In the “reading about writing rather than actually writing” department, the Guardian has a series called “My Writing Day” where they interview English writers about their routines. I read this column every time it comes out, for two reasons: one is simply voyeurism and the other is that they feature writers I’ve not heard of, and that’s always nice.
Nonetheless, other people’s writing days look something like an ode to virtue and cosmopolitanism:
Rise at dawn
Exercise like the awesome, well-adjusted person they are
Eat a breakfast of diet air and coffee
Write brilliantly for many hours, stopping only for 4 1/2 unsalted raw almonds for elevensies
Go for a ramble across the moors in the afternoon
Settle in their book-lined study to revise
Dinner with friends prepared by dutiful spouse or at a posh restaurant
My writing day many days before a deadline
Wake up whenever a dog decides I’ve slept enough by barking or shoving a slobbery wet toy onto my head.
Tell myself I am not going to faff not the Internet, wind up trying to read the entire Internet. Come to my senses after I find myself on a website that says “Celebrities you didn’t know have embarrassing birthmarks!”
Leap upon the coffee like a bear going after a salmon
Tell myself I might exercise but put that off, saying that if I budget enough time for a walk to the train station that can count as some exercise
Write, finding endless problems with things I’ve written before that I really have to fix before going forward. I’ve never been able to just forge ahead. What’s there has to be right. It sucks, but it’s the only way it works for me.
Finally get into a groove, only to see the clock and find that I’m a good 20 minutes past where I should have hopped into the shower if I wanted to walk to the train station, thus have to decide whether I go to work unshowered or whether I groom and have spouse drop me at the train station.
Inevitably get dropped off at train station with my head in the writing yet, perhaps showered, perhaps not.
Go to class, teach, get distracted from writing by all the ideas we worked on in class. Find some food on campus.
Tell myself I should shut my office door in the afternoon and work, but then my mind lands on how much it saddens me to see all my colleagues’ doors shut on the third floor of RGL, of how, when I was a student, I loved to walk by the open office doors of the professors in the Classics department at the University of Iowa, when it was housed in the warm, wood-paneled halls of Schaeffer Hall. (It is now in the Jefferson Building, in which I took my American Studies classes.) I didn’t even stop in talk with any of them, except for kindly Professor Jackson; it was just nice that they were present. Departments should have a there there; so much of our department is hidden in suites. It is one of the contradictions of academic life that planning faculty will write about the need for incidental contact in cities but do just about everything possible to avoid it themselves.
So I try to work with the door open, and that suggests hospitality and openness, and that means interruption, which was the point of leaving it open in the first place, and it’s nice to visit with people even if it’s not productive in a way that my provost would count. I am fortunate in that my excellent neighbor, LaVonna Lewis, also tends to be there and leave her door open.
Some days I get a treat, and I get to see David Sloane.
I usually revise or read in my office; I’ve always needed privacy to compose, and I do get quite a bit done there in between interruptions. Today I am planning to finish a review for JPER, working with hard copy, pen, and paper.
About 4 o’clock I need coffee coffee again. If USC really loved me, it would send coffee to my office via a trolley like they have on the Hogwards Express, but no. More proof that institutions don’t love you.
Sometimes at 6 I ride the train home; most days, Andy and I are too anxious to see each other to wait for the train to take me, and so he drives to campus. Being married for 25 years doesn’t seem to matter; in this, we’re still like newlyweds. By the time I’m home, there’s something in the garden or the house that wants doing while Andy, bless him, cooks or we wait for the delivery to come.
And at night I read or listen to records or watch a movie with him, play with dogs, catch up on rescue stuff.
My writing day just a days before a deadline
Furious binge writing from my laptop in my bed, refusing to wear anything besides pajamas, getting wired on coffee, and passive aggressively asking for more time to revise because I am a bad, bad person.
Attention Conservation Notice: Here’s the animation I’ve been working on in order to understand the ridership changes at LA Metro, beware that the y-axes are all different, and that distorts the amount of variation going on. I did this mostly as timeline; YMMV.
About a week or so go while I was gardening, it occurred to me: if we various transit nerds were seeing the same trend we are seeing for the past few years with LA’s Metro ridership, only labeled for VMT instead, we’d be declaring that the market for vehicle travel was saturated.
Relax, I don’t think the transit market in LA is saturated. That was just me, getting grumpy with myself for being too lazy to examine my own biases.
But I sure would like to know what is going on. There are limits as to what you can explain with descriptive data analysis, but doing some critical visualizations put me a lot further along in my own understanding of what I think is going on, so that I thought I would share what I got.
Every so often, the Times reports on these numbers, and Laura Nelson wrote-up a nice story a day or so ago about bus ridership loss, and Sahra Sulaiman wrote up this depressing (but important) piece for Streetblog.
We’ve invested a lot of money recently in Los Angeles, and with capital investments at the scale we have undertaken, the last thing we want to do is put more money into obtaining fewer rides. Yes, I know, decades of neglect, yada yada, but we should be seeing nice, big jumps with early investments–diminishing returns should show up later.
Credible explanations: a) new rail supply is moving passengers from the bus to rail so that we are having fewer bus transfers and thus, lower counts; b) retirements and aging has prompted less commuting by transit as well as car (egads, let’s hope not as that is a demand effect); c) gasoline prices are low so that more people drive; d) the introduction of Uber and Lyft (then Zimride, thanks for the info Kendra Levine) into the LA travel market means that people handle the last mile problem (or the entire trip) with those services instead of buses; e) fare increases; f) reduced overall bus supply; g) the routes need to be reconfigured; h) bus transit is an inferior good*, so that we saw the highest possible usage during the worst of the recession, falling off as price-sensitive consumers at the lowest incomes leave the systems for other means; i) all that talk about fighting obesity and active transport hit home and more people started walking and biking; j) fare increases have forced bus riders to ride less.
It certainly looks like the UBER/higher fares/low gas prices combo are not helping, at least in the above timeline.
What did I miss? Single factor explanations are not likely here.
Then, there are various assertions that aren’t credible.
a) that “There’s actually more ridership, you just don’t understand how to use the numbers” directed at the Times’ Laura Nelson. Nah. As I demonstrate below, you can beat up on the numbers, and you’ll still have a trend. She’s reporting this correctly as far as I can tell even if transitlovers don’t like the framing being anything less than the Times’ usual, breathlessly supportive pro-development tone.
b) A hardy perennial: you’re using the wrong measure, that’s not fair! (Ridership counts are an incomplete measure of transit output–it takes more work to move 10 passengers 10 miles than it does to take 10 passengers 1 mile–but you need way better data than Metro is putting out there for the rest of us if you want to passenger-miles for the bus system, where the ridership loss is occurring. But I don’t buy this one. If that were the case, Metro would have an easy answer to the Times when the ridership story comes up. If anybody from metro wants me to diddle with better numbers, they know where I am at. Holler at me; I’m just here not getting my book done and having a midlife crisis.)
c) The averages do not capture peak ridership well, and our trains are doing that for us! That could be. But we don’t (or shouldn’t) build to peaks for any capital investment. Building to peak is one reason our auto infrastructure is so over-capitalized.
d) But, but, if you go back multiple decades when Los Angeles had fewer people, you would see that we have more rides, not fewer. Moving the end points around on analyses is certainly a way to manipulate what you see for trends. But that didn’t convince me either: of course we have more rides taken now than we did in 1970. But I still don’t see get why we’ve had the ups and downs we’ve had since 2009.
To create the graphic, I went to Metro’s Ridership statistics page and downloaded the data for all the years from 2009 to 2016. For the gas price data….eh, all I could find was a statewide average, but it should do well enough to indicate trends. These are data from the Energy Information Agency.
So all of these data have strong seasonality, and while you can see trends past the noise, it’s hard to figure out what is noise, and trend. I used a Fournier transform process to detect for seasonality, then decomposed each dataset into seasonality and trend. The data for the Metro 720 looks like this, where the top panel shows you the raw data, the second the seasonal variation, the third the deseasonalized trend, and the final panel the remainders.
Metro 720 Rapid Ridership, Jan 2009 to December 2016, Time Series Decomposition
I can show you a bunch of these, and they are all interesting, but here’s the bus and the rail overall. Rail, a strong upwards trend towards the end due to the Expo line and its extension, and buses, falling, long before the fare hikes in 2014 (but, I suspect, those fare hikes are not helping; the bus riders are going to be the most price sensitive customers due to their demographics).
Metro Rail Ridership, Jan 2009 to December 2016, Time Series Decomposition
Metro Bus Ridership, Jan 2009 to December 2016, Time Series Decomposition
Ok, yeah, let’s look at the red line. That’s a lot of ridership loss there I don’t understand:
Red Line Ridership, Jan 2009 to December 2016, Time Series Decomposition
Fuel prices Jan 2009 to December 2016, Time Series Decomposition
So here is a correlation matrix of the deseasonalized bus and rail ridership numbers plotted against gas prices. I could get fancy and start fitting the curve, but…it’s fairly clear that falling gas prices since 2012 track well with the ridership declines. But I do think we are seeing a rail supply effect here: rail patrons are less likely to be sensitive to fuel or fare prices than bus patrons, and we see that rail in general correlates positively with fuel prices, though not to the same degree as bus ridership. That’s kind of a weird result, but not really when you think that a big boost in ridership came from new supply, and supply to an area–downtown Santa Monica–where riders are going to be comparatively better off than the rest of the region.
There is evidence of reshuffling exiting patrons–it would be nice to have the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus data to compare–as bus and rail ridership are negatively correlated at around -.40. We know that there are times where rail and bus act as complimentary goods, and there are other times when they are substitutes. If this is evidence that some riders got moved from buses to trains…well, that’s not the wonderous “we solved traffic and air quality” victory lap we might want, but those folks are probably getting a more comfortable ride, and I’m ok with that.
Correlation Plot, Fuel Price and Ridership by Mode, 2009 to 2016
That said, it’s not all reshuffling. At the end of the time period, we have about 70,000 more rides on an average weekday on the rail system–and remember, that even with some pretty big losses on the Red line (whyyyyy?) and Green line. But we’ve lost nearly 280,000 rides on the bus side, so reshuffling isn’t the whole story, either.
So here’s the correlation matrix between the routes I examined.There are network spillover effects in action, generally, with connections between lines being weak in instances you would expect (gold line, Metro 720: they don’t really feed each other) and very strong in instances where lines intersect. Interestingly, both the Green and the 720 are parallel E-W routes, but with a lot of real estate in between. The Expo Line, which runs parallel to them both, perhaps became the the E-W route of choice, which might explain some of those losses. Maybe.
Correlation Plot, Routes by Ridership, 2009 to 2016
Falling gas prices and higher fares are probably not helping; lags in land use probably are not helping; Uber/Lyft are probably not helping; reshuffling is a potential explanation but not, really, a problem from my perspective.
Bah. I have a better handle on what is going on, but not a convincing story (at least not for me, not yet) for why. But the pictures are kind of cool.
*If you have ever attempted to lecture me about housing supply and demand on Twitter, but you yell and scream about this term, then go back to your micro 101 class. It’s a technical term that describes a good where consumption increases when incomes falls. I still love transit, but–again technically–the term applies empirically, so I use it.
And I really, really wish the media would stop indulging them.
I remember when Donald Shoup gleefully handed me Sokal and Bricmont’s Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science (1997), the authors’ self-congratulatory description of a hoax paper they got published in Social Text. Shoup was shocked when I handed it back to him with margin notes (in post-its) all over it, disputing Sokal and Bricmont’s arguments. Shoup was aghast at my presumption–he often is. But I was right.
Academic hoaxers want to show us all their intellectual superiority, and the superiority of their fields, particularly the sciences, over social theory and social science, by generalizing about entire fields from an N of 1–their hoax. Now THERE’S rigorous thought for ya.
Sure, an academic hoax can be a valid case study, but authors–and the media–don’t treat these hoaxes like case studies. Sokal’s was not carefully designed nor documented. It was just new at the time he did it, and people enjoyed tittling at scholars’ expense. It was bad research and experimentation, however.
Yeah, a single experiment in physics can be definitive, but the key is in the research design; it has to be replicable. And instances may be wonderful learning opportunities, but generalizing from them is the first things you’re told NOT to do in social science school.
But, hey, social theory sucks, because Sokal said so, and he wanted to punch down, and he took advantage of a gracious editor’s desire to be inclusive of a scientist in science studies. Thus Sokal made a name for himself in pop culture he was never going to get in physics, due to the media delight over this hoax. Because if there is one thing that Americans love and have an insatiable desire for stories about, it’s punching the humanities and liberals arts.
And it’s even better–so much better– if you can punch at humanities crafted by lady professors or professors of color. Because if there is one thing that we really, really love more than crapping on the humanities, it’s crapping on the idea that women and people of color might know things, or that *people like them* are critically examining systems of power. It’s not enough that women’s studies and black studies often consist entirely of part-time faculty who have diddly squat in terms of either public investment or big, fat donors, we also need to score points off them in the media to advance our careers.
And hence this latest academic hoax: Boghossian, Peter; Lindsay, James. “The conceptual penis as a social construct: a Sokal-style hoax on gender studies”. Skeptic. Retrieved 20 May 2017.
No link, because screw getting them clicks. Getting a terrible paper published in a pay-to-play open access journal, as these authors do, tells us precisely nothing other than the people behind the journal want your $$$. MMMMMokey.
Mediawise and careerwise, however, this is genius-level trolling, really, If Boghassian doesn’t get tenure, he can scream that it was because he wasn’t “politically correct” about gender studies and then he can, like Naomi Schaeffer Riley, become a conservative media darling based on this stuff. If this hoax is any indicator, Boghassian is a great media manipulator and a sloppy scholar, which is one very likely reason he wouldn’t get tenure. But if that happens, he’s got this nice fallback claim that he is being discriminated against.
Timothy Burke is one of my favorite academic bloggers. He teaches at Swarthmore, and his takedown of Boghassian and Lindsay is worth quoting at some length:
Dear friends, have you ever felt after reading an academic article that annoyed you, hearing a scholarly talk that seemed like nonsense to you, enduring a grant proposal that seemed like a waste of money to you, that you’d like to expose that entire field or discipline as a load of worthless gibberish and see it kicked out of the academy?
You probably didn’t do anything about it, because you’re not an asshole. You realized that a single data point doesn’t mean anything, and besides, you realized that your own tastes and preferences aren’t really defensible as a rigorous basis for constructing hierarchies of value within academia. You probably realized that you don’t really know that much about the field that you disdain, that you couldn’t seriously defend your irritation as an actual proposition in a room full of your colleagues. You realized that if lots of people do that kind of work, there must be something important about it.
Or maybe you are an asshole, and you decided to do something about your feelings. Maybe you even convinced yourself that you’re some kind of heroic crusader trying to save academia from an insidious menace to its professionalism. So what do you have to do next?
Here’s what you don’t do: generate a “hoax” that you think shows that the field or discipline that you loathe is without value and then publish it in a near-vanity open-access press that isn’t even connected to the discipline or field you disdain. This in fact proves nothing except that you are in fact an asshole. It actually proves more: that you’re a lazy asshole.
Now, I’m not likely to call an assistant professor like Boghassian an asshole, but I am willing to call him lazy. If you actually want to test the hypothesis that any garbage can get published just because it’s got gender in the title, then there are ways to try to get at that, but those ways are *hard*.
How to do such a study in a way that isn’t laughable:
1. Develop a rigorous analytical framework for judging what counts as “easy” or “hard” reviewing. As it is, we have to take these authors’ word for the fact that their process through “peer review” was easy. Saying that reviewers at a pay-to-publish journal weren’t hard on you is a) hardly surprising and b) unverifiable. Hard as compared to *what*?
In order to make claims about the reviewing process, they’d need to target multiple journals (more on this below) at a variety of impact/submission rejection rate levels, and they would need to code the reviews in a consistent, valid way–in a way that shows they have been internally consistent with evaluating comments from journals. Tim Burke is right: you need to go after the premier journals in a field if you want to make claims about the field. I have reviewed for Signs, for example, one of the top feminist journals. Every five years or so, they get a paper here and there about women in cities; I don’t recall how many I’ve done–three I think–but I do know the journal has rejected every paper that they have had me review. Doesn’t sound like a no-brainer universe to me.
2. Use controls. Send it to a similarly-sized subfield. No, you can’t send it to economics. Top journals in fields with thousands of practitioners can cream off the best–that is hardly surprising, nor is it an indicator of importance. If you are testing feminist philosophy then test garbage papers there with garbage paper in something like “history of medicine.” I’m not sure that’s the right comparison–but again, it’s not my job to work through the control since I’m not an asshole, and I don’t have an ax to grind. The control field should be a subfield of similar size, only without the supposedly “extreme ideological leanings” of gender studies. Then code and track reviews and outcomes across fields. Systematically, according to the framework.
How else do you isolate the “ideology”? It’s possible that a bullcrap paper in a supposedly nonideological field could slip through the peer review process. We’d need to show that gender studies differs in a measurable way.
One control should be something likely to show ideology, too, like a libertarian journals or some such. That way you can tell if gender studies is more guilty than other “xtreme” ideologies or sloppiness for passing papers along simply because it uses the right buzzwords and takes the right tone.
3. Pre-test the papers/test instruments. Multiple controls means you need multiple bullcrap papers from various subfields, and you’d need to pre-test those papers to see if they all existed at a comparable level of bullcrappery. Yeah, that’s hard; you’d probably need to pre-test with Delphi panels and find some way to ensure they were consist.
Burke’s right: good academic work is hard. Cheesy hoaxes at vanity presses are not.
4. Develop a sufficiently large sample that you will get a good-sized corpus of review and editor text to analyze. Don’t know how many that would be. Since I bet you’d get quite a few desk rejects, this could involve some work.
5. Derive a way to operationalize the editorship variable. Editors are a big deal in journals; some are great, some are terrible, but all of them are a driving force in what gets published, what gets emphasized in reviews, and who gets the review to do in the first place.
Until somebody does something that even approaches this design, then I don’t want to hear it. There are all sorts of ways the research design above could go sideways, but again…do the damn work if you want to make claims about scholarly publishing.
Commencement is always a bittersweet time; graduation day is the easiest part of my job. Show up; wear silly hat; sit on stage; look happy; take pictures; hug anybody who doesn’t run away with sufficient alacrity.
But graduation also means that many of the students I’ve enjoyed getting to know move on, as they do, naturally. Nonetheless, I have always had this weird feeling as a professor, watching it all happen: they come, they light up the place, they go. And, of course, next year there be will more, and they will be wonderful in their own ways, but they will not be these students, right here, the ones who made me care about them, and who then left. There’s no escaping a feeling of being stationary as a professor, or as a teacher I suppose, where you do what you can for people at this stage in their lives, and then they go on to new things, while you stay, keeping on keeping on.
I am also watching my cohort of graduate students, my contemporaries, move on; I’m having those awkward conversations with people feeling me out, trying to measure their progress against mine: have I have submitted my file for promotion? Have I done this? That? This other thing? The answer is: “probably not.”
In addition, there are those who are moving into administration, important jobs, all of which sound like rather a lot of ghastly meetings. Trying to move into something like that simply to feel like I am moving strikes me as a very, very bad idea. Shouldn’t you be called into something like that?
I could also move universities, but precious few seem to have better programs than my beloved USC; there are snootier universities, sure, but I really doubt there are better faculty, and I’m not sufficiently into status hierarchies to move (even if anybody wanted me, and so far, they seem to be fine despite the absence of Lisa in their spheres). Thus that, too, would feel like moving just to move.
My book project is taking forever, and I hate that, but I also don’t. It’s a big, ambitious piece of work, and it deserves my patience, even if the struggle to get the ideas right feels like a modest, almost monastically boring, application of everyday craft, not the big, difficult battles I have enjoyed fighting in years prior.
I’m re-reading City of God right now. It took Augustine 15 years to write it. I’ve decided to translate the key books discussing cities and politics for my own learning. That will probably take ME 15 years.
The question becomes: what do I next? Do I fade off into contented academic pottering like my Augustine work? Or is there something else? I toyed with the idea of going after a journal editorship, but after chatting with a few folks, I decided I wouldn’t be much good at that.
I was also thinking of going back and getting another PhD. Agent Spencer on Criminal Minds had 3 by the time he was 22. I’m behind!
Today’s agenda is painting, weeding, reading, taking a dog in for her dental. And I’m grateful for it.
So there has been a little tempest in flying around the internets where a silly Australian millionaire/billionaire/gillionaire named something said something stupid, blaming Millennials’ lack of self-discipline and frugality for their difficulty getting into the home ownership market. Here’s a quote from the LA Times:
“When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each,” real estate mogul Tim Gurner said on the Australian version of “60 Minutes.”
The results on Twitter are predictably funny and bitter, and there have been quite a few stories, like the one shared from the Times above, that talk about the barriers to home ownership and the challenges that Millenials face in trying to buy a home, including staggering levels of student loan debt, stricter financial rules that require 20 percent down, the difficulty of amassing that kind of money when house prices are what they are, and job scarcity among Millenials. It’s shocking that that three-year, unpaid internship doesn’t get you all the money you need to put 20 percent down on a $350,000 home.
My little addition here is simply to note that $4 coffees are $4 coffees and smashed avocado is $19 in some of these restaurants for the same reason that housing prices are obscene: land prices. Yes, restaurants have a high mark-up on vegetarian options like avocado toast, but very little is priced at cost in restaurants: most deserts don’t pay for themselves, for example, but are kept on the menu to compete with other establishments*, and booze gets the biggest margin.
But everything gets more expensive when land prices get high. Land prices factor into everything in cities, from the wages you have to pay to keep wait staff slinging $4 coffees and $19 avocado toasts to the floor space you have to rent or buy to store and serve the coffee and toast in. Everything, from buying gas to boxes of cereal to eat at home rather than going out to eat, costs more at the same time that housing costs more. So while we can blame people’s consumption patterns (if we want to be jerks)–going out is more expensive–food consumed at home is going to be more expensive in cities, and punishingly expensive in cities where land prices are high, too.
Oh, and the home garden you might have to defray costs carries a $325 opportunity cost per square foot.
Now I want avocado toast.
I do think people are somewhat wrong to get too shirty pointing out that at least some Boomer wealth will be inherited into Gen X. When that happens, to how many that will make a meaningful difference, or whether it will happen in such a way to be useful to them as homebuyers are separate questions, but wealth doesn’t vanish and intergenerational transfers are real and important.
Here’s some funny Millennial tweets to make you smile. The kids are all right.
* California restaurants are dead unimaginative when it comes to desserts, and I suspect it has to do with everybody’s carb phobia. Thus most won’t shell out for a desert chef. Everything, everything on the menu is dead simple: ice creams or gelatos (machine made, put enough fat content into it and derive a clever flavor), bread pudding (recycle stale bread and a four year-old could make it), pudding (a 10 year-old could make that) and you’ve pretty much exhausted the lot.
ATTENTION CONSERVATION NOTICE: Being disinterested in police conduct towards communities of color in Los Angeles is a coalition-breaker, and lefties need to start paying attention and act accordingly.
The burdens of democracy have been pretty heavy on Angelenos here late, with November, one protest march after another, the election in March (covering the now infamous Measure S) and now another city election today.
Up for grabs is City Council seat in District 1 (Gil Cedilo, incumbent, versus Joe Bray-Ali) in DTLA and large swaths surrounding, and District 7, (relatively low-density, suburban district in the San Fernando Valley, nestled up against the Tujunga Canyons. We also have some school district elections district 4 (Topanga Canyon, Westchester, Palisades, Marina, Encino, etc) and district 7 (Pacoima, Reseda, Van Nuys, Sylmar, etc).
The only thing on the ballot for me today will be Measure C. Measure C is an ersatz attempt at police reform in Los Angeles. The LA Times Editorial Board, with whom I have my arguments, lays out the problems correctly in this op-ed, and they picked a a great catch line:
There is precious little evidence that there is anything wrong with the current discipline process, other than that officers and their union don’t like it.
That’s a really good piece of writing right there, a lesson on its own in sentence construction and impact.
Taking advantage of greater citizen awareness of police shooting via the Black Lives Matter activism to slip this one in strikes me as pretty nasty, even for LA politics.
The general apathy among white urbanists about police reform is, however, a huge problem for the urban policy agenda, and it came back to bite us recently with debates about adopting Vision Zero. Vision Zero is not like Measure C in its intent: Vision Zero is a well-intended, good-hearted, and potentially very effective way to address traffic deaths that results when cars hit pedestrians. Understandably, LA’s urbanists seem to be generally supportive of Vision Zero because people should be able to walk around LA without getting killed. I think we can all agree on this. If we were to make biking and walking safe in Los Angeles, we would be much, much better off, from the possibility that greater safety might induce more people to engage in active, healthy transport to reducing traffic death and injury.
The question is how do we implement Vision Zero, LA-style?
And friends, the question for progressives is always how. Because if Vision Zero hands more resources to the LAPD or empowers them to stop more motorists, we have a potential problem, and that problem concerns the fact that the LAPD, the LA County’s sheriff’s office, and myriad small police forces throughout the southland have got bad relations with communitiews of color, to say the least.
Vision Zero created some conflict in the District 1 during the campaign for candidate, Joe Bray-Ali, who is strong advocate for bicyclists and pedestrians in Los Angeles. He is, from what I can see, a troubled politician with a very good policy agenda. Some trolling activities in his past, where he wanted to start some online debates with racists and other gross people, came back to haunt him big time. In general, I am sympathetic here; if anybody were to look at my online activities, it would involve lots of pictures of little free libraries, sex offender registry policy sites, pro-gun forums, etc–and it’s all for research. The difference is that I don’t post on them; Bray-Ali’s desire to troll itself suggests a willingness to do something that is not terribly productive politically: pick fights online.
This is relatively small potatoes, for all the pearl clutching around it. I could care less about this. I could also care less about his tax issues. I’m not crazy about the way he talks about his extra-marital affairs (because that is indicative), but the affairs themselves are between him and his wife and his conscience and the other folks involved. I don’t like it, but it’s not my lookout.
Impossible to dismiss was Bray-Ali’s long-time conduct in discussing Vision Zero, on Facebook and elsewhere. Hillel Aron covered the controversy very well for LA Weekly, but gets the takeaway wrong.
Here is Aron’s summary of one part of the conflict:
Years ago, Bray-Ali was known as one of the city’s more outspoken, combative bicycle activists. His blog posts and verbal jousting in comments sections were aggressive, perhaps verging on bullying. He represented one faction of the bike-activist community, the one you might call the “bike-lane fundamentalists,” who never met a bicycle safety or pedestrian safety improvement they didn’t like. In recent years, another side has emerged, one you might call the “yes, but” side, whose adherents believe that you should build bike lanes and other infrastructure that make streets safe, but who also have concerns about side effects — namely, that bike lanes can drive gentrification and that policies that crack down on unsafe driving can lead to racial profiling.
“There are certainly factions,” says Joe Linton, the editor of Streetsblog L.A. “I’d say for the last five, seven years there’s been a tension, for sure. And I think it’s a healthy one.”
One such argument broke out in the comments section of the Figueroa for All Facebook group in October 2015, over the “Vision Zero” initiative, which aims to end all traffic deaths in Los Angeles, in part by cracking down on unsafe driving. Streetsblog L.A. editor Sahra Sulaiman was among those who voiced concerns that this initiative could lead to racial profiling. Bray-Ali called this view “nit-pickingly myopic.” Sulaiman pushed back; Bray-Ali called Sulaiman and L.A. County Bike Coalition executive director Tamika Butler “concern trolls.” That was typical for Bray-Ali; he had little patience for sensitivity or consensus-building, at least when it came to his agenda.
“Concern troll” is a smartest boy urbanist term for “shut up, bitch.” And urban lefties can’t be doing this stuff anymore, not if they want support from communities of color. And they need that support. Asking people of color to support your bike lanes while discounting police violence and mass incarceration is so entitled…it’s like a black hole of entitlement…the entitlement is so dense it sucks everything else into it.
We cannot ask people to ignore their own oppression while we ask for their political support.
I don’t know Mr. Bray-Ali, but I have met Tamika Butler, and I have followed Sahra Sulaiman’s writing for some time. Tamika ran circles around me in a panel we were on once. Do you know how hard that is? I gave up. She had more important stuff to say than I did, so I sat back and enjoyed watching her go. Sulaiman writes beautifully about LA’s urban politics. She is one of a growing number of women writing very well about Los Angeles who (unfortunately) have to deal with smartest boy urbanists like Joe Bray-Ali issuing “Shut up, bitch” edicts because, as we know, ain’t nothing more righteously indignant than a smartest boy urbanist when confronted with the possibility that he doesn’t have all the goddamn answers.
Instead of learning, Bray-Ali went after Sulaiman again on Twitter again recently. Gahhhhhh.
Butler and Sulaiman are two very, very smart people. The last thing any political leader should do is to try to silence them. A good politician…a smart one..tries to get them on his goddamn task force. Moves them from the marginal to the center. They know stuff you don’t.
Mr. Linton may be right in that the tension between the fundamentalists and the “yes, but” folks may be “healthy”, but it is only healthy to the degree that white urbanists learn to think differently. The reason there is a “tension” is because white urbanists have been too lazy and/or too entitled to work on crafting a Vision Zero approach that really works for everybody, one that addresses the effects on socially and politically vulnerable people when we expose them to the police more than we already do. I get it: That shit is some hard work. It’s easier to yell “concern troll” while the boy urbanist peanut gallery congratulates you on your “powerful voice” and “never backs down” cowboy brio.
Vision Zero-type ideas can work in LA, but only if we do the work to build in strategies about police conduct and governance right along with making the city right for bicyclists.
I do take issue with Hillel Aron’s conclusion:
Maybe the lesson is simply: Being an asshole online is just as bad as being an asshole in real life. So don’t be an asshole. Especially if you run for office.
Again, some excellent writing, but if being an asshole were a disqualification for public office, we’d have had 12 presidents by now instead of 45. Assholes, like bitches, can get stuff done.
I don’t want LA urbanists to walk away from the Bray-Ali campaign thinking he struggled just because he had baggage or bad judgment (both true.) The problem he personifies here goes way deeper. The lesson is this (I shall repeat it a few times until it sinks in):
We have to support people of color if we’d like them to support us.
We have to support people of color if we’d like them to support us.
We have to support people of color if we’d like them to support us.
We have to support people of color if we’d like them to support us.
We have to support people of color if we’d like them to support us.
Not being an asshole also helps, too, tho.