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Do Something Radical

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As Guest Day Editor, Fred Camino of MetroRiderLA, will be joining LAist with a few posts throughout today. Read his introductory interview here and check out his site.

Last weekend, the LA Times had a commentary piece by Michael Balter wherein he proposed the "radical" idea of forgoing the subway-to-the-sea (claiming its construction to be unlikely) and instead changing the entirety of Wilshire Boulevard into a car-free bike, pedestrian, bus, and light-rail thoroughfare. Clearly a "far out" idea - I don't believe any city in the United States has ever converted 15 miles of a previously high traffic street into a car-free zone - in fact if you look at Wikipedia's list of car-free places, you'll notice that most car-free zones in the United States are recreational in nature or on small private islands. Let's not forget that Wilshire is one of the busiest arterials in the city, passing through wealthy neighborhoods that have been long been resistant to transit and change, and that NIMBY's have long had a stranglehold on local politics in this city. Even if we ignore those things, the planning process alone for these types of transit projects take years (the Expo Line to Culver City which will open in 2010 entered it's planning stages almost 20 years before that), surely the subway-to-the-sea has had much more thought put into than Balter's Wilshire Utopia idea. But that's what makes the idea so "radical" isn't it? Ideas don't have to contend with reality, so they can be as "radical" as they want. And "radicals" who only have ideas, aren't really all that radical, since an idea never did damn thing. It's easy to look at our leaders and call them cowards for not embracing radical ideas like the one that Michael Balter has proposed, or less radical ideas, like a subway down Wilshire Boulevard. It's not so easy to be make radical changes in our own lives.

I say it's time you consider doing something radical.

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My idea is so radical that many of you probably won't do it. My idea is so doable that most of you could do it. It's certainly easier than building a subway. It's way easier than convincing a car-centered to city to turn one of it's main streets into a bike path.

Dump your car.

Sell it. Impound it. Invite your friends over and charge them five bucks to swing at it with a bat Street Fighter II style. Just get rid of the damn thing.

You don't need it.

If you're like most people, it won't be easy to do. It wasn't terribly easy for me, and I hate driving. The world has convinced us that cars are a necessity, like food and water, and in Los Angeles, superseding food and water. Rest assured, a private car is as necessary as a private plane. Sure it'd be nice not to have to go the airport and wait for the plane. It'd be great if you didn't have to sit next to that smelly fat dude or that gnarly chick who wants to talk the whole time. It'd be nice if you didn't have to stop in Atlanta when you're going to New York City. But do you really need your own friggin' plane? Are you that much better than the rest of the world? And so it is with cars.

There's plenty of vehicles out there that will gladly pick you up and drop you off in the vicinity of where you're going for a nominal fee. They're called buses, they're called trains. You'll become quick friends with these things once you've dumped your car. You'll have no other choice. Well that's a lie actually. You do have other choices, each one more radical then the next.

You could ride a bike.

Or...

You could... walk.

Okay, I can hear you already.

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"But our transit system doesn't go where I wanna go!"

"It takes too long!"

"I don't wanna ride a bus!"

"It's soooo dangerous!"

"Los Angeles isn't pedestrian friendly!"

Welcome to the world of being a radical. Radical decisions sometimes carry high costs. This is one reason it's silly to assume a politician will back a radical decision... the stakes are too high. But if you're willing to hold a politician to such high stakes, surely you can subject yourself to similar stakes!

Indeed, without a car you may need to restructure your life to make car-free living more practical. Let's not forget that Wilshire would have to be massively restructured if it was going to be turned into a car-free transitway. You may have to move closer to your job, or closer to a transit hub. You may have to adjust your schedule. You may have to practice street smarts. You may have to realize that a lot of things you think about public transit in Los Angeles simply aren't true.

But you'll realize this once your dump your car.

If Los Angeles is indeed this creative Mecca with creative people where "anything is possible" then let's, as creative inhabitants of this creative Mecca, go out there and creatively and actively solve the problems that we face. Why are we waiting for "them" to make all the moves? Why wait for a subway-to-the-sea to be built before you go car free? You can get there now without a car. Sure, it might not be as convenient as a subway under Wilshire, but building a subway under Wilshire isn't particularly convenient either. If we can't commit to going car-free now, then who's to say we will once a subway-to-the-sea is built? I'm not saying that we throw out all the "radical ideas" that creative minds are putting out there, because there's plenty of great ones, I'm just saying let's show our leaders that we are willing to make radical changes in order to make them more comfortable to make the radical changes we desire (and that out of our control).

Think about it. If everyone dumps their cars, then converting Wilshire to a car-free zone isn't such a radical idea. It's a big idea, but no longer radical. In a place were no one drives, a car-free zone is actually kinda logical.

The question remains:

How radical are you?

Photo illustration by Fred Camino via Flickr.