LA’s Mobility Plan 2035 is a morally bankrupt symbol of a crumbling society …

A feral cow munches on plastic bags near an open sewer.

The bottom line for Los Angeles’ Mobility Plan 2035? Anyone who supports the current plan shouldn’t be allowed into any house of worship.

Please, let me explain.

When you build a house in Los Angeles you have to follow the building code – fire alarms, proper sewer lines, hot and cold water to the house, electricity, a structure that will not collapse in moderate earthquakes, a structure that allows people to get in and out as safely as possible in a fire.

Some of the more byzantine building codes (why a 2.5″ diameter handrail when a 2.25″ is just as good?) are simply there to establish some sort of baseline level of safety and eliminate any guesswork or fudging by an architect, engineer, general contractor or building inspector. Other parts of the building code are there due to hard won experience in the building trades, urban planning SNAFU’s, and public health research – usually through tragedies later found to be easily preventable through proper design, monitoring, or maintenance.

The health and sanitation reasons for making it mandatory to, for example, close off all the sewer lines to the environment (i.e. no open air sewer lines feeding to the street, a trench, or a local stream) are obvious to us. Open sewers breed the conditions for large scale health problems in a human population – cholera, dysentery, malaria, typhoid fever, etc. Closing off what were once open trenches of human poop, kitchen waste, and animal waste pooling in trenches in many cities has led to longer human lifespans and happier lives for many people who would have died or lost months or years of their lives fighting an easily preventable group of diseases.

Now we arrive at the problem I have with the Mobility Plan 2035 update in Los Angeles: the city’s streets produce the equivalent health effects of having open air sewers, except that it isn’t cholera or typhoid that is consuming lives and resources – we’re facing an epidemic level of obesity, growing rates of depression, heart disease, traffic injuries and deaths, and other negative social effects. These health problems are directly related to the way streets are designed and built. Just as open sewers lead to higher rates of fatal cases of diarrhea, the streets of Los Angeles lead to social isolation, excessively sedentary lifestyles, and all the miserable physical, psychological, and social problems that come with those conditions.

Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health knows the effects of poor street design so well that they issue clear recommendations in their annual reports. They perform community health surveys regularly and their data can be broken down to the city council district level and potentially census block. There is no excuse that “we don’t have the money to monitor this” since the County provides material a 2nd grader could understand about the effects of poor street design on community health. The City of Los Angeles doesn’t need to collect health data – but it sure as heck needs to make sure measured health outcomes are a part of the legal framework for street designing.

We can just about predict the rates of childhood obesity, adult depression, and heart attack rates based on the pattern of streets, intersections, and sidewalks in a community – the same way we can predict that untreated effluent mixing with stream water used for bathing and drinking will spread cholera and dysentery.

It is at the level of a moral crime to allow street design to proceed without saying “it is illegal for us to design a street that will predictably lead to the current rates of depression, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, etc.” It is a sin given how much we have collectively studied and understand the effects of a car-only road system.

Community health outcomes must be directly tied to the planning, measurement of performance, and continual reevaluation of our streets.

To support the Moblity Plan 2035 without these health measures is to commit a moral and ethical crime not only against your fellow human, but against civilization itself. We collect together in cities to provide for our mutual benefit. Our government is empowered with the ability to tax us, police us, take property, and adjudicate our affairs in the trust that it will provide for the good life to all citizens. If we cannot muster the courage to tie road and street planning to clear evidence of health epidemics that are tearing through our population, well, why have a city at all? What is the point? We need to get this right or I don’t see any reason to have a city in the first place.

You can get me down off my soap box in the comment section below or online @flyingpigeonla on Twitter or be sending an email to info@flyingpigeon-la.com

If you’d like to join in the morality play for the soul of our civilization at the heart of the Mobility Plan 2035 you can:

First, read through the plan by downloading a draft copy here.

Then, you can either bust out your laptop or your typewriter and email my.la@lacity.org

or

Send a snail mail letter to:
Los Angeles Department of City Planning c/o My LA
200 N. Spring Street, Rm 667, MS 395
Los Angeles, CA 90012

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