Car Wars

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Government efforts to upend California’s car culture often face stiff opposition from the public. Look no farther than the battle in the state’s big cities over road lane reductions or even banning cars from vital arteries.

In Los Angeles, city officials are adding bike lanes and reducing the number of car lanes in an effort to slow traffic and save lives. The city has moved on a number of initiatives, Vision Zero to eliminate traffic deaths by 2025 and Mobility 2035, a city planners dream that requires changes to streets so that bicyclists, pedestrians and automobile can all get around.

In San Francisco, plans are in place to ban private cars from a stretch of Market Street, a main thoroughfare in the city.

When the road restrictions were put in place in Los Angeles, car speeds indeed slowed down—and motorists’ tempers flared.

The issue became such a battle on the well-off west side, especially in Play del Rey near LAX, that political life was disrupted. Angry opponents of the road restriction are threatening recall of the local city councilman Mike Bonin, a lawsuit was filed against the road changes, and city council members in other parts of the city pulled back on “road diets” in their districts.

Supporters of the plan have pushed back, none more forcefully that the editorial writers at the Los Angeles Times, who, with brash sarcasm, began an editorial this way caricaturing a supposed angry motorist:

Im a busy person. I’ve got places to be, and traffic can really gum up my schedule. So I want Los Angeles streets to be as fast as possible. The fewer traffic lights and crosswalks the better. If a couple of pedestrians get mowed down every now and then, or a bike rider gets squashed, well, that’s life in the big city, right? They shouldn’t have been on the road in the first place. This is Los Angeles, get a car like everybody else.

My goodness, you could almost hear the word “deplorables” echoing throughout the paragraph.

The Times encourages the city council to fight back—because after all, the editors and the city planners must know better than the people who use the streets.

Reaching some sort of accommodation on this issue will not be easy. Heavy populations lead to crowded streets. Without city plans, traffic already slowed considerably because of so many cars on the road.

City officials want to remove people from their cars by encouraging alternative transportation opportunities. However, the rail lines and roads that will be produced from increased road taxes are years away—as is the hope of autonomous cars relieving traffic.

The battle is not a surprise. As the website California Driving put it: “Firstly, remember that California’s a car culture. You won’t survive for long without a car in California — California was designed for cars.”

Can city officials and advocates who pine for a new design change drivers’ attitudes? Can they literally change California culture?

If they hope to, it requires better communication with the public and more respect for the drivers. That’s not happening now.

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