The LookOut columns | What I Say

Frank Gruber

Killing Machines and Deadly Streets

By Frank J. Gruber

The traffic discussion L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez unleashed a few weeks ago continued last week. Mr. Lopez himself participated in a Warren Olney/"Which Way L.A." program on KCRW Thursday evening that's well worth listening to.

Mr. Olney's other guests were M.T.A. Board Member Richard Katz, who detailed some of the history of the Westside's intransigence about transit (fighting the Red Line subway, fighting the Exposition light rail, killing the post-earthquake carpool/bus lane on the 10), and Ted Balaker from the libertarian leaning Reason Foundation, who argued for charging tolls for access to express lanes.

True fixes for traffic congestion will require both more and better transit options and making driving more expensive.

On the transit front, a few weeks ago the City of Beverly Hills released an exemplary report analyzing the best route for a subway line through that city, including an analysis of potential station locations. This is the kind of report Santa Monica needs to commission for the Expo Line.

Beverly Hills' Mass Transit Committee (this time around, B.H. has become so enthused about the subway the City has formed a blue ribbon committee to study it) determined that the best route would be the simplest -- along Wilshire Boulevard to Santa Monica Boulevard, then veering southwest along the latter to Century City.

Assuming that the line would have stops at Century City and at Fairfax, the Committee determined that stations at Wilshire at Beverly Drive and Wilshire at La Cienega would be almost perfectly spaced at roughly a mile apart and would serve the densest conglomerations of employment and population. (see report)

One question I would like to see examined in a system-wide study is the desirability and feasibility of building a four-track system that would allow for express trains -- as in New York City. Knowing that Wilshire Boulevard is sixteen miles long, and learning that the typical distance between stations is one mile, I wonder just how numbing a sixteen-stop ride from Santa Monica to downtown L.A. would be.

Perhaps express trains would only save a few minutes, but the success of the Metro Rapid buses has shown that the ability to build up speed between stops adds greatly to both the reality and perception of speed.

The most sadly relevant story about traffic was not any new tale of woe from a driver caught in traffic or of Westside music lovers giving up their L.A. Phil tickets, but rather that of another pedestrian killed trying to cross a Santa Monica street. (see story)

Nothing illustrates more clear how we have built a transportation system geared wholly to the wants of motorists than the appalling fear even the most able-bodied pedestrian must conquer to cross our boulevards. It's infuriating when drivers of vehicles weighing thousands of pounds can kill someone and have the police describe what happened as "just inattention."

Unless a pedestrian is committing suicide (i.e., running in front of a car on purpose), there should be strict criminal liability for any motorist who hits a pedestrian. If you put yourself in charge of a four-wheeled motorized killing machine, you need to be responsible for whatever happens in front of you.

But I am not entirely unsympathetic to (my fellow) motorists. We're all sinners. My real venom is directed at the traffic engineers who have designed streets to move such large amounts of cars at such high speeds, that it's nearly impossible for a driver to drive in such a manner that he or she can stop in time to avoid any danger within view.

But then who employs traffic engineers? Let's see, politicians? Politicians like Zev Yaroslavsky, who wants to increase the pedestrian killing potential of Pico and Olympic by turning them into one-way speedways. And Antonio Villaraigosa, who wants to put anti-pedestrian left-turn signals on every intersection. And all politicians who vote to widen streets and narrow sidewalks.

And then who employs the politicians?

* * *

I haven't fully digested the City's new report, by the Urban Institute, evaluating the City's "continuum of care" for dealing with the problem of homelessness, but one item jumped out at me.

That was the fact that the jail in the new Public Safety Building can hold 112 people, but only holds twelve on the average night.

No, I don't mean the police should arrest 100 homeless people every night. Having a disease -- mental illness, alcoholism or drug addiction -- and not having a roof to sleep under should not be a crime.

But sleeping outside on a sidewalk or under an overpass or in a park is dangerous, and one way to get homeless people into our continuum of care and of a mind to try housing (whenever -- first or last) would be to start using more liberally the 72-hour civil commitments that are available when a person is a danger to himself or others.

If we need less than an eighth of the jail facility for criminal suspects, then let's reconfigure the other seven eighths into a clinic -- operated not by the justice system but by the public health system -- for homeless people who are endangering themselves every night in Santa Monica by sleeping on the streets. Each commitment would give social workers another 72 hours to penetrate the shell of denial that is the chronic homeless person's shield against reality.

Done right, the homeless people might get the feeling that we care. You never know where that might lead.

Event notice:

I have to note that one of the odder but nonetheless endearing organizations to sprout in Santa Monica's rich soil of social activism is the "Activist Support Circle," the group Jerry Rubin founded to provide emotional support for progressive activists.

I bumped into Mr. Rubin last week -- naturally at a community meeting -- and he asked me to publicize the ASC's next meeting, which will feature actress and singer (and anti-war activist) Michelle Phillips as special guest speaker. The meeting will take place this Wednesday evening at seven, at the Friends Meeting Hall (1440 Harvard Street).

My only bone to pick with Mr. Rubin is that his flyer advertises free parking, but fails to give directions by public transportation. Memo to Jerry: is the ASC on the bus or off the bus

If readers want to write the editor about this column, send your emails to The Lookout at .

If readers want to write Frank Gruber, email The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of
The Lookout.

Lookout Logo footer image Copyright 1999-2008 All Rights Reserved.      EMAIL