During our conversation at the Central Library for ALOUD the other night, Leo Braudy cut through the pervasive mal-punditry about Carmageddon with one of the smartest takes I've heard on how easily L.A. stopped driving last weekend. "Inside every car-driving Angeleno is someone who'd rather stay home," he suggested — exact quote according to live-tweeter LAMisoSoup. In today's Sunday Review in the New York Times, Timothy Egan — the paper's former enviro and western correspondent — also pierces through the pontificating that the lack of traffic overload was somehow about embrace of transit or bicycles. "Los Angeles finally had the moment Rodney King asked for — everyone got along," Egan writes.
As a nonevent, Carmageddon ranks with Y2K, the much feared global computer collapse at the millennium’s dawn. But as an urban epiphany, the weekend when Los Angeles became a small town was no small thing. It disproved some of the most worn-out clichés about the city, while offering students of urban behavior some tantalizing glimpses of a better future....
it doesn’t mean all those drivers took to scooters or bikes. It just means their cars stayed in park — by intent, rather than the usual rage-inducing standstill. On a typical weekday, bikers make up just 1 percent of commuters in Los Angeles. One percent. If that figure doubles with all the new initiatives in the city to expand lanes, it would be a worthy achievement – but sort of non-consequential in the big picture.
No, the big lessons of Carmageddon are not about transportation. They are about something else, something less easily quantified. They are about the small salves in life that make a day easier, or even memorable. When millions of Angelenos decided to hold a block party, or go to the park, or ride a bike, or play soccer, or spend half a day at the farmers market, or take advantage of free admission at some museums, they found a city far removed from that awful commuter stress index.
Regarding bicycles, Egan says, "Los Angeles, or any major American city, will never be Amsterdam.....Even in the nation’s top major city for bikes, Portland, Oregon, cyclists are barely 6 percent of the commuting traffic."
Another view: Huffington Post blogger Paul Tullis thinks there should be an even-odd ban on weekend freeway driving (one week on, on week off) to keep traffic down to Carmageddon levels. He thinks if somebody had to get somewhere, for a wedding or work or something, they would carpool or take the bus. I think actual Angelenos would just take streets, as many do already, and wouldn't that be fun. The regional and interstate drivers who are just passing through L.A. and make up a big slice of weekend freeway traffic would be, I guess, screwed.
And this: An L.A. Times feature on three generations of a Northern California family that tours Los Angeles exclusively on transit makes the point that 1) it's doable and 2) most locals choose not to do it.