Anti-urbanist writer insists LA sprawl prevents Covid-19, and cure your coronavirus blues with a simple bike ride

What a load of crap.

In a Sunday op-ed in the LA Times, longtime anti-urbanist Joel Kotkin insists once again that Angelenos love single-family sprawl.

And that spread of the coronavirus proves they’re right.

No, really.

Let’s ignore for now his bizarre belief that Los Angeles residents love living in far-flung communities — and the resulting hours long commutes that come with it, rather than being forced to move to distant suburbs in order to find somewhere, anywhere, they can actually afford to live.

It’s his equally strange insistence that LA’s relatively low rate of Covid-19 infections compared to New York that proves sprawl is better that density.

For nearly a century, Los Angeles’ urban form has infuriated urbanists who prefer a more concentrated model built around a single central core.

Yet, in the COVID-19 pandemic, our much-maligned dispersed urban pattern has proven a major asset. Los Angeles and its surrounding suburbs have had a considerable number of cases, but overall this highly diverse, globally engaged region has managed to keep rates of infection well below that of dense, transit-dependent New York City.

As of April 24, Los Angeles County, with nearly 2 million more residents than the five boroughs, had 850 coronavirus-related deaths compared with 16,646 in New York City.

I’d say someone should remind him that correlation does not equal causation, but that would destroy his entire argument.

In Kotkin’s blindered view of the world, the virus spread rapidly through New York merely because people live close to each other and share transit systems.

And was slowed in its deadly progression through the City of Angels because we hide out in our hermetically sealed SUVs on the way to our single-family homes in socially distant communities.

Never mind that Los Angeles shut down at the first reports of Covid-19 infections and deaths, followed quickly by California, while New York waited until the virus was already widespread within the city and neighboring New Jersey.

He also conveniently ignores the fact that parts of Los Angeles are among the densest communities in the US — and by some reports, the densest. And that over half of LA residents are renters, most of those in multi-family buildings.

For his argument to bear any validity, the virus would have to tear through denser neighborhoods like Maywood, Huntington Park and West Hollywood, while sparing less dense areas in the San Fernando, San Gabriel and Antelope Valleys.

Not so much.

As this chart from the LA Times shows, the coronavirus is well dispersed throughout LA County, in dense areas as well as the sprawling single-family communities Kotkin seems to think are virus proof.

The only way to accurately determine what effect density has on the spread of the virus will be to wait until it’s over, and perform epidemiology studies to look at just how and where it spread.

Because it’s entirely possible that an area with lower population density could show a significantly higher rate of infection per capita than an area with two or three times the population.

And let’s not forget the role that redlining and racial convents have played in how LA’s communities formed, and the relative wealth and health of their residents.

Kotkin concludes by simultaneously making, and refuting, his own argument that people prefer sprawl.

At the same time, most Californians seem less than eager to abandon their single-family homes for the pleasures of what some call “elegant density.” Even before the pandemic, they were voting with their feet for less density and lower costs. Even as L.A. County’s population has started to decline, over 87% of all the growth in the region in this decade took place on the periphery where single-family homes and spacious apartments are still remotely affordable.

State policy, urban planners and pundits may decry this trend, but after a pandemic, dispersion may well seem a safer bet than densification. It turns out Californians are already headed in that direction.

Exactly.

Angelenos continue to move to far-flung neighborhoods, often against their own wishes, because those are the only places they can afford to live.

And no, over-reliance on cars didn’t save us, either.

Because it only takes a quick glance at those underserved communities to see the virus didn’t get there by transit.

I could go on. And on.

But Grist already dismantled Kotkin’s flimsy arguments in favor of sprawl six years ago.

Besides, the best argument against Kotkin’s love of sprawl is to just go outside and take a deep breath.

And let what has recently turned into the cleanest air of any major city remind you what life could be like without hundreds of thousands of people driving into the city every morning.

It’s just tragic that so many people had to die to get us there.

Photo by Josh Kur from Pexels.

………

Sadly, a poorly framed article from the Los Angeles Times repeats many of the same misguided arguments about density being responsible for spreading the coronavirus.

Even though they refute it themselves.

At the same time, there’s lots of evidence that shows density isn’t destiny.

Highly populated cities in Asia, including Seoul, Tokyo and Hong Kong, have seen a fraction of New York’s cases. The same is true for America’s next densest big city, San Francisco, which issued a shelter-in-place order nearly a week before the East Coast metropolis. As of Saturday, the Bay Area city had reported only about 1,300 confirmed cases — compared with more than 8,450 in the city of Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, they insist on following the lead of too much of the American press by presenting unsupported arguments on equal footing with demonstrable evidence to the contrary.

Because opinions aren’t facts.

No matter who has them, or how loudly they express them.

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On the other hand, Times columnist Robin Abcarian gets it.

After what she describes as weeks of “major mood swings and a bizarre feeling of dislocation,” she found a simple solution.

She got together with her ten-year old niece, and went for a bike ride.

At this weird moment in history, with an invisible virus making life hell for so many, I daresay that getting outside and communing with nature, where it can be done safely in a socially distanced way, is one of the best ways to regain a sense of well-being and optimism.

I defy you to wander around the wetlands, or get up close to a colony of frisky sea lions, and not be thrilled to be alive.

………

I think we can all relate to this one.

https://twitter.com/chrisfroome/status/1253702076120563721?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

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The Global Cycling Network builds a tall bike.

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Local

Streetsblog’s Joe Linton says LA city officials are slow walking requests to open up streets for pedestrians and bike riders to provide space to exercise while social distancing, as other cities around the world have done.

Pasadena is taking a half-step towards giving people more space on the streets, posting signs warning drivers that bike riders and pedestrians could be using them in hope that might encourage them to take their foot off the gas pedal. Okay, make that just a quarter-step.

A planning website interviews Santa Monica’s former bike-friendly city manager, suggesting Rick Cole’s resignation under pressure could be a warning for other cities dealing with heavy financial loses due to Covid-19.

The Long Beach bikeshare service has shut down during the coronavirus crisis, turning their attention to private’s rentals and bike repair instead.

Ryan Phillippe is one of us, going for a ride though Brentwood with his 16-year old son.

 

State

This year’s AIDS/LifeCycle ride has been cancelled, but fundraising to fight HIV/AIDS and support HIV+ people goes on.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports Bill Walton’s virtual group ride Bike for Humanity raised $100,000 from over 1,500 participants around the world.

Berkeley embraced slow streets decades ago, even without a pandemic to force their hand.

They get it. A Lodi newspaper calls bicycling an ideal way to get some exercise and get around town during the coronavirus shutdown.

 

National

Writing for the Atlantic, Traffic author Tom Vanderbilt says the pandemic has finally shown people the damage cars have done to our cities, and the road space they’ve commandeered.

A Nevada woman learns that riding a mountain bike again really is just like riding a bike.

A Lawrence, Kansas bike shop is reclaiming bikes dumped in a landfill by the city’s bikeshare provider, and giving them to people in need.

Last week we shared video of a St. Louis bike rider getting run down by a hit-and-run driver. Now it turns out that what the police described as minor injuries actually were cracked ribs, a punctured lung and a broken vertebrae.

Chicago Streetsblog calls the late Effective Cycling author John Forrester a worthy adversary.

Bicycling and walking continue to boom in Minneapolis.

Indiana University’s famed Little 500 has been cancelled, costing the women’s ROTC team their first chance to compete; the race was the inspiration for Breaking Away.

A book store in New York’s East Village is staying afloat during the lockdown by delivering books to customers by bike.

So much for supporting essential workers. A roving band of armed bandits are targeting bicycle delivery riders in Upper Manhattan, pushing them off their ebikes before riding off on them.

 

International

Seriously? A writer for Cycling News says riding with earphones is pointless and selfish during the lockdown, and any other time. In California, it’s legal to ride with one earphone in your ear, but not both; it’s also smart to keep the volume down to a level that allows you to hear people and traffic around you. But it would be nice if drivers were required to keep their volume down so they can hear, too. 

People around the world are getting on their bikes and trainers to raise funds to fight Covid-19.

I like him already. The councilman who got the most votes in the Dominican Republic’s latest election arrived for his inauguration on a bicycle, his preferred form of transportation for the past several years.

Bike repair is booming in Saskatoon as people turn to “the only activity left,” but the Saskatchewan city isn’t providing more road space for riders and walkers.

She gets it. A writer for London’s Independent newspaper says bicycling is booming during the coronavirus crisis, and we need to keep it that way.

British experts say bike riders are getting a bad rap, and someone on a bike is no more likely to spread coronavirus than someone taking a leisurely walk.

Sad news from Great Britain, where bicycling fatalities are running twice as high as normal for this time of year, despite the country’s coronavirus lockdown; 14 riders have lost their lives, along with another in Northern Ireland.

Welsh bicyclists are limited to riding within a “reasonable walking distance” of their home under the country’s lockdown rules, whatever that means. That can vary from a few blocks to several miles, depending on who’s doing the walking. And the question is whether the same rules apply to people in motor vehicles, or if they’re singling out transportation riders.

A Scottish advocacy group calls for more space on the streets for people biking and walking to maintain the gains seen during the coronavirus shutdown.

If you’re tired of sitting around waiting for the US to reopen, consider moving to the UK, which has a critical need for people capable of putting bikes together to clear up a 20,000 bike backlog.

A Dublin newspaper looks at the worst places to ride a bike in Ireland.

Bikes are making a comeback as Europe prepares to reopen and people look for an alternative to mass transit.

Milan plans to rebound from the coronavirus shutdown by permanently reallocating 22 miles of streets for biking and walking.

Covid-19 forced an Italian couple to cut short their six-year bike ride around the world, after crossing the Himalayas and Australian Outback.

A ten-year old Indian girl is supporting her family by pedaling around her Uttar Pradesh city peddling the face masks they’re making.

Sad news from Iran, where a 17-year old member of the country’s national cycling team was killed in a collision.

A bighearted former teacher is volunteering to deliver medications by bicycle to HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis patients in Eastern Uganda.

A Korean company is investing $8 million to provide up to 4,000 ebikes in Thailand, along with solar-powered charging stations.

Conde Nast Traveler talks with Kiwi TV producer Jemaine Clement, who’d rather do his traveling by bicycle.

 

Competitive Cycling

Cycling Weekly looks back at the career of Britain’s Madam Gray, who the credit with being the godmother of women’s cycling, helping the sport become what it is today.

 

Finally…

Nothing like getting knocked off your bike — and ticketed in the ER for violating the quarantine. How to ride RAAM without actually going anywhere.

And now you, too, can own your very own steel-framed roadie used by five-time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain, for the low, low price of just under 60 grand.

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Be safe, and stay healthy. And wear a mask, already. 

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