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LA.Streetsblog: The Joy of Poor Circulation

12:18 PM EDT on May 30, 2007


Every week, KCRW radio's Marc Porter Zasada sets out to fathom Los Angeles on his show The Urban Man. This week he talks about neighborhoods, how fragile they are and how easily they can be lost to bad traffic engineering:

OnMonday you walked around the block for coffee and croissants, downwhere narrow streets filled pleasantly with a confusion of people andcars. There you idled in front of a flower shop and popped into a tinymarket for apples, where you joked with the beautiful cashier.

Thenlo, Tuesday morning you step out your door and find that someone haswidened the street and added an on-ramp. At the end of the block, anOffice Depot looms. Just like that, romance flees. Soon you're drivingto Costco for apples and croissants. Soon, you forget the beautifulcashier.

What happened? Someone saw the confusion of people and cars, and decided to improve your life with better traffic circulation. Yourlittle local fling was sacrificed to that greatest of all affairs--theautomobile. Your city squeeze was embraced by the great, gray sprawl ofparking lots and Taco Bells.

The Urban Man goes
on to claim that the best parts of Los Angeles are the neighborhoods
where "traffic circulation" is lousiest. Well-meaning people rarely
understand this. But if you look closely, the market understands this
perfectly. The
most inconvenient neighborhoods for driving have the highest property
values; Beverly Hills, San Marino, Brentwood, the Palisades.

Urbanists have known for decades that the increased traffic speed of one-way streets makes walking less appealing.And they know that whenever circulation improves, people shop further,work further, and slowly abandon the love of neighborhood. These roadswould cease being "neighborhood main streets." Most importantly, as thecity spreads and thins, traffic ultimately gets...worse.

Back in 1961, the great urbanist Jane Jacobs wrote a book called The Death and Life of Great American Cities,which explained all this very clearly. And yes, across America, a fewenlightened cities have stopped building expressways and have turnedback to two-way traffic. They've learned to let congestion do itsjoyful work.

Maybe if everypolitician were forced to read Jacobs' book, their eyes would beopened. Maybe they'd see that a neighborhood with poor circulation is aneighborhood with hope--not to mention a place that might someday votefor subway bonds.

This morning the Urban Man strolls Piconear Robertson. This is my own little hood, where despite the immensewealth surrounding the boulevard, flower shops and cafes struggle. Like the politicians, I'm not sure they realize that improving circulation would make their situation worse, not better.

Personally,I'm thrilled to see drivers waiting in growing frustration for lefthand turns. In fact, I'd like to propose making this area much moredifficult to navigate in an automobile. Today, the Urban Man would liketo formally propose narrowing Pico to one lane in each direction, thenrunning a trolley right down the middle, from Downtown to the sea. Justimagine the complications. In fact, such a move might improve not justmy neighborhood, but encourage many happy affairs in what could somedaybe a great city for people instead of cars.

Photo: FireMonkeyFish/Flickr

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