Wednesday, October 18, 2023

The allies we have

I took down a tweet that was getting a lot of traction for reasons I want to explain here. This whole phenomenon and the complex politics around it, deserves more than microblogging. 

It all started when I linked to this article in the LA Times/Daily Pilot about local elected officials participating in the "Week Without Driving" challenge. Costa Mesa Councilwoman Arlis Reynold said, "I haven't been on a bus in, like, 30 years." 

On the fifth day of Reynolds’ week without driving, the councilwoman was joined by Mayor John Stephens, Thomas and transportation services manager Jennifer Rosales.
Stephens, who’s lived in Costa Mesa for 30 years but cannot recall ever taking the bus, said he was stunned to learn how many denizens rely on the local transit system.
I tweeted at how awful it was that elected officials who vote on transit issues don't use it. 

That resonated with a lot of people, and got much attention, retweets. However, I also received comments that it hurts the cause to criticize elected officials who have been allies for safer streets and who agreed to do this experiment and invited the press along to write an article about it. 

They further pointed out that these particular officials don't vote on transit; decisions are made by the Orange County Transit Authority (whose board is made up of elected officials from cities or the county board of supervisors). 

These are valid points and I took down my critical tweet. 

However, I just want to point out that city officials are responsible for the lack of amenities at bus stops, e.g benches, shelters, trash cans, bike racks, way-finding. Bus stops are notoriously hostile places sitting right next to traffic on the busiest and most polluted stroads (street+road). 

Waiting for a bus is literally bad for your health due to air and noise pollution and exposure to car violence.  Drivers have rammed through bus stop benches on both Artesia and Aviation Boulevards near me with enough force to break concrete benches and even pushing one bench (with a woman sitting on it) through the glass windows of the store behind it. 

Cities will use eminent domain and spend $$$,$$$ to buy land to widen intersections for new turn lanes, but they won't do the same to buy a few square feet to move bus stop benches further from the street edge. They don't install plexiglass sound barriers to block wind and dampen noise. They won't install air filters like they do in Korea to protect bus riders from tire and asphalt particulates. 

In conclusion, I'm glad that these particular allies spent a week understanding the challenges of those traveling without cars.  I wish it was mandatory for all elected officials and candidates.  Actually, I wish it was required for everyone, including drivers. 

I am deeply saddened that people are so scared to lose the few allies that they have in Orange County, that they don't feel free to note that officials should have been riding the bus, walking and biking around their cities regularly all along. 

Read the whole article, Costa Mesa councilwoman walks the walk during ‘Week Without Driving’ challenge. In case you can't get past the paywall, the closing is good. 
“I was surprised that [buses] were pretty well packed with people,” he [Stephens] said Tuesday. “We don’t usually walk through the neighborhood like this when we don’t have campaign literature in our hands — whenever you do something like this you become more aware.”

Reynolds, who officially concluded her week without driving last Sunday, is already thinking of improvements for transit riders, first by evaluating all the city’s bus stops to ensure they meet the same standards and adding vital shade and seating where they are currently lacking. And that’s just the beginning.

“I’m interested in looking at broader routes. What I haven’t done is zoom out and see the whole network,” she said in a debriefing Tuesday. “I think there’s an assumption transit can never work in Orange County, but, actually, it could.

“I’m two days past the campaign, and I’m walking still.”
Earlier this year, I read Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives by Jarrett Walker. I borrowed an electronic version from the public library and highly recommend it. Jarrett Walker's Human Transit Blog is also good for learning more. 

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