For this week's Orange Feathers, we took on the recent, much-ballyhooed debut of new traffic lanes on the 91 near the 15 Freeway in Riverside. Asked for an author's statement, longtime OC Weekly artist Bob Aul instead penned a manifesto that any Brave New Urbanist should read instead of Richard Florida. Take it away, Bob!
Along with the VW, Hitler invented the freeway. Just as they took another Hitler concept—the ICBM—and ran with it, Americans seized and styled upon the Autobahn and within a decade of his defeat had scraped scads of freeways into the country’s urban centers. Tidy little Utopian feat were it not that decades of rampant growth lay ahead in most places. What urban planners at the time must have thrown their shoulders out proudly patting themselves on the back in accomplishing became as painfully outdated as that stretch of the 110 through South Pasadena where you gotta go 0-60 in 50 feet. The 91 in Riverside or Corona, the I-5 in Downey, the Fill-In-The-Blank in Your Name Here…they’re all inadequate, and shall continue to be be forever and ever, amen. As soon as you build the extra lane, someone has already shoveled half a million new housing developments into the area, to be occupied by 372.35 times that number of people (who need to be serviced in turn by the consumer centers already factored into the housing developments).
An old dude sorta condescendingly explained to me years ago that freeways were the only thing that made sense in an area as spread out as LA/OC. The scientific part of my brain registered understanding on a number of levels at that statement. But I think he and his engineer buddies were really just self-congratulatory automobile fetishists harboring great wood in their retirements for systems that look swell on paper but rarely ever function as intended. Yes, it’s gratifying to hop on the 101 at DTLA at 1am and be back home in Tustin a mere 40 minutes later, but the everyday reality of it is almost never so neat. The stress on mind, body and car, the waste of time and fuel just sitting there idling, the pollution in any case, the burden of vehicle maintenance, auto insurance costs, the risk of collisions and fatalities, perpetual noise, aggression, etc., all sloughed off onto the individual (all 6.4 million of us) by transportation agencies doggedly invested in a 70-year-old ideal and too mired in politics to actually give a shit about the people they are entrusted to get safely from point A to B. Folks, next time you relate the word “optimism” with an exclusively positive connotation, just remember that the guys back then who sold us on the freeways you’re stuck on now were absolutely bursting with it.
Meanwhile population density skyrockets as the extensive light rail systems that already blanketed the Southland by the time they were ripped out in the 1950s are being reintroduced at a snail’s pace and in such a limited fashion that they really don’t serve much of the public at all. High-rise apartment blocks are shooting up everywhere, the streets and freeways are more congested and parking is at an increasing premium. The old dude may have been right at that point in time 20 years ago but obviously failed to include the future in his calculations.
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