles and New York. Many friends and neighbors work in the film business and depend on local jobs to make a living so I appreciate the need to facilitate film permits.

Scene from Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend.

But we are also staring down the barrel of a climate catastrophe and need to do everything we can to make riding a bike or taking public transit safe and reliable. And Los Angeles’ notorious congestion no longer makes car travel practical except in off hours. The first, easy first step our local pseudo-woke politicians could make to address climate change and congestion would simply be to solve this problem by keeping what few bike lanes we have open and safe. Put up a detour for cyclists if you have to close a bike lane. What’s the big deal about that?

Complaints about blocked bike lanes have fallen on deaf ears for too long, and thanks to the fact that the film industry wields enormous influence on local politicians through campaign contributions and seats on the boards of predominant charities and non-profit institutions, I’m pessimistic that this small issue will ever be addressed. Until I see un-blocked bike lanes I’m going to start calling our local elected officials and the film industry bosses what they are: climate change deniers.

GM and the Red Cars

A brief post this morning as I’m obsessed with completing the Stickley #336 reproduction I’m working on in the garage, a project that has narrowly avoided firewood status at a few points.

My post on Lyft, prompted an email from a friend from grad school, Nic Sammond to note that I should have mentioned General Motor’s alleged destruction of the street cars in Los Angeles and other American cities in the mid 20th century. Not being a historian, I’m not going to delve into the complex story of GM’s disruption of the streetcar business. But Nic makes a good point about noting the connections between Silicon Valley’s technological forays into transportation and GM’s role in wrecking those streetcars.

It reminds me of Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, a book that haunts me every day. In it Fisher describes describes how we all seem to be unable to imagine a future that’s not some dystopian, privatized nightmare of the sort imagined in the 2006 film Children of Men. When I see charts like the one above, taken from a Los Angeles Department of Transportation report, I can’t help but think of Fisher’s book and what Nic suggested, that we might be repeating the mistakes of the past and selling our future to short term corporate interests. We would do well to work on changing this trajectory.

Los Angeles: A New Beginning

From now on when I get triggered by a panel discussion featuring our mayor’s underlings, rather than run home and report on it I’m just going to make up what I’d have rather heard. This little imagined scenario was inspired by hearing the mayor’s current and former sustainability director spend an hour discussing pie in the sky notions that, in my cranky opinion, will never materialize. The mayor and his people seem to think that self flying vehicles are the solution to our current crisis. I could be wrong, but I’m willing to gift a LA River crayfish dinner in ten years time to the folks that prove my more down to earth climate change solutions notions wrong. So instead of waiting for that flying Uber, let’s trim the sails and plot a course for a different utopia . . .

Los Angeles, 2025
Enveloped in the white arc of a exploding battery, the mayor’s self driving electric limo careened off the road and ground to a halt along side of a mini mall convenience store at the corner of Temple and Alvarado. Who knew that the limo’s algorithms favored raccoons over human passengers?

Three hours later an autonomous ambulance pulled up.

“I’m Siri the paramedic,” said a disembodied voice emanating from a speaker next to a dirty and stained touch screen. “Are you okay?”

“Ugh. I think so,” said the mayor. “But I can’t see.”

“An Uber is being dispatched,” said the screen.

Later that evening, after a long and painful Uber ride, Garcetti awoke at KFC General Hospital. He would have many hours to reflect on his record as LA’s longest serving mayor while enjoying the ever popular Cheeto Chicken Sandwich™ that replaced the bland hospital fare of his youth. At his side was Lauren his sustainability minister.

The mayor put down his sandwich and began to stammer, “Bi, biiiiii bi biiiiii”

“What are you trying to say?” asked Lauren.

“Biiii, biii, biiii, biiiiiiiiii, biiiiicyyyyy . . .  bicycle,” said the mayor.

It was the first time in his many years as mayor that anyone had ever heard the mayor say the word.

“You mean those things kids use?” said Lauren.

“Maybe we could have protected lanes for them,” said the mayor. “That way you’d be safe and you wouldn’t get stuck in all the self driving car jams. Maybe more people would use them.”

“That’s insane. It will never happen,” replied Lauren. “I mean, it’s over 120º for most of the summer here now thanks to climate change.”

“Maybe that’s why we need ttttttt . . . trrrrrrr . . . trrreeeees . . . trees,” replied the mayor.

“What’s a tree?” asked Lauren.

“I think it’s some kind of self growing thing that makes oxygen and shade,” replied the mayor.

“Won’t they block the solar panels?” asked Lauren.

“Ba, ba, bu, buuuuuu . . . bus,” said the mayor.

“Huh? Mr. Mayor are you okay?” said Lauren.

“It’s . . . it’s like a car but carries over 100 people,” said the mayor.

“We’ll have to run that past minister Musk,” said Lauren as she gazed out the window.

“We could have lanes dedicated to buses,” blurted the mayor. “Maybe there could be affordable housing too?”

“With trees and bicycles? That’s impossible!” said Lauren. “How will we keep the coders employed?”

“Wait, who’s this minister Musk?” asked the mayor. “Is he that guy who accused a diver of being a ‘pedo’ so that he could buy some more time to make his own boy sized mini-submarine?”

“Really? He said that?” exclaimed Lauren.

“Yeah, I think that’s him,” replied the mayor. “Why the hell did I trust him so much?”

“Are you okay? Can I get you more Cheetos?” asked Lauren.

But all the Cheetos in the world wouldn’t bring the mayor back to his former self. Fredric Jameson once said, “it has become easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” But that’s just what the mayor began to imagine thanks to the unlikely conjunction of an algorithm and a raccoon.

He realized it was well past time to learn to dig not learn to code. It was time to build sea walls instead of apps, bus lanes instead of battery packs, affordable housing instead of Olympic villages. With all the freeways gone he was able to make room for gardens and orchards.

It was a new start. The people of LA were no longer consumers in a climate change crisis but, instead, neighbors working hard to assure their children’s bright future.

Street Life in San Francisco, Paris, New York, Victoria and Vancouver

Steven Pinker be damned! If you’d like evidence that history is more complex than the misguided notion that everything is always magically getting better I’d point you to these  films showing city life before our streets became sewers for cars.

I’ll get right down to my cranky point: they show that our streets and parks are worse and more impoverished since we ceded them to automobile interests.

To us who live in developed countries these street scenes can seem chaotic. I would suggest that instead of chaos they show a city life that’s more democratic. No one form of transit dominates. You can walk, ride a bike, take public transit or ride a horse and not feel like a second class citizen for not owning a car.

Here’s Victoria and Vancouver, Canada in 1907 where loose dogs seem to be a thing:

And New York:

And to notch up the crankiness let me point out that the clothes look a lot better too in the days before “athleisure.”