Without Light, We Cannot Move


Weary travelers sit idle on Ventura Boulevard, waiting for the train to come. They gaze upon corners like Coldwater and Laurel and dream of Olive Line stations in some alternate Los Angeles. They picture themselves free of the wheel, clutching bag and umbrella, descending to subways of a thousand destinations. Then, reality returns, and they remember Orange, Expo, Green, Gold, Purple, Crenshaw. They remember promises. Politics. Rhetoric. They remember the L.A. that could have been, and they resign themselves to wait out the war of afternoon in a Toyota. They are Valley strong. But, they are too tired to fight today. So, they wait…

6 thoughts on “Without Light, We Cannot Move”

  1. Love the pic. Looks like the weather we’re having here in Vegas today. It also made me homesick but I read today that the average rate for an apartment in L.A. right now is $1,670, so I’m not coming back any time soon, sad to say.

  2. Interest prose there Jason. Sadly as bad as the freeways get at times things don’t always completely suck unless a couple of boneheads try to be in the same space at the same time with their cars.

    Monday I made it to BH from my house in 45 minutes. The drive home even with an accident at 5 was only 1 hour. 35 miles each way.

    Tuesday afternoon at 3pm I made it from my house to Burbank in 25 minutes. Coming home was the same. 22 miles each way.

    Today I went to Glendale at 9 and was there in 20 minutes. Same for the return trip. 17 miles each way.

    Later I went to Glendora and was there in less than 15 minutes each way. 11 miles each way.

    Why do I raise this for you? Only 1 of those trips would have been possible IF we had the rail systems as proposed up and running. Time wise if I was to have used public transportation would have taken considerably longer that it did by driving. The cost for me driving is cheaper using my car, even with gas and parking, than if the bus as I had 2-3 people with me on each.

    I want a rail system that is functional for as many people as possible, not the gerrymander patchwork that keeps coming up. Whatever they do it has to be as cheap or cheaper for a family than driving their own car. Time is a factor that needs to fixed too as too many frequent stops makes it longer than sitting in traffic.

    Just give me a rail system that works and keep the politics out.

  3. Frazgo, you have to realize the history that has you hooked on the car. There will never be a rail system that works for you. The 1,000+ miles of rail in the early 1900’s would not have gone every you want to go today nor as fast and as cheap as our subsidized roadways. The government’s decision to make the automobile the de-facto form of transportation in this country forever changed the face of the land, and by doing that made car ownership a necessity as basic as breathing. What needs to happen is that smart people like you have to realize that traveling 70, 32, even 22 miles each day, no matter how fast, is not right nor necessary. You need to realize that driving is “cheap” only because it’s been heavily subsidized for decades and you don’t come close to directly paying the full price for your auto addiction. But a price has been paid. Pay attention to your surroundings, look at where things are and where things are headed. The car culture is nothing but a life of excessive consumption, the only way to battle that lifestyle is to embrace the opposite. Conservation. If you don’t think every human should require 2 tons of steel and glass to survive, if you don’t think the earth should be coated in asphalt to enable these vehicles to move, if you believe as I do that traveling tens of hundreds of miles daily just to work, play, and do other basic necessities of life is the definition of wasteful and excessive consumption, then I would think very hard about reorienting your life now away from the car. Like most addictions, it will come with a period of withdrawl and suffering, but it will only be because you are adjusting to life as it was meant to be. The liberation you will feel once you regain your natural right to mobility is a heady freedom unlike many others. What you can’t do is expect others to change the world for you. If you want to get around without a car, you have to do it yourself, the rail system of you dreams is decades away if it ever comes. If the car-culture is something you believe is sustainable and effecient, then continue on, but realize it is a culture of wanton waste and consumption.

  4. Ah Fred, all very interesting arguements.

    You missed my point. I want a rail system that will work for the majority around here. My week was rare in that I had to travel far for any reason, but it serves to illustrate that even if we had rail built I couldn’t have gotten anywhere.

    What so many people miss in these conversations is that I talk in terms of cheap in the perspective of a family having to go somewhere. The last time I checked to get to the Page Museum for the family it was going to cost nearly $60 for the various trains and buses. I drove it and with parking for under $20. The single commuter is another issue.

    If you haven’t paid attention to what I have said let me toss up a couple of reminders.

    I support a statewide gas tax increase to fund public transportation so we can get a system that works. I support the idea of no charge to kids travelling with families on weekends to encourage the use once built. I support the idea CO2 taxes on the gas guzzlers to get them off the road and clean up the air. I support a weight surcharge for the beasts as well…even those monster suv hybrids that waste other resources. All those additional fees and taxes need to be designated specifically towards public transportation and the money stays in the county it is collected in for everyones benefit.

    I do disagree with you re the car culture is dead or not sustainable. In the metro areas the car is going to slowly lose its importance once we get functioning mass transit. In the rural areas there will always be a need for a car of some sort to move people and goods about. After looking at what the manufacturers have planned to stay in the game the next 50 years is pretty amazing and they wouldn’t be making the investments they are if they didn’t think it could be sustained.

    Don’t mistake my chosing to drive for anything other than convenience. When in SF, London or Paris I chose where we stay based on train or subway and that is how we get around.

    What I tossed up was simply an example of what is on the books in terms of trains just won’t serve my needs. Also illustrated quite nicely that unless some bonehead mucks things up I can get out to my distant appointments and stuff very easily, very fast and very cheap. You nor anyone else when ever get people out of the cars if you can’t show them in real time it is faster and cheaper.

    Now can we quit the debate, put together a rail system that works for everyone?

  5. The 1,000+ miles of rail in the early 1900’s would not have gone every you want to go today nor as fast and as cheap as our subsidized roadways.

    That’s true, and it was true back then, as well.

    One of the most frequent complaints from users of the Pacific Electric “Red Car” system was that the rails didn’t go to the places they needed and wanted to go.

    That’s because the rail franchises that were merged together into the PE in 1912 were largely created by real-estate developers who sought to make distant, inexpensive parcels of land – too far from the city center for a daily commute in the horse-drawn conveyances of the day – into valuable residential real estate by connecting them to the city center via high-speed (well, high-speed compared to horses, anyway) electric railways.

    But unless you lived in one of those distant parcels – or in some other place that was, by chance, along the rail alignments from downtown to those parcels – and you only wanted to travel to or from downtown and back – then you probably wouldn’t find the rail system – even at its 1000+ mile height – to be useable as a comprehensive transportation system.

    Our current transit system is still lopsidedly downtown-centric.

    LA is weirdly schizophrenic that way: Downtown isn’t terribly relevant to most Angelenos – it’s just another neighborhood, and not a very attractive one, at that. (Though it is showing signs lately of actually becoming a livable, desirable neighborhood once again.)

    But the power structures that drive LA planning and urban strategy – City Hall, the DWP, the LAPD, LAUSD, Caltrans, the MTA, the LA Times, and so on – all have their offices in downtown.

    So there’s a huge tendency for the people in those power structures to see downtown as the vital, beating central heart of the city.

    But it isn’t. If you’re not employed by one of those agencies, or working in the industrial and wholesale areas of downtown, chances are that downtown is mostly irrelevant to your working/shopping/nightlife/recreation needs.

    That was true by the 1930s, when the coming of the automobile and a comprehensive roadway system made it possible to go from almost anywhere to almost anywhere else, whenever you wanted, in a direct, efficient, point-to-point manner that couldn’t be duplicated by line-haul mass transit.

    People didn’t abandon the trolleys in favor of automobiles because of government decrees or subsidies – they did it because autos were faster, more efficient, more convenient, and more flexible.

    In fact, the whole idea of the “subsidized roadway system” that keeps being repeated here is largely inaccurate.

    One of the primary reasons that automobiles and roads displaced mass transit from the late Twenties to the early Fifties is that the beneficiaries of the roadway system – auto drivers and business owners along those roadways – willingly taxed themselves, via gasoline and oil taxes, auto registration fees, sales taxes and use fees from auto purchases, and business assessment districts.

    Transit, on the other hand, was still operated by private businesses, but with fares regulated by public franchise requirements, which transit users repeatedly refused to allow to increase to levels sufficient to pay operating costs – let alone expand the system to accomodate growth and changing usage patterns.

    Roadways mostly weren’t financed by general tax revenues until the coming of the federal Interstate Highway system in the 1950s.

    And note that the federal Interstates benefit nearly everyone, not just urban commuters. Even non-drivers benefit from the system’s commercial cargo-carrying capacity (as well as the defense aspects that the feds used to justify federal funding in the first place).

    So it makes some sense to pay for the Interstate system from the collective public purse, since it provides a nationwide collective public benefit – unlike, say, urban mass transit in LA.

    There’s an awful lot of urban legend and myth wrapped around how the automobile replaced rail transit in LA, and much of what gets repeated in popular media and blog discussions is historically inaccurate nonsense.

    I would suggest starting with historian Martha Bianco’s essay Kennedy, 60 Minutes, and Roger Rabbit: Understanding Conspiracy-Theory Explanations of
    The Decline of Urban Mass Transit
    , a critical examination of the “GM conspiracy” urban legend, and following that with Scott Bottles’ Los Angeles and the Automobile: The Making of the Modern City, a well-researched and extensively documented social history of the evolution of transportation in Los Angeles.

    Then perhaps we could talk about what really happened – and how that informs the problems we face today – instead of continuing to repeat the same old feel-good myths that blame everything on corporate conspiracy and government mendacity.

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