Lessons from L.A.: A Rush Hour Drive with a City Planner
Streetfilms Nicholas Whitaker took a back seat, rush hour ride with City Planner Deborah Murphy through the streets of Los Angeles. Murphy pointed out some of the difficulties one encounters in L.A. as a pedestrian advocate, commuter, and champion for change.
Murphy: "...people say, Yeah I care about the sidewalks and all of that kind of stuff, but they're not down at City Hall beating on the door and doing all the campaigning you would hope there to be."
Deborah Murphy: [00:02] I am an urban designer and a planner hyphen chef, cos it’s important for everybody to have a hyphenated profession. I focus on streets in my urban design and planning work. I do a lot of work for cities where we try to think about how to make streets for people, not just streets for cars.
Nick Whitaker: [00:26] So what are the main challenges that you face out here as trying to be an advocate for change?
Deborah Murphy: [00:30] Change in and of itself, particularly with traffic engineers who have decided that if they allow for change to happen, they’re admitting that they made a mistake in the past. And that’s a really sad statement. So I always give the example like with planners when we look at land use, well we did certain things back in the 1940’s and ‘50’s and we recognise that some of those segregated land uses weren’t really good things, so we now decided that it’s good to do mixed use and that we need people to live close to where they work and all that good stuff. So we’ve done change and we’ve admitted that what we knew then is not what we know now, so we’re okay. But traffic engineers have decided that admitting they were wrong is not a good thing. We’re not asking them to say they’re wrong, let’s… just that there’s a new paradigm and that we should be addressing that. Los Angeles is different than many of the other cities where there’s a lot of people who are dedicated to just walking for almost all of their activities. In Los Angeles people might be a walker, but they’re also a driver or cyclist or something else. People say yeah, I care about the sidewalks and all of that kind of stuff, but they’re not down at City Hall beating on the door and doing all the campaigning like you would hope there to be, cos they’re busy driving somewhere else or, you know, doing something. So that’s been probably one of my bigger challenges. Or with the council people who also say they care about this issue but no, it’s not at the top of anyone’s list.
Nick Whitaker: [01:55] So is it just about getting people out of their cars?
Deborah Murphy: [01:58] Getting people out of their cars for some part of their trips during the week or their errands and things like that, so that, you know, why use a gallon of gas to buy a pound of bread kind of philosophy. And why sit in a, you know, backed up situation like this when if you lived a couple of blocks from here you could be walking out to Fountain and get to the supermarket and do your errands instead of getting in the car and having another parking space. I think that parking is another major concern. If we’re all driving places, we need seven places to park our car at work, at home, at the grocery store, at the movie theatre and all this stuff. We give up so much land for the car, not just the street, but we give up so much of our private land to cars.
Nick Whitaker: [02:41] So do you drive a lot?
Deborah Murphy: [02:43] I don’t. I’ve had this car for five years and I don’t even have 36,000 miles on the car. When I worked either mainly in Downtown Los Angeles, lived in West Los Angeles, I took public transportation to get to work everyday, left my car locked up in the garage, took the car out on the weekends only to do some errands or go visit friends. And I probably take the car out, you know, three times a week, either for a meeting or… and my errands which I tend to focus on doing all at one time. So I reduce those vehicle miles travelled as well as the trip generation.
Nick Whitaker: [03:23] How are you going about trying to educate people to the needs of the streets and ways and methodologies on how to improve these things?
Deborah Murphy: [03:32] What we do with the walkabout is not only are we getting information from people as they’re filling out a checklist and taking photographs, but we’re helping to try to educate them about all the things that are currently there and then what’s missing, and really kind of paying attention to all the issues when they’re out analysing and gathering this kind of information. So that’s one of our educational things that we do.
Nick Whitaker: [03:58] How’s the response been so far from people that are on the walkabouts and they heard about it?
Deborah Murphy: [04:02] Oh, they really had a great time. The organisation I’ve been working with is the Pasadena Playhouse District and they’ve gotten lots of emails that people really enjoyed themselves, had a good time. I contacted a lot of architects and planners to be involved and many of them come in and help an important event they felt this was, you know, they want to volunteer for other ones in the future and want to find out the outcome and how this all gets fed back into the city. What we’re trying to do is make a place that the street is really our outdoor living room, a place for us to meet each other who have conversations, to sit at a sidewalk café. And if we’re constantly thinking of our street instead as just a place for cars, it’s almost like it’s a sewer pipe. I think if, the first step that we need to do is make parking more expensive. A lot of people drive because it’s easy and cheap to park. People are encouraged to drive because they get free parking from their employers. We get free parking at the grocery store, we get free parking at, you know, almost every place.
Nick Whitaker: [05:06] Do you see change happening though?
[05:08] I can see change happening. I mean the fact that we are
having these discussions about the street design in all of Hollywood
is a big step. I mean I’d hoped that decision, that dialogue
would have happened 20 years ago, but I’m happy that it’s finally
happening now. I wish it was happening citywide. It is happening
kind of community by community. And those that are… that do
have good alternatives like Hollywood and like Downtown are the two
key places that we’re starting. So places that do have good
public transportation, that do have a lot of people walking and biking
and taking public transportation are the ones that we’re starting,
so we’re trying to set examples with the places that have the most
support for the ideas, and I think that’s been a long time and acceptance
for me. I have not wanted to take baby steps. I wanted to
take the giant steps and like change the world overnight. But
I recognise that’s not very practical and the world of bureaucracy
and politics and everything else that you go to the places where people
want change and support the good ideas, and you set that example and
then hopefully people will to jump on the bandwagon once they see that
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