Los Angeles has Cancer

and driving less isn’t going to cure it

What they tell you about Los Angeles is that it’s a city for cars. They’ll tell you you can’t live here without one, and that being in one can be frustrating. They’ll tell you about bad drivers and parking problems and about how the meter maid has a stick up his ass. But none of that matters, because those things aren’t problems—they’re just annoying.

See, driving is like smoking. It’s fun in the beginning. If it’s not pleasant, it’s at least exciting. Maybe it gives you a little bit of a rush, but as time wears on, it becomes routine. That routine can get pretty annoying, but nobody ever stopped smoking because it was annoying; People stop smoking because they don’t want cancer. Well guess what:

Los Angeles has cancer.

Our experiences driving cars in this city are, for the most part, fleeting. We drive somewhere, we get out of the car, we close the door, and we walk away. But to think that we can escape the world that cars have created as easily as we escape the car itself is foolish. In fact, when we leave our cars, we walk into that world. We have to live in that putrid mess.

I’ve heard enough about traffic. I don’t care. People only complain about traffic because they don’t have the balls to talk about the real issue, which is that car culture is leeching away their quality of life, and there’s nothing they can do about it. We’ve spent more than enough time at this point talking about how being in a car is annoying. Los Angeles has cancer. Let’s talk about that.

Let’s talk about how Los Angeles is a city where construction projects can fence off whole blocks, including the sidewalks, without offering people on foot an alternative. Let’s talk about how when that happens, no one even considers converting one of the two car lanes into a temporary sidewalk, because dear god, that might cause slight inconvenience to people in cars. And let’s talk about how ironic it is that inconveniencing people in cars is the end of the world, but doing the same to people on foot is a non-issue. Then let’s talk about how when frustrated walkers decide to use the car lane rather than take the ridiculous detour, the city’s totally acceptable solution to that problem is not to concede space to those people, but rather to bolt permanent, metal signs into the middle of the sidewalk to keep them from doing so. That is cancer.

Let’s talk about how Los Angeles is a city where a new bridge is deemed ready to open the moment it can handle car traffic, and how our traffic engineers think painting the road with an image of a person on a bike should be considered safe, even on a one-lane bridge with a completely blind corner that handles so much car traffic that the stencil is worn off after less than 6 months. That is cancer.

Let’s talk about how in Los Angeles, the interests of the film industry are enough to sway the city counsel into making us the first city in the entire country to ever unpaint a green bike lane, despite its significant and measurably positive impact on safety. That is cancer.

Let’s talk about how in Los Angeles, people will back their pickup trucks into a parking space for a bike, totally destroying it, and drive off without so much as an apology. That is cancer.

Let’s talk about how in Los Angeles, it’s not unusual when a friend calls me feeling anxious about starting a new job, not because of the job itself, but because she’s worried about the impact the commute is going to have on her quality of life. That is cancer.

And most importantly, let’s talk about how when it’s 80 damn degrees in the middle of winter and I suggest going for a bike ride, the idea flops because no one can think of a place that’s safe enough to do so. Cancer.

Over the last several years we’ve made a lot of progress toward getting people out of their cars, and we’re proud of it. We should be. Changing long-standing habits isn’t easy. But just like quitting smoking, driving less alone won’t cure our cancer. Fixing the world for people outside of cars will.

Stephen Corwin is a web developer, musician, writer, and urban enthusiast based in Downtown Los Angeles. He is a founder of Compiler LA, a company working to help make Los Angeles a better place through tech. Send him an email at me@stephencorwin.com, or follow him on Twitter: @stephen_corwin