MAILANDER’S LA-So we have this incident, the Mayor on his cell, being driven in a big SUV, and the SUV hits a pedestrian. Thank God, things look good for the ped.
Of course, such an incident is vastly at odds with Mayor Eric Garcetti's Photoshopped mayoralty: the mayoralty in which the Mayor rides buses, paddles canoes, makes streets walkable, doubles down on pedal power, and looks to Uncle Sam to play with his City.
But as we all know, this is what really happens to pedestrians and cyclists in Real LA. They get mowed over. If not figuratively--by absurd jaywalking laws that actually issue them fines most speed limit violators in other states don't pay, then--literally.
They still get mowed over in 2014 even though every mayoral debate since 1953 has featured a long segment on what to do about LA traffic.
Nobody expects the Mayor to hop on an old Schwinn and ride one of these bike lanes down to Second and Spring. But in Garcetti's world of personal ironies, the incident is a telling one regarding the distance between Fantasy LA--where Garcetti has resided for two decades now--and Real LA, which is where most of the rest of us live.
In Fantasy LA, even though everyone drives them all the time, nobody is overly reliant on automobiles. The folks in Fantasy LA don't live anywhere near a transit hub where some bus or rail transit whisks them to where they need to go. If they're younger, the bicycle is a viable option--for others, but for them, not so much. And why aren't you working from a virtual office anyway? Reduce your trips and when a million other people reduce theirs too, there will be no traffic, they snarl from their Hollywood Hills perches, their deep Echo Park enclaves, their sleepy slopes in Silver Lake, where they have managed to reduce trips for themselves down to one a month--to New York or London or Singapore.
But in the Real LA, we know that public transit is for poor people even while the Real LA others are stuck in gridlock. In Real LA, even the folks who live in the faux-luxe condos at the public transit hubs don't use public transit very much. If you can make enough to live in a faux-luxe, simulated urbanism condo, why would you ever use the Metro?
Garcetti has stuck to his vision for LA for a long time. It is to make it more like Fantasy LA. That vision has included gentrifying his old Council district. And now, with funds from Washington that are typically earmarked for poor people, Garcetti will do it, via the President's Promise Zone designation.
It's really a redevelopment grant. The money is supposed to be for Real LA, the LA where poor people ride buses and pedestrians get ruthlessly ticketed when they're not getting mowed over. But the money will go to Fantasy LA, where pedestrians walk on safe streets, bikes are viable and safe transit options, schools are always showing signs of improving, people are always shopping on cool commercial strips, and nobody ever gets old.
Real LA will just shrug it off. In the Promise Zone, which is presently chock-full of Real LA, and engagingly low on Fantasy LA, there has already been much of promise, for decades. I spy one Frank Lloyd Wright home, the whole USC campus, the architectural marvel formerly known as Bullock's Wilshire (now a law school), five already developed transit-hub subway stops, and the fabled intersection of Hollywood and Vine--all in this "poverty"-designated Federal Promise Zone.
It is about to get another thick layering of Fantasy LA, but it will be the same old story. We will spend $500 million--this time of the rest of the nation's money, for a change--and insist at the end that Fantasy LA is coming, but the zone will remain Real LA, ever and unrepentantly.
In the Real LA, no matter how much public transpo we build, people on bikes and cars are at a decided vulnerable disadvantage. In the Real LA, cyclists are getting insistent on real lanes and pedestrians insulted by jaywalking tickets.
But dreaming of a Fantasy LA, where the Mayor can push for public transit, poverty grants, sustainable architecture, bag bans, and transit-hub boondoggles even while riding in big SUV to his non-virtual office Downtown, and imagine that all of this is something much more than fairy dust, is one way to shut out Real LA even while inconveniently mowing down peds in an SUV on occasion.
I just hope the Mayor's plans for redeveloping the Promise Zone don't include shutting down any of the Real LA taco stands on Virgil. I've walked, taken buses, ridden bikes, and driven automobiles to every one of those $1.25-a-taco stands. They are the kind of Real LA we need to survive all these Promise Zone delusions of what Fantasy LA should be.
(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of Days Change at Night: LA's Decade of Decline, 2003-2013. Mailander blogs here.)
Vol 12 Issue 5
Pub: Jan 17, 2014