Tuesday, August 11, 2009

CityWatchLA - When Rights and Privileges Get Mixed Up the People Lose

CityWatch, Aug 11, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 64

LA’s newly seated City Attorney, Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich, is hosting a City Attorney Neighborhood Forum at City Hall on Thursday and in an effort to demonstrate his unique approach to access, he has divided the public into two groups, those who get “free guest parking” and those who don’t.

It always comes down to the haves and the have-nots.

I won’t be there, of course. I didn’t qualify as one of LA’s “core-elite” and in a city that ranks your influence based on where you park your car, I can only imagine the inferior seating set aside for those who arrive by bicycle, or even worse, on foot or by mass transit. Of course, Nuch could have looked at Enrique Peñalosa’s work in Bogata, Columbia for inspiration on positioning equality in mobility as the foundation for a municipal government, a position that results in a reduction in crime, an increase in efficiency and a positive impact on the local economy, all while contributing to the overall health of the voters who put him in office.

Instead, Nuch continued down the congested road that positions motor vehicle parking space as the commodity that makes the wheels of this city move, the element of privilege that confirms position and power, the gift of public property that doesn’t show up on the audit trail and the City Hall welcome mat that keeps the insiders in and the outsiders out.

This may sound harsh, after all, we live in a city where “Officer, it was the strangest thing, I looked outside and there was a guy walking on my sidewalk!” is a legitimate “Broken Windows” call to the LAPD and ranks right up there with “All units! There are cyclists riding on the street!” as confirmation that there is something seriously wrong with the way LA moves people. At every turn, we reward bad transportation choices and then discourage good behavior, all the while complaining about our transportation system and traffic congestion.

Nuch is not unique in his commitment to the status quo and that’s the point. If he really wanted to come in and shake up City Hall and to communicate that there was a better way to engage the people, he could have simply started with public access based on equality of mobility. Instead he selected “free guest parking” as the battle cry.

How great would it have been if Nuch opened his reign with a commitment to the people of LA that City business would only take place in facilities that are open to those who walk, to those who use mass transit and to those who ride bikes. After all, this commitment is already made to those who arrive in motor vehicles, why not include the rest of the public?

Nuch is not alone in missing this opportunity.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the Patron Saint of Mass Transit, was recently scheduled to meet with the membership of GreenLA, an advocacy group made up of 100 of LA’s most active environmental organizations. The meeting was billed as “GreenLA Membership and the Mayor of LA” in a dialogue on LA’s green issues platform. Apparently transportation wasn’t one of the topics.

In a demonstration of disconnect, the meeting was scheduled to take place on the Westside, in an industrial area south of LAX. The venue is in an area so transit-proof that GreenLA first asked those with cars to offer carpools to other guests, then simply switched the location to a downtown facility, accessible to pedestrians, cyclists and those who use mass transit. Why, it even had accommodations for those who carpooled!

How is it that those who arrive by car are given special consideration on event notices, invitations and flyers, complete with information pointing out parking availability, detailing the location of the parking, noting any special reimbursement or validation details, and reinforcing the old and tired LA mantra, “You are what you drive” while those who employ alternative transportation are expected to figure it on their own.

Councilman Tom LaBonge recently invited Art Leahy, the new CEO of the Metro, to an evening town hall meeting to discuss LA’s Transportation System with the community. LaBonge chose Travel Town in Griffith Park as the venue, apparently unaware that the 96 is the closest bus and it stops running at 6pm. The Metro’s website indicates that there is no bus service from City Hall to Travel Town, it’s simply Metro inaccessible. Is the leadership of LA new to the city or just new to the idea of moving people in modes other than the automobile? The meeting was moved to another location, this time one with no bike racks. Small steps!

The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) is currently gearing up for the October Neighborhood Council Congress and in an effort to fan the flames of interest, a “save the date” flyer was sent out promising “Great People, Great Food and Free Parking!” No word on alternative transportation, no encouragement to walk, no info on mass transit, no directions to the bike racks. Nothing in that flyer communicates a commitment to equality as the standard for public access.

Our freedom to move is one of our most basic freedoms. In the political arena, access is one of the most basic elements of equality. To get harsh on the status quo of parking may seem...well...harsh.

But consider this, there are seven parking spaces in LA County for every car. The host of a public meeting that doesn’t accommodate those who arrive in single occupant vehicles faces severe criticism.

Council District 2 candidate Chris Essel demonstrated her commitment to the locals in CD2 by sending out an invitation to the “common folks” urging them to drop by her office on Ventura Blvd. The invitation indicates that the location is supported by “ample free parking on Ventura Blvd. in addition to valet parking on site.” No mention is made of buses such as the 150 or the 750, no mention is made of the available bike parking, no encouragement to do anything other than maintain the status quo, all the while complaining about traffic congestion!

Bravo to the CD2 Candidate who seizes this opportunity and fills the leadership vacuum, showing up at the next Candidate Forum on foot or who takes the Metro or who rides their bicycle or who shows up on a horse. Having a candidate show up in anything other that a single occupant motor vehicle would be a refreshing demonstration of a commitment to shaking up the way we move people and would certainly separate the doers from the talkers.

Of course, this may be a difficult leap for many but the least we can ask is that all candidates reinforce their commitment to access equality by noting on all campaign materials the information for peds, transit passengers and cyclists on a “favored nation” status with all motor vehicle parking and valet information for motorists. (By the way, if you’re going to reimburse or validate for parking, give out Metro tokens also!)

LA’s City Clerk has taken the lead on this standard and has established “mass transit accessible” as one of the criteria used for selecting locations for the upcoming Neighborhood Council elections.

Ultimately, if Los Angeles is going to become a Great City, it will be because mobility is positioned and supported as a basic human right. It will be because we work together to create a standard where public access includes the public as a whole, not simply those who arrive in a car. It will be because we define and respect our streets as public space.

“See you on the Streets!”

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net) ◘

No comments: