Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Pollution on our streets and highways is all the rage to talk about these days. Over the weekend, the LA Times came out with a story about the installation of air filters (or lack thereof) on new housing construction abutting our area freeways. City Watch LA had a blog post yesterday that declared LA's bike lanes as criminally toxic as the water in Flint. And anyone paying attention to community discussions at neighborhood meetings and on sites like NextDoor will hear often about how anything slowing down traffic increases pollution.


  • The air on streets is almost exclusively locally polluted by cars on the same streets.
  • The air on highways is almost exclusively locally polluted by cars and trucks on the same highways.
  • Air in cars can actually be worse than open air on the streets, even with car filters.
  • Idling and slower traffic is actually markedly less polluting than traffic moving in excess of 55 MPH on freeways.
  • Nearly 100,000 people die every single year in this country from air pollution (which, at a minimum, would include at least 1,000 people in LA).
  • Walking and biking produce no pollutants and provide physical exercise to those engaging in these activities.
Just what do we think is turning our air brown?
It utterly boggles my mind that we can spend hours pontificating on the dangers of breathing the air on and near our streets and highways without so much as asking the question as to why the air is so bad on those streets and highways in the first place.

If our concern is the well-being of those poor folks who live, work, and travel along these streets, why is our response to gird them with more armor (filters, helmets, walls) to protect them from the very thing that we created? It's like the active shooter fire drills now regularly occurring at schools across the country.
Why address the issue of gun ubiquity when you can just train everyone how to play dead instead?
Shouldn't our response be to identify ways to reduce that which is creating the pollution in the first place? That's our cars. Right? We can all agree on that. Yes?

So how about, rather than assuming we're all gonna hop on four wheels and cart a ton of steel around with us wherever we go for whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it, we instead focus on giving people options?
  • Let's make it more possible to find fresh, quality, affordable groceries within walking distance of every single person living in LA.
  • Let's give people the opportunity to rent or buy a home/condo/apartment in a location that gives them access to schools and work opportunities that they can reach without a car.
  • Let's create a real, connected, safe, and, well, awesome biking network that encourages more women, children, and seniors to hit the streets on two wheels, and that provides better and safer two-wheeled mobility for those with limited means who may be more reliant on this cheaper, cleaner mode.
  • And let's give people who walk - including those with limited mobility - the ability to do so safely and in comfort, with shade and street trees, street-fronting active uses, and prioritization of pedestrians at intersections and crosswalks to ensure their safe movement.
If New York can do it (with its even narrower streets), why not Los Angeles?
It's not good enough to start with the assumption that our streets are unsafe and dirty.

Rather than simply assuming that the issue is anything that changes from the status quo, let's allow ourselves to consider that perhaps the status quo may also be an issue (in fact could be THE issue).

Instead of teaching our citizens to fear our streets and to view them only from behind a windshield, let's teach them to embrace our streets and to see them as the gathering place that they are.

Enough fearing our civic space. It's been engineered to within an inch of its life. It is time to let the artists, and the dreamers, and the poets to take it back.
If they can do it in Mexico City, surely we can too.

1 comment:

  1. In my 20 car free years, far and away, all my greatest regrets are all the friends I have lost. And all the family members who have passed away without my ever seeing them again.

    And all the missed Christmas's and Thanksgiving's I used to have during an all day swing through the city.

    Your total and complete misunderstanding of the car as a box that separates is, ironically, due your having access to one and not being separated from the people you care about.

    And not a single one of your admirable wishes for the city would in any way make my life any better than it is now since the only thing I would change would be to have ability to go to the places and people that no transit system can ever give me access to. So living in your proposed new world would be for me - like living in George Orwell's New World.