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Opinion: Remove cars, add bikes -- and infuriate Angelenos?

Opinion: Remove cars, add bikes -- and infuriate Angelenos?
A cyclist uses a bike lane in downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 11. (Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I'm Paul Thornton, The Times' letters editor. It is Saturday, Aug. 22, and we have only one month to go before the cooler temperatures of fall relieve us from this summer (or not -- September can be pretty hot around here). Here's a look back at the week in Opinion.

No one expects the city of Los Angeles to spend the billions it would require to pave more roads or widen the ones we already have to the point that driving here would be a stress-free experience. Just do the best with the traffic signals, scarce street parking and lanes we have, and most of us creeping along the roads will feel some reassurance that city planners understand the frustration that driving in L.A. causes.

Which is probably why there's such an uproar over Los Angeles' new mobility plan, a blueprint for the future of city transportation that calls for more bike lanes and bus-only lanes -- and at the expense of car lanes, with the express purpose of encouraging transit commuting and slowing down traffic to make the streets and sidewalks safer for cyclists and pedestrians. 

In an Op-Ed article, Santa Monica resident and business owner Bruce Feldman encourages L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti to abandon City Hall's utopian dream of a bike-friendly metropolis modeled on European capitals:

It would be nice if all of us who currently drive to work could leave our cars at home and take public transportation. But it's not as if we've got the 842 miles of subways that serve New York (we have only 100 miles for a much larger area), or the will to fund a true regionwide light-rail system that would be operational in my lifetime. The Purple Line extension won't reach La Cienega Boulevard until 2023. The Sepulveda Pass line, linking the Valley to the Westside, is scheduled to open in 2039.

Some politicians and transportation professionals have suggested that we look to Amsterdam or Stockholm for inspiration. I've been to Sweden. It's a beautiful place. Swedes are smart and good-looking. But Stockholm's population is one-tenth of ours, plus it has a compact, well-defined central downtown business and shopping core with a large number of residential units. Last I checked, L.A. is nothing like that.

There's another important difference between L.A. and Stockholm, or a lot of other major cities around the world: Los Angeles is supposed to be the opposite of those places. People from all over the world have moved here to live in tidy bungalows with backyards and plenty of fresh air and sun, far from work and shopping, not in the cramped, dark apartments near noise and business activity that are typical of older urban areas.

Why do you and your advisors think that what works in Stockholm, with its entirely different character, would work here? Could you explain this to me and the millions of other Southern Californians who every day need to get to their business appointments, doctors, schools?

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Feldman doesn't speak for every Angeleno -- at least not some of these readers. In one letter to the editor, Irvine resident Rick Thompson says the increased bus service Feldman proposes would be impossible without the new mobility plan. Another reader cites evidence for a pent-up demand in Southern California for better bike infrastructure, while a third letter writer decries the striping of little-used bike lanes that replaced car lanes. In a letter to the editor originally published last Saturday, reader Niall Huffman praises the new mobility plan's goal of increasing safety for everyone who doesn't use a car; other letter writers call the plan foolish. (Full disclosure: I commute almost exclusively by bike or bus, so you can guess on what side of this issue I fall.)

Last week, Jose Antonio Vargas said he doesn't want to be called an "alien." Readers were unsympathetic. Two letter writers outright dismissed his plea, and another said that while Vargas should not be called an alien, his undocumented status means he doesn't deserve the title of "immigrant." Another writer, a naturalized citizen, poked fun at Americans who say "alien." L.A. Times

More on (yes) Donald Trump: His candidacy for president and that of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party, says Jonah Goldberg, taps into the frustration many Americans feel over trade and immigration. Surprisingly, on those two issues, there's plenty of overlap between Sanders and Trump. L.A. Times

Meanwhile, over at Hillary Rodham Clinton HQ, which has had a busy summer unveiling numerous populist policy proposals (think affordable college and income stagnation), its candidate has largely missed one item that could boost her standing among "angry voters": reforming the federal government. Columnist Doyle McManus says her husband used this issue to his benefit in 1992. L.A. Times   

A positive spin on the Great California Apocalypse: Apparently, we're winning the drought, says author Charles Fishman in the New York Times. He writes: "California has pioneered innovations that have changed the way we all live. Without much fanfare, the state is doing that again, with water, moving to make standard what has been novel. A lawn landscaped with rocks and cactus instead of turf, morning coffee brewed matter-of-factly with recycled water, cities designed to return rainwater to the ground -- these aren't just symbols, they are how you handle water when you understand its value." New York Times

Think there's a housing bubble in L.A.? Well, there isn't, despite hysteria over the occasional $3-million teardown or million-dollar fixer-upper, writes UCLA economist William Yu. Rather, based on historical data that indicate predictable, long-term cycles of bull markets followed by bear markets, Los Angeles is probably somewhere in the middle of a steady climb in housing prices that will last a few more years. L.A. Times

Stuck in traffic and need to vent about L.A.'s mobility plan? Wait until you get home (no texting behind the wheel, now) and shoot off an email to paul.thornton@latimes.com. Also feel free to suggest ways to improve this newsletter.

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