Tag Archive for Joel Kotkin

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.

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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.

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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. 

Morning Links: OC Register writer shows ignorance on road diets, and a look at ghost bikes and bicycle safety

This is the final day of our first-ever May BikinginLA LACBC Membership Drive. And your last chance to get some great bike swag when you sign up or renew your membership with the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.

We’re up to 29 members who’ve signed up as part of the drive. So we just need two more to make it one a day for the month of May, with 31 members by the end of the month. Or better yet, get your entire riding club to sign up today to help make our original goal of 100 new members by the end of this month.

So don’t wait. Join or renew now to help make this a more livable, bikeable city and county.

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Let’s keep things short today — relatively, anyway — to kick off the week after a far too busy three day weekend. We’ll get back to our regular link-filled format tomorrow.

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This is what happens when someone doesn’t have a clue what he’s writing about.

But doesn’t let that stop him.

Fifty-two years after Bob Dylan warned “don’t criticize what you don’t understand,” indignorant Orange County Register columnist Joel Kotkin attempts to create a public panic over road diets, without apparently bothering to understand what they are or how they’re used.

Kotkin warns that Governor Brown has a secret plan to reduce greenhouse gases by making traffic congestion so bad that it will force Californians out of their cars. And into a “high-density, transit-oriented future.”

And the tool to accomplish this “Soviet-style social engineering?”

Road diets.

That’s right, comrades. He’s onto us.

Never mind that road diets have absolutely nothing to do with reducing global warming or getting people to leave their supposedly non-polluting electric cars at home. (Note to Joel Kotkin: Electric cars cause pollution, too. That power has to come from somewhere, like coal and gas-fueled power plants in most cases.)

Despite his extremely off-base protestations, road diets are performed on streets with excess capacity in order to reduce speeding and improve safety. And in many, if not most cases, can actually improve traffic flow, while making the street safer for bicyclists, pedestrians and, yes, motorists. They can even increase property values by improving livability along the street.

In other words, everyone benefits. Even the bourgeois capitalists in their motor vehicles.

Making matters worse, Kotkin apparently thinks the state’s plan to encourage road diets will a) prevent the widening of freeways, and b) actually be used to narrow said freeways. Although it’s hard to tell with his jumbled, nearly incoherent mixing and mangling of unrelated subject matters.

So just to clarify, road diets are used on surface streets. Period.

They have absolutely nothing to do with freeway projects, nor do they in any way increase freeway congestion. Although they may reduce congestion in the surrounding area by providing people with viable alternatives to driving.

All of which he could have discovered with a simple 30-second Google search.

If he cared enough to actually understand what the hell he’s talking about.

Thanks to Mike Wilkerson for the heads-up.

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Mike also forwards this piece about Southern California Ghost Bikes founder Danny Gamboa.

It tells the story of how Gamboa, a photographer and filmmaker, became involved in the ghost bike movement when his neighbor’s six-year old son was killed while riding his bike.

And how the purpose of the bikes is to call attention to the need to ride safely, and drive carefully around bike riders.

Vincent Chang, who started Bike San Gabriel Valley, remembers two ghost bikes he helped place in Pasadena.

“It’s to honor the individual who passed,” Chang said. “Also, there’s hope that it brings to light the need for safety improvements. They act as a reminder to vehicles that we have to share the road.”

Gamboa’s been asked if he has a morbid fixation. It’s a question he quickly shrugs off.

“Our goal is to be put out of business so we don’t ever have to do this again,” he answered.

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The author of that story, Steve Scauzillo of the Los Angeles News Group, also wrote a piece about bicycling fatalities in Southern California, in which he quoted me extensively, along with Danny Gamboa and the LACBC’s Colin Bogart.

And got it right.

Despite the scary headline, he offers a fair and balanced piece, making it clear that while too many people die on our streets, the rate of bicycling deaths is actually going down as ridership goes up.

And that the odds of returning safely from a ride are overwhelmingly in your favor.

It’s worth noting that Scauzillo, a bike rider himself, spent over an hour on the phone with me to get the story straight. Unlike, say, his colleague above.

I spend a lot of time talking with reporters about bicycling and bike safety, on and off the record. And it’s nice when a reporter goes to the effort to make sure he quotes me accurately and in context.

So whether or not you like what I said, I said it. And meant it.

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Hopefully it’s not a spoiler at this point. But if you still have the last few stages of the Giro or the Nats on your DVR, skip this section.

Still here?

It was a big upset in Friday’s stage 19, as Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali won the stage — and eventually, the tour itself — after Dutch rider Steven Kruijswijk, who seemed to have an insurmountable lead, hit a snow bank and wiped out in spectacular fashion.

Back on our shores, the US National road title was taken by virtually unknown 21-year old Greg Daniel. Megan Guarnier cemented her position as America’s leading women’s roadie by winning her second US road championship, and her third in five years.

And Taylor Phinney completed a nearly impossible comeback from a devastating crash caused by a race moto in the 2014 road championships by winning his second national crit title; doctors weren’t sure he would ever walk again, let alone ride a bike. Carmen Small won the women’s title.

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Sad news from Spain, as former pro David Cañada died after colliding with another rider in a sportiv, just six years after retiring from racing.

And race motos cause yet another massive crash, as two lead motorcycles collided in a Belgium race, causing dozens of riders to go down and leading to the cancellation of the stage. At last report, Belgian rider Stig Broeckx was still in a coma after suffering a skull fracture in the crash; it was Broeckx’ second wreck involving a race moto just this year.

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Over the weekend, my wife and I happened to stumble on another new bicycle-themed coffee shop when we stopped to check out a restaurant in West Hollywood.

The Black Bicycle Café opened two months ago on Havenhurst Drive and Santa Monica Blvd; the name comes from the idea that just like bicycles get you where you’re going, coffee fuels you to your destination.

Black Bicycle Cafe

Black Bicycle Cafe Interior

And they make a pretty good cup of joe.

Tell ‘em I said hi if you stop by.

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Finally…

Your next bike could be a blimp, if they can actually get it off the ground. Or maybe a lawnmower.

And it’s bad enough when a kangaroo knocks you off your bike; worse when it ruptures both your breast implants.

 

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