Response to a Bad Article about the Miracle Mile

This is a letter to the editor I wrote to the LA Weekly. They probably won’t run it, so here it goes:

To the editors,

I believe Ms. Swann’s article from Dec 2, “Developers are Winning Miracle Mile’s Density Battle — and Screwing over Residents,” could have used another side to it. Not the one that was presented, some Metro employees (which doesn’t even make sense, if developers are winning, shouldn’t Ms. Swann be talking to developers?), but rather those of us who live in the neighborhood, or in Los Angeles at large, who do not own a car, or who do but wish for a safer city with more options for transportation. Because the only residents she seemed to talk to, and whose opinions she seemed to claim for the neighborhood at large, were members of the Miracle Mile Residential Association and/or Fix the City, groups that oppose increased density and multi-modal infrastructure in central LA. And hey, that’s their right, good for them, but it does a disservice to LA Weekly readers to see just their thoughts and opinions on the page — especially since they seem to misunderstand, or are ignorant of a few crucial things.

First, why is Miracle Mile being talked about in the first place? Well, because we as a county voted on Measure R back in 2008 to increase spending on transportation. This created funding for mainly automobile and transit projects. One of those projects was, of course, the Purple Line extension to the Westside. I think it’s important, in the context of this article of Ms. Swann’s that that decision wasn’t made in a vacuum. The Wilshire corridor has been dense for a very long time now, and that’s just how it is. Like it or not, Wilshire is simply denser with housing and jobs — for a longer stretch — than any other major L.A. arterial. In addition to density along its length, Wilshire connects downtown with job centers in Koreatown, the Miracle Mile, Century City, Westwood and UCLA (UCLA alone has 56,000 student and staff who commute to campus (2012 State of the Commute report), and the Westside and Santa Monica. It is, along with Santa Monica Blvd, one of the main arteries of Los Angeles’ urban heart, as shown by a USC Geographic Information Science and Technology master’s thesis by Samuel Krueger. The 720 bus on Wilshire is the most popular bus in Metro’s fleet, with an average weekday ridership of 39,255 for 2015 (with an additional 16,000 average daily riders on its local version, the 20) (Metro Ridership). For the Miracle Mile in particular, the cultural destinations that make it popular have been around long before the Purple Line extension was recently planned and funded — LACMA moved in in 1965, The Page Museum in 1977, and the Petersen Museum in 1994. In short urban planners didn’t dictate the path and stations of the Purple Line extension, common sense did.

We, as LA County residents, chose to make a big investment in our transportation network. Lines are being built. From a land use perspective, our duty is to now maximize our investment in these decisions — otherwise we will have wasted money and not solved any of our problems, and in fact most likely exacerbated them. It’s said that transportation has to deal with all the bad decisions we’ve made in all the other realms of our cities. It’s true — for example, if housing is unaffordable because we restrict development or for whatever other reason, so people have to move away and commute in to their jobs, we then have to deal with the ramifications of that on our streets. It’s been shown time and time again, that combining dedicated transit lines with housing that people can afford makes sense. It’s also been shown that massive amounts of parking next to transit lines in dense areas lessen their effectiveness, because why wouldn’t it? If you can easily drive and park somewhere, why would you take the train? When the people interviewed for this article talk about a lack of parking at the future Purple Line stations being a problem, it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes a transit system work.

And that’s understandable, because for a lot of folks who drive all the time, it’s hard, if not impossible to imagine life for those of us who do not own a car. In fact, Mr. O’Sullivan, quoted in the article, himself was quoted earlier this year about the “luxury” of taking the bus — which is either really good sarcasm, or shows he hasn’t been on a bus anytime recently. See all we, and I would also venture a large portion of people who drive all the time as well, want when it comes to transportation are the best, safest, and quickest ways to get someplace for the least amount of money. Makes sense, right? The big problem for us who don’t own cars specifically, is that for decades, the country of course, but especially the city of Los Angeles subsidized driving and built its streets and mandated its buildings in such a way that was for people driving. This has created an unbalanced transportation network. One where, for example, there are multiple ways to get to my house in central LA to oh, let’s say Westwood: Sunset, Santa Monica, Wilshire, Olympic, Pico for example, but exactly zero ways to get there safely on a bike. Or one where a bus full to the brim, for some reason, has to be stuck in traffic along with people driving their own cars. We never made, as a city, a clear trade off when it comes to our transportation. It should be, “Hey, you can drive by yourself if you want, and you might have to deal with traffic. But, if you want to avoid traffic, we can give you reliable times on transit because our buses and trains have dedicated lanes and are therefore impervious to traffic, or you can bike or walk and it’ll be safe.” That deal would make sense to people and would create meaningful choice in our transportation network.

So the situation we have now is unbalanced, but it is also untenable and unjust. By Ms. Swann’s own calculation 67% of commuters drive to work. Forgetting, for a moment, that people move around the city for reasons other than work, for example to go to, you know, a museum like LACMA, that means that there are 33% of commuters not driving to work. Since she doesn’t say if she’s talking about the city of LA, LA County, or the Southern California Region, let’s just assume the city of LA. That would translate to roughly 1,254,000 people (out of 3.8 million for the city). So, with whatever numbers she’s using, for whatever area, we’re talking about a very large constituency not being taken care of by their local governments right now. These are Angelenos biking, walking, and taking transit who deserve the same rights to safety and efficiency that we’ve taken for granted for providing for people driving. Furthermore, we are not little independent tribes — Angelenos get around in a myriad of ways, they deserve to have the best and safest options whichever way they choose to get around.

People have a right to be angry, especially with the city for using budget gimmicks like the ones described. Unfortunately, conflating the city’s budget process with Metro’s construction decisions doesn’t make any sense, for the simple fact that Metro is not the city. I’d be angry too if something I had for free was suddenly taken away — even if I didn’t have a real claim as to why it should be free in the first place.

Yes, it’s easy for me to talk when I don’t live a block from Wilshire. But, newsflash, as mentioned earlier, Wilshire has had towers for a while now. It has been a central spine for LA for a while now. It has had regional cultural attractions for a while now. It would be great if someone could say “The hell with it, I’m moving a mile away from Wilshire” — but they can’t because there’s nowhere to move to because there’s not enough housing and it’s too expensive. So we need new housing, but if it can’t be built in a smart way on transit, then it’ll just happen wherever, making traffic more of a mess. When the only people interviewed for this story are people who are avowedly against the kind of decisions that would pay back our investments in transportation, and help create needed housing, and when they are folks who drive all the time, and are a particularly well-funded and vocal group, it creates a story that is basically just a bunch of people saying whatever they want, which isn’t journalism, it’s just the 2016 GOP presidential primary.

Thank you,

Mehmet Berker