Can anyone remember when the open road evoked images of unqualified optimism and possibility? Can we imagine how this might actually happen in the future?
Not long ago, one word captured how people felt about the automobile: freedom. Back then, we could rely on expressways to escape stop-and-go traffic that might impinge on our freedom. We could even bypass a city altogether, which wouldn’t say much for the city.
Now freeways have become places to get stuck, and their ecological toll has turned “freeway” into a anachronistic misnomer. There is nothing free about the freeways of Los Angeles.
Last September I received the welcome news that two of my urbanist films would be screened at a festival in West Hollywood. But the thought of actually attending the festival didn’t appeal to me because I pictured myself either stuck in traffic or stuck without a car.
And yet…my recent visits to the global mobility meccas of Amsterdam and Portland, OR made me wonder if I could learn something from the opposite extreme. Maybe I would find seeds – and even green shoots – of healthy city development in Los Angeles. Maybe (as I’ve seen in my hometown of Detroit) there are positive ways to take advantage of decades-long neglect by leapfrogging ahead of cities such as Toronto that must deal with the burden of aging infrastructure and the entrenched belief by governments that they can afford 20th century thinking.
Indeed, as it turns out, Angelenos are beginning to appreciate the greater freedom and human contact made possible by alternative modes of transportation. Urban multi-modal mobility experts Chris and Melissa Bruntlett report in their post “6 surprising ways L.A. is looking beyond the automobile” on impressive initiatives toward “healthier, happier, simpler” ways of getting around town.
While bicycle lanes in Los Angeles are still rare and many sidewalks lead to nowhere, I was amazed to see so much evidence of interest in new style “freeways” to the future. I can even imagine this kind of bicycle infrastructure, designed by Ipv Delft and opened in 2013 in Eindhoven (The Netherlands):
and entire parking garages repurposed for this kind of bike storage, which has existed in Amsterdam since 2001:
Plus the quiet, efficient trams of Portland which seem to glide into view whenever you need them:
Awareness of what transportation freedom might really mean is a vital step in changing auto-centric cultures. Here is Diego Cardoso and his team from the City of Los Angeles Planning Department talking about the advantages of biking and walking (in connection with public transit) at the New Urbanism Film Festival (#NUFF2015 on twitter) earlier this month:
In Straphangers: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile, Taras Grescio reminds us, “if even a fraction of the money allocated to maintain the freeway system every year went to transit, Los Angeles could build itself the best public transport network on the continent.”
To do this will require a new concept of freeways.
One big thing I noticed about Amsterdam and Portland was the overall lack of traffic, stalled or otherwise.
My latest 57 second video, “Traffic” was shot in Los Angeles, but not of Los Angeles. First hint: these cars are moving: