The Dept. of Currently Infeasible vs. the Dept. of Just Get It Done.

The difficult, I’ll do right now; the impossible may take a little while.

— Crazy He Calls Me, by Carl Sigman and Sidney Keith Russell

A few years back, I was hired as advertising director for a company that made electronic musical and recording equipment.

Years of mismanagement had put the company in serious financial trouble. And I was given less than five months to hire and train an in-house creative team, develop a new marketing strategy to completely reposition the company, and create an ad campaign good enough to pull them from the brink of bankruptcy.

It wasn’t possible.

I knew it. They knew it. And I agreed to do it anyway.

After countless long hours, including working both Christmas and New Years Day, we got it to the printer just minutes before our final drop-dead deadline, and broke the new campaign on the eve of the most important trade show in the company’s history. Three days later, they left with over $6 million in new sales — nearly 75% of the total sales for the entire year before.

It wasn’t enough. Within a few weeks, the bank cut off funding, and the company’s assets were liquidated in bankruptcy court.

It may not have been my best work, but I am more proud of that than anything else I’ve ever done in my career. Because I refused to accept that it couldn’t be done. And got it done anyway.

Now compare that with the sad state of our local transportation authorities. At a time when this city desperately needs bold leadership to solve its transportation problems, we get excuses and endless delays.

Consider our nascent rail system.

Metro has methodically focused on building just one or two lines at a time, making painfully slow progress on a railway that is decades away from touching the lives of most Angelenos, unless their starting and ending points just happens to be near one of the lines. And they don’t mind going through Downtown to make their connections.

The planned routes that might, someday, turn it into a viable transit system won’t break ground for years — and many, such as the long-promised Subway to the Sea — aren’t even scheduled to be completed in my lifetime. Unless I happen to live a very long damn time.

Contrast that with Denver, where city leaders had talked about the need for light rail for decades, yet it was constantly derailed by one seemingly insurmountable obstacle or another. Until local voters finally elected an administration determined to cut through the red tape and just get it done.

Instead of following L.A.’s example, they committed to building the entire system at once. The result is an integrated regional system that has been fully functional — and successful — virtually from day one. And yes, they actually encourage cyclists to take the trains.

Meanwhile, our own leaders are pushing, with no promise of success, for just three of the 14 scheduled L.A.-area projects to be moved forward a little.

Or take the pitiful, disjointed system of L.A. bikeways that don’t connect, don’t actually lead anywhere and are frequently in virtually unridable condition.

The problem, we’re told, is that the city’s built-out street system is already over-stressed. As LADOT Senior Bike Coordinator Michele Mowery was recently quoted in Bicycling Magazine, “What I need is roadway. Right now, all I can do is try to find places to squeeze bikes in.”

Yet New York City, home to one of the most congested, built-out road systems in the country, recently completed a 200 mile expansion of their bike lane system — increasing the system by nearly 50% in just three years.

The result has been equally impressive, with bike commuting up 45% since the project began — a nearly a 50% increase in ridership in just three years. And it will undoubtedly rise further now that the system is complete, reducing stress on the local traffic and transit systems while helping to improve the health of those new commuters.

The difference is civic leaders — from the mayor’s office down — who recognize the value of bicycles as a legitimate part of the overall transit system, and have the political will to overcome objections and just it done.

The same leadership that had the courage to convert one of the city’s busiest boulevards into a pedestrian walkway.

Yet even L.A.’s proposed Bike Master Plan fails to “squeeze bikes in,” since most bikeways that might actually make a difference are listed as “currently infeasible.” And the people charged with leading the change continue to offer implausible excuses, like telling council members that they can’t move forward with a sharrow test project because they’re worried about cyclists slipping on rain-soaked paint.

And yes, I actually heard them say that. Which makes me wonder just how many riders have been killed or crippled on Long Beach’s new sharrow green lane. Or maybe it just hasn’t rained there yet.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles has the most congested roadways in the nation. Yet we’re still waiting for our civic leaders to recognize that the city’s decades-long focus on increasing traffic capacity has failed miserably. And that maybe, just maybe, the real solution is offering people viable alternatives to getting behind the wheel.

Like biking, for instance. Or taking a train system than can actually get you where you want to go.

And for someone — anyone — with the courage to just step up and get it done.

………

Streetsblog interviews the LACBC. Will defuses a potentially violent situation, and proves he who honks last honks best. Today could be the day you get a ticket for riding through a crosswalk in Santa Monica. An Eastside writer asks if the Class 1 bike path in South Gate could be used to improve the quality of life for local residents. Cycle Chic looks haute on a Batavus Fryslân. No Whip rides the high altitude Alta Alpina Double Century. Texas cyclists vent their wrath on their veto-wielding governor. An experienced bicycle safety instructor is killed after inexplicably turning directly in front of an oncoming car. A Virginia judge laments the lack of civility between cyclists and drivers. Vancouver discovers their new bike bridge could actually turn a profit. San Francisco’s Mission District is about to get new bike lanes, as is Dar-es-Salaam — maybe they just have more road space than we do. Town Mouse discovers the value of a good tailwind. Finally, the Guardian asks if bikes and beer really mix.

One comment

  1. Ed Greenberg says:

    Most of what you say makes sense, but I will admit that I am also concerned about whether one can slip on the green paint.

    When riding a motorcycle, we’re taught that paint is slippery when wet, and you know what? It is! Of course, the motorcyclist is holding up a bike that weighs several hundred pounds.

    Still motorcycling habits come into bicycling, and I’m always cautious about riding on paint. I have no idea how the sharrow paint will work in the rain, both for bicyclists and for motorcycles and even cars.

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