A Better Way to Transit

I grew up in a suburb in Minnesota outside of the Twin Cities, in a little town called Lino Lakes, which, as maybe you can imagine consisted of a string of lakes that were connected by wetlands. Lots of fort-building and using one’s imagination to stay entertained. In other words, when I became a teenager, not a whole lot to do.

It was the suburbs, so pretty car-dependent. I could ride my bike to various refereeing jobs and rollerblade to go buy an ice cream cone, but again, not a whole lot of thrills to be had. Every now and then I’d try to bum a ride off of my older brother to the movie theater or mall or something, but he had this phase that he’s never really grown out of in which he’d blast Rammstein at full volume and it just really felt like torture.

So I had a stint where I started doing summer internships for my local congresswoman. I’d drive into downtown with my mom, and then catch the #16 bus from there over to Midtown. And boy did that feel like my horizons had widened. I found myself just fascinated by the other passengers on the bus. People watching became my new sport.

Where am I going with this? For me, transportation has always been a ticket to liberation, to opportunity, to living life. Maybe you can relate?

In high school, one of my closest friends’ mom was struck and killed by a drunk driver. Some of my other good friends got in a really bad car accident and the brain trauma they suffered changed the courses of their lives, not in a good way. To me, cars were always just a bit too much responsibility. Those things can kill! And a little fender bender could cost you thousands. I just preferred other, less consequential ways of transporting myself.

In college, there was a train stop on campus that brought me towards urban explorations. And I discovered the critical mass scene. Who here knows what that’s about? It’s not church, but it is a pretty surreal, moving experience.

Do you know CicLAvia? Well it’s kind of like that, except instead of seeking permission to take over the road, you just get a giant group of people together on bicycles and, for once, act like you belong there, like that pavement is for you to enjoy and be safe on.

I moved to Copenhagen, Denmark after college, where again the bicycle was my chariot. I could safely, conveniently get wherever I wanted to go. I felt alive while doing so. Surrounded by cool people – again, the people-watching was top-notch. People would move a Christmas tree or even a sofa in the cargo compartment of a bike. Badass. And grandmas and kids. Those bike lanes were the great equalizer, in the greatest sense of that expression.

I moved to LA nearly eight years ago. I really only drive when I’m headed out of town camping. A car commute here is something that would drive me insane. So I bike, I take the Metro, and I have to say, the bus is really the unsung hero. People are so nice – they’re just so courteous and lovely on the bus.

Really, sometimes when I’m feeling a little down in the dumps – I’ll tell you about a time – I was biking home from work, minding my own business, and what do you know, a car hit me. It’s not the first time that it’s happened, but I’d really like if it were the last. So there I was splayed out on the road. My bag went flying, it’s out in the middle of traffic. Nobody slowed down. It’s like I didn’t matter. I was feeling pretty dang low, pretty disappointed in humanity, betrayed, a sacrifice.

That next bus driver welcoming me aboard was the chicken soup for the soul that I needed in that moment. Forget that dog-eat-dog, mean streets of LA scene. On the bus, I was safe.

And isn’t that really the most basic of all needs, just to feel safe.

I don’t tell you this story to solicit your pity. I want your support for the next dedicated bike lane that’s being proposed in your neighborhood. When you in your car and me in my bike are left to share road space, it’s a zero-sum game. There’s a winner and there’s a loser, and it does not bring out the best in us.

But there’s a way past that stalemate, that’s really good for all of us. You see, the more people that bike or are tempted to take the bus because now there’s a dedicated bus lane that’s letting the bus not get stuck in traffic – those people now aren’t in cars, aren’t the traffic around you clogging the roads.

We can be smarter about things than we are today, and so I’m trying to appeal to your forward-looking reasoning, to your sense of the possible, the desirable.

Bike lanes, bus lanes, no more doubling down on freeway widening and sprawl, which only inevitably clog our streets with ever more traffic.

These are some the things that Climate Resolve’s transportation advocacy agenda has been about. Trying to create better options so that driving isn’t necessarily always the default. Now, let me tell you a bit about our latest public transit endeavor.

Last month, we announced that we were launching a new subsidiary non-profit organization, called Zero Emissions Transit, to take over the aerial gondola project to Dodgers Stadium. Who’s heard of it?

A 7-minute ride from Union Station to Dodgers Stadium, gorgeous views, zero emissions. Entirely powered by renewable energy, which will be generated on-site by installing solar panel canopies over a portion of that giant parking lot up there.

We’ll also be installing cool pavement on that parking lot, so that it goes from being the massive radiator of urban heat that it now is, to being a part of the climate solution. More on that momentarily.

We’re not stopping there. When Climate Resolve takes on a project, we like to go into it by listening to local residents, hearing their concerns and priorities, and taking a holistic approach to build a coalition and piece together the best project that we can. In that spirit, we’re also integrating new active transportation passageways to Dodgers Stadium, bike lanes and either stairs or escalators. We’re looking at making new affordable housing development in Chinatown happen alongside the transit investment, too, and programs that promote local mom-and-pop-owned businesses.

The neighborhoods around Dodgers Stadium have suffered for too long from idling cars choking their streets and polluting their air. We are beyond excited to be bringing to you a permanent transit connection to one of LA’s most visited sites, an aerial gondola line that’s slated to open in 2027. This gondola will give people a better option than gridlock. One that involves beauty and joy and a sense of community tackling the climate crisis together.

Now I’d like to shift veins a bit, and address the elephant in the room. It is too dang hot out, am I right? I’m not going to dwell on the negative for too long, because that can just start to feel pretty oppressive. In fact, focusing on the solutions and the tangible actions that we can take today are central to Climate Resolve’s theory of change and how we’ve had success building momentum for progress.

You’ve probably read it, heard it in the news by now anyway. Climate change is heating things up. Greenhouse gases are trapping solar energy in our atmosphere, which used to escape out to space. That extra energy in our atmospheric system is making average temperatures go up. The hottest days of the year are also on the rise, with heat waves getting hotter, longer, and more frequent.

It’s not just an inconvenience, those really hot days can be dangerous. In the climate field, we call days over 95°F extreme heat days. In Downtown Los Angeles, there will be 4 times as many extreme heat days per year within the next twenty or so years, as compared to what we’re used to, and that’s because of the climate pollution that’s already accumulated in our atmosphere.

So, what can we do about it?

Step 1 is to stop the bleeding. We’ve got to stop emitting so many greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, and like now. How? Well, let me clue you in: transportation is by far our largest source of climate pollution, which is why I opened this essay by trying to convince you that driving ourselves in private cars really isn’t the only way, or if you ask me, even the best way to get around. We’ve got to start opening our eyes to other options, and making those options better.

So that’s one factor that’s at play: the underlying warming effects of climate change.

Step 2 for what we can be doing about insufferable heat, which really we need to be doing simultaneously with Step 1, is to address our urban heat island.

Urban heat island refers to the phenomenon where all of the hardscape in our built environment absorbs sunlight and reradiates it as heat. If you’ve ever walked across a blacktop parking lot, you can just feel the hot surface beneath your feet. Have you seen the news pieces where they fry an egg on the asphalt? Any dog owners out there had to tend to burnt paws? This is real.

With extreme heat, student learning is impacted, workplace accidents increase, even violent crime rates go up, and air quality worsens – heat illness can prove to be deadly.

So, what can we do about it? Wherever we can, let’s add drought-tolerant greenery. It can look like street trees that shade sidewalks, a planted median that protects a bike lane, a roundabout with greenery in the middle – we can get creative.

And where there will still be hardscapes exposed to the sun, we can be making those surfaces more reflective so that they don’t absorb and reradiate heat, but rather reflect that solar energy so that it stays energetic enough and escapes back out to space without getting trapped in our atmosphere. Those reflective surfaces, like cool roofs and cool pavements, not only deliver noticeable local cooling to combat the urban heat island effect, but also reduce the amount of energy that’s getting trapped in our atmosphere, and thereby reduce the underlying mechanisms of climate change.

By pursuing such transportation options and urban cooling solutions, we are acting on climate change, we’re doing our part and can be hopeful that we’re making our city a more livable place where everyone can thrive.

By Bryn Lindblad

Emmanuel Vega

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