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

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


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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  1. Harv
    Posted April 2, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Surely you jest, Mr. Admin? While you are quite correct in your description of the relationship between health and street design today, it appears to me that the 2035 plan addresses each and every one of these issues. I saw bicycles mentioned in great detail on almost every page. All of the buzz-words (multi-modal, vulnerable user, safe routes to school, active transportation) were in evidence. Every aspect of bike use was in evidence: neighborhood paths and regional backbones, separated facilities, parking, way-finding, etc. I see no downside to this plan. Of course, this is just a plan, a list of ideals and objectives. I didn’t see any civil engineering drawings depicting the physical layout of these wonderful new street designs, so the usual “political will” issues are extant. And 2035 may come and may go and there could be another call for “further study” but this is another problem. We are seeing this situation right now with the already-approved North Figueroa bike lanes. We are gearing up and hunkering down for yet another round of public meetings, which means another round of polls, surveys and public comment.

    So, I do not see your basis for attacking the 2035 plan. Would you care to address specific items in the plan as not meeting your expectations?

  2. Posted April 2, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Harv, I was just yesterday at a meeting (Bike Plan Implementation Team meeting, to be precise) where it became evident that the bicycling part of the plan was a wish list, not a set of defined project scheduled to be implemented. City Planning acknowledged that they are at the mercy of Cit Council members, who can scotch a proposed implementation on whim–as has happened several times in LaBonge’s District 4, as came close to cancelling the most significant parts of the already-budgeted MyFig project, and as appears to be happening now in Cedillo’s District 1

    City Planning is in fact a forward-looking department, but it has functionally no power actually to make things happen. Their staff warned us that every project will require a battle, now that the easy projects (the “low-hanigng fruit,” as they call it) have been done.

  3. admin
    Posted April 2, 2014 at 11:35 am | Permalink


    I agree with you for the most part – the plan mentions our health crisis, and it mentions bikes, and active transportation. Yet, the mobility plan does not include any measures of health outcomes (i.e. rates of diseases in the population) to transportation plans.

    If a type of doorway exposes building occupants to risk in an earthquake we would use engineering data or the real life experience of builders to either ban or retrofit that doorway. If a street system exposes residents to elevated risks of diseases of a sedentary lifestyle we should use health data or the real life experience of city planners to either ban or retrofit that street system.

    The key is that health car outcomes should be directly tied into the statutory language defining roadways.

    A “Major Highway Class II” for example should have travel delays of X, people throughput of Y, and should have a residential obesity (or diabetes) rate not more than Z. Further, residents along that highway should be able to name K number of neighbors.

    Health outcomes are intrinsically linked to transportation planning – and mountains of evidence suggest this. Yet, the transportation planning trade recedes into pseudo-scientific traffic modelling instead of confronting the millenia of good practices when designing a human habitat. It as this point that I think it ieasy to go beyond calling this Mobility Plan an incompetent execution of the chartered goals of the city and instead to call the Mobility Plan a moral crime against humanity. The plan does not couple transportation plans to well established human health outcomes and thus it is not fit to be considered by anyone with a conscience.

    Ha ha! Now I am stacking soap boxes!

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  1. By Streetsblog Los Angeles » Today’s Headlines on April 2, 2014 at 11:45 am

    […] City Mobility Plan a “Morally Bankrupt Symbol of a Crumbling Society” (Flying Pigeon) […]

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