29 January 2013

California Gold - or why we must re-Copenhagenize Los Angeles

Huell Howser died earlier this month

"Who?", you ask?

Huell Howser was a television presenter in California who, though he had worked on commercial television, and even on syndicated U.S. Hollywood gossip programming, was known for his down-to-earth presentations about life in and attractions in the "Golden State", a style of television he successfully transplanted from his birthplace of Tennessee.

"But I am not in California, so I have never seen him, right?" you say.

Yes, well, you see, there is this industry based primarily in Los Angeles that makes these things called "Talking Motion Pictures" which you have perhaps viewed?  Because of this and the further industries it has spawned, there is a lot of creative work done in and around Los Angeles and throughout California.

Which is why when something appears even just on local media in Los Angeles, it quickly gets relayed to the rest of the planet via happenstance or satire.

Just ask Bob Crane (you can't actually as he is dead), Gary Owens, or more recently, Jim Thornton.

So you've likely heard or seen Huell, no matter where you are on this planet, if you are a fan of Winnie the Pooh,  or more prominently, The Simpsons, where he was repeatedly parodied as the character Howell Huser

What's this have to do with Copenhagenize? A while back, Mikael wrote a post here about the history of Cycling in Southern California that was resplendent with photos taken over one hundred years ago showing how much bicycles were used in the region.  Another post reprints an article Mikael wrote for the Los Angeles Times, the city's major newspaper, recounting the Bicycle Culture 1.0 that Southern California experienced .

 Now it's one thing to read the scripts, but Huell made a movie.  If you've got 27 minutes, why not sit down and enjoy the "Bikes" episode of Howser's premiere program "California Gold", "A look at L.A.'s bike history with stops at the Pasadena Museum of History, [and] a Sunday Morning ride back in time as Huell uncovers other important stops in L.A.'s Bike History"
(With thanks to the Chapman University Huell Howser Archive)

 Why is this important?  Because there is most certainly an existing and rebounding bicycle culture in Southern California, which is growing quite rapidly. But what is important to realize is that Hollywood very much imposes its street-view on the rest of the world, so it's culture of automobile domination gets presented as the norm. Even when it makes absolutely no sense, as happens when films are made in an east coast U.S. city, including one which is (or was once) actually considered to be "Medieval" in by Urban Planners and Geographers. So if cycling were to become as normal on the streets of Los Angeles as it is in Copenhagen, then, perhaps, one day, some of those movie people might get the idea to portray it as such in one or many of their films.

And imagine what that might lead to.


Brent said...

Putting in bicycle lanes and cycle tracks in L.A. has been an interesting challenge, and it's still far from certain that we'll be able to go as far as the Danish or Dutch. We have all the political challenges of any city, along with the added geographical difficulty of a mountain range running right through the middle of the city. Category 3 and 4 climbs separate one region from another. It's certainly possible to install cycle tracks on such roads, but I don't know of any city or region where that has been done, or at least not as extensively as would be required here. The likely scenario, and perhaps the best case, will probably be neighborhood buildouts, with the west side getting its network, and the valley another, etc.

One thing that continues to irk me is the lack of stated goals. There's no one calling for, say, a five percent increase in cycling by the year 2020. Such a goal would perhaps help drive policy, including infrastructure quality. If we declared some goals seriously, we might actually see separated facilities.

Eté Rravan said...

Huell Howser's video has lots of insightful information. One of the most interesting things covered is the California Cycleway, which stretched from Pasadena to Los Angeles. According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Cycleway), the cycleway wasn't successful because of the end of the bicycle craze and the existence of the Pacific Electric Railway. According to the film, it failed because the railway wouldn't allow the cycleway to cross their easement, out of fear of competition. The film also points out that it would have been the fastest way between Pasadena and Los Angeles. Anyone who commutes by bike knows how true this must have been. An uninterrupted cycle track on level ground would certainly seem as fast or faster than a train with stops. The fact that Pasadena was the center of California's bike scene at the time, makes the end of the bike craze an unlikely reason for the failure of the venture. Also of note, the film's version of the story is supported by Horace Dobbins' grandson, who is in the film. This film is from 2004, well before the recent "bike craze" and I don't think there's any special interests benefiting from the info in it.

All that being said, will someone who knows how to or has the authority to, update the Wikipedia article to add the explanation that the railroad wouldn't allow the cycleway to cross their easement? The film is a reliable reference source for the info.

I'd love to ride that cycleway to work. Check out the pics in the Wikipedia article.