PSFK Conference: Point A To B

Posted on: September 21, 2007

I attended PSFK’s Conference last Tues. 9/18 (my first) and enjoyed soaking up all of the new (and not so new) ideas, thoughts, and questions that came up in the discussion.

This panel talked about the issue of transportation in L.A. I’d heard that driving in L.A. is horrible, so this was interesting to hear about people who’ve given up their cars and how they navigate around town. Here’re my notes and thoughts.

Roberto Espinosa & Michael Powers of Refreshment, led the discussion. Siel of the blog greenLAgirl. Frederick Dennstedt, designer and creator of blog MetroRider LA. Kymberleigh Richards of the San Fernando Valley Transit Insider.

This was a fairly energetic discussion, which almost got a bit heated at times (much like I’m sure those cars on the PCH get sitting in traffic). Car-lessness is doable. Siel has been without for the last 6 months, Fred 3 yrs, and Kymberleigh for 15 yrs. Impressive.

On being car-less and the “car culture” of L.A.:
Siel: lives in Santa Monica where the bus system is great. Navigates using this, in addition to biking it, walking, and using Flexcar. Her choice (like everyone else) to go car-less, requires adjustments, such as planning ahead and making sure you have enough time to get to Point B from Point A.
Kymberleigh: Notes that the Metro ridership increases when its service is extended. (I saw an article on L.A. public transportation in the airplane magazine and saw it only goes so far. Not sure of their future plans, but hopefully in 10 yrs, this will be greatly extended to all areas of L.A.) Sees the main challenge (with Fred agreeing) is to change people’s mindset – getting them to take the Metro is difficult.
Fred: His blog aims to promote what he calls “The Los Angeles Public Transit Lifestyle”. Strongly believes you can survive without a car and was pushed to go car-less after becoming fed up with the hassles of car ownership, sitting in traffic, gas trips, etc. He and Kymberleigh talked about the “car culture” madness. Kymberleigh says that people (drivers) are adamant in their demands for being able to drive, and they don’t want to give up ‘their’ lanes (for buses), and their right to be there. (I sometimes get annoyed with the buses in downtown Minneapolis, but as it’s a much smaller place, I rarely notice the space the buses take up. How haughty some of these “car culture” people sound…)
Fred: Believes society prejudices are a huge barrier in getting people to use public transportation more often. He stressed the many upsides of going car-less: the gain in freedom, save $, a renewed sense of freedom to explore your city, and last but certainly not least, learning to relax.

Having lived in the suburbs for the past 26 yrs, and having used public transportation for various Minneapolis jobs, I’ve learned to really appreciate the bus (and lightrail). Coming from the suburbs (going directly downtown), you don’t ride with ‘city’ people. It’s mostly white, middle-class professionals. People who come in from the suburbs are probably very appreciative that they can take the bus, read, relax, and save gas money. Minneapolis isn’t as large as L.A., Chicago, or NY, but if it were, I doubt there would be this “car culture” that permeates L.A. I understand how some people may snub their noses at the bus/train rider. They may wonder why they can’t afford to drive, or if they’re coming in from poorer areas.

Which gets me thinking about mass public transportation and how it brings people together and mashes them up. Apparently, ‘the more the merrier’ isn’t a good thing for the Car Culture of L.A. Public transportation could bring in ‘undesirables’ I suppose, but would these people really want to shop Rodeo Drive? Would they be eating at Mr.Chow? Doubt it. It’s not fair to exclude people from access. Everyone should have a right to explore and utilize resources. NYC, though not as spread out and possibly better suited for the subway, sees a plethora of the masses come in and out every day. The mashing of diversity, lifestyles, flavors, and culture is what makes this city buzz and grow. Cutting people off from these possibilities is stupid for any city that wants to stand out as a great place to live, think, and play.

On the future of transportation:
Kymberleigh: Part of the reason why the Metro doesn’t go further is due to the discovery of a methane pocket underground. There is a possibility that expansion will happen, but this depends on a certain bill (if I remember correctly) passing.
Margaret Kemp: Representing Flexcar. Car-sharing service. Last yr they had 40 cars, this year 160ish. Says it’s interesting that people are opening up to the idea of car-sharing. This month they’ve seen 350 new members join. How it works in a nutshell: you rent at any time increment, you do no maintenance on the car, pick it up at location nearest you, return it to where you got it. Fee covers gas, insurance, and 150 free miles. 1/3 of their cars are hybrids. (A great way to use alternative transportation, promotes using local grocers/stores, etc.)


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