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Farewell to Dana Gabbard, Transit Advocate Extraordinaire

THE DOCTOR IS IN - Back before transportation fell into the same chasm as all other politically-charged topics, there was a group of us who were transportation advocates who recognized the destruction of our overall mobility, and we focused on alternative forms of transportation: rail, bus, and all things Transit.

By far too many of our current so-called transportation/transit "experts" have deliriously out-of-control conflict of interest and/or belief systems that border on theology, but in the 2000's the most outgoing of us were politically moderate, didn't disrespect motorists or transit riders or pedestrians, and sought new transportation systems to restore the ability to get from Here to There.

Dana Gabbard was one such advocate. Like myself, he was an amateur who did things to make the world a better place, and to help those who needed a better way to get to work, to errands, and to all places that leisure and pleasure might beckon. 

And now Dana is gone. He was respected, appreciated, and downright befriended by those who knew him. He was a fellow Friends4Expo Transit advocate, and he fought for both mainstream light and heavy rail projects as much as he fought against ill-advised, unproven technologies.

Like some of the most heroic and humble amongst us, Dana lived a fairly simple life in his apartment where he could best enjoy the happiest parts of life that Los Angeles can offer. He was a friend and good person to his neighbors in MacArthur Park. 

So many of our fellow Angelenos seek not a big house or the company of celebrities, yet their motivation, inspiration and genius far outweigh those who do live "larger than life" in the public eye. And while few might ever know of those who toil in private circles outside of the public limelight, the "bigshots" offer little to nothing in making their neighborhood or city a better place to work or live.

It's clearly not an obligation for any of us to do more than live our life legally, morally, and honestly, but following the rules isn't enough for a few of us. Dana Gabbard wasn't content to let things be with respect to the opportunities and dignity of transit riders, and wanted to improve the rules for those who couldn't always speak for themselves...

...and Dana made darned sure he didn't take a dime from anyone who might ask him to profit from his efforts. Dana was calm and resolute in his own life's efforts, but was nothing short of fiery when it came to him or any other individuals falling down the self-serving path of enriching themselves inappropriately with public (or even private) funds.

Dana was as outspoken among the leadership of the grassroots pro-rail/bus transit entities of Southern California, such as the non-profit Southern California Transit Advocates (SO.CA.TA), as he was to the Metro Board. But Dana was kind, and not cruel or hurtful in his arguments--whenever possible, he sought to be likable and very much liked in return.

And what was there not to like when it came to Dana? 

Dana was smart and had great ideas that one ignored at his/her peril when it came to transportation. I remember a debate with Dana and a few others as to whether the Wilshire Subway (a.k.a. the Purple Line...and "nuts" to calling it the "D Line") should be planned and built in chunks to Century City first, versus planning all the way to its western terminus at or near Westwood.

I was the pragmatist, and was very pushy and adamant about not letting the entire subway effort be dropped because it was too grand and expensive. I wanted it to at least be configured to Century City before we could realistically ask for it all the way to Westwood. After all, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, is it not?

But Dana and a few others were equally adamant about "going the whole way" as the most efficient method of making sure this critical east-west subway would be planned and funded right. It turned out that the political will was there to prove Dana right...and me wrong. 

Yet as much as I, too, fought for "the whole enchilada" as a transit advocate, I was concerned that it might never occur. The funding was always uncertain, and the questions remained unanswered as to whether L.A. County had the political and public will to push a rail network through a car-dominated planning/transportation region such as ours.

(And for those of you reading this who thought this entire exercise of debating and planning transit lines among amateur advocates/laypeople was futile and childish, it turned out that this grassroots effort was fundamental to the construction program that is now dominating twenty-first L.A. County transportation planning. We struck a nerve, and it's now happening--pandemic or not).

But Dana was as polite as he was interested in hearing my side, and other sides, in how to build a transportation corridor akin to a freeway (the Wilshire Purple Line subway). I always thought he was a good guy (a great guy, actually) and a friend. I only wished he was better able to control his weight all the past 20 years I knew him, and sadly that health issue shortened his life.

Again it is to be remembered that Dana was a volunteer, and therefore to be honored by those who did (and especially who did not!) know him and whose lives are better because of his work. Ditto for folks like the late Ken Ruben of Culver City who did so much for absolutely nothing financially in return. 

Would Dana be appalled by the ever-growing crimes against rail and bus riders, as mentioned by President Biden to our nation's mayors? Probably. Certainly.

Would Dana be appalled by the surge of looting and theft occurring from cargo trains? Probably. Certainly.

Would Dana have a strong opinion at the explosion of homeless individuals using trains and train stations as their living spaces? Probably. Certainly.

Would Dana have a strong opinion about all the surprising and unlooked-for developments such as Uber/Lyft, COVID-19, and remote/virtual/Internet-based commuting...particularly on how these affect transportation (especially rail/bus transit!)? Probably. Certainly. 

But you and I will not know for certain. Dana is gone, and it's to be presumed that others will now hopefully step into Dana's shoes to help confront and maybe offer a few ideas to fix the aforementioned issues of our era.

Yet even if few will ever remember Dana's name and energy, it's hoped that those who knew and befriended him will remember what he had to offer L.A. and Planet Earth, and incorporate some small portion of his example in how we interact with others in our own lives.

I know that I will.

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D, is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties, and is a proud husband and father to two cherished children and a wonderful wife. He was termed out of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC) twice after two stints as a Board member for 9, years and is also a Board member of the Westside Village Homeowners Association. He previously co-chaired the MVCC Outreach, Planning, and Transportation/Infrastructure Committees for 10 years. He was previously co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee, the grassroots Friends of the Green Line (which focused on a Green Line/LAX connection), and the nonprofit Transit Coalition His latest project is his fictional online book entitled The Unforgotten Tales of Middle-Earth and can be reached at [email protected]. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)