The paradox of transit in Los Angeles suggests the solution in spite of itself. Automotives are foundational to Angeleno iconography, yet the city is notorious for smog and gridlock.
The Car Almighty is a rolling contradiction — often associated with the nostalgia of wealth, class and modernity. Yet here in Los Angeles where the car reigns supreme, the consequences are hard to miss: the wasted time, the environmental and health concerns, the inefficiency.
Reducing the impact of automotives is a worldwide initiative. Unfortunately, the issue often finds itself shelved alongside whale-saving and world peace. Noble pursuits of course, but none of us are equipped to single-handedly purge the oceans of toxic waste, let alone devise some way to prevent every future war. Sure, if I happen to run across a dastardly fisherman with his harpoon trained on some innocent beluga, I’ll ask him to cut it out. Maybe I’ll even push him. Until then, I’m opting for a less confrontational, exceedingly more approachable crusade: alternative transportation.
Emerging from the now defunct USC Fixed, Southern California Alternative Transportation is taking on big transit issues in our community, and is inviting students to come along for the ride. SCAT functions under the broader concept of sustainable transportation, and can therefore get more people involved in accomplishing bigger objectives.
Co-founder Charlie Furman, a junior majoring in critical studies, said SCAT’s goals range “from knowledge of maintaining a bicycle, to networking for people who want to go on group rides with other students, to better conditions for people using non-motor transportation.” Furman said that “the biggest thing [SCAT is] working on is a student bus pass similar to what numerous other schools throughout the country have.”
Improving student and community relationships with sustainable transit will require more than just providing know-how and opportunities. Meaningful, enduring change requires a shift in mentality: mainly, helping the community work past the well-ingrained concept of cars as the norm. A considerable population out there knows about the problem, wants to help out, but doesn’t know how.
Furman said the group can help. “We’re planning on having various bike, pedestrian and bus trips around LA to different places that a lot of people think you have to drive to,” he said.
Group excursions to places like the beach and the Hollywood sign will take that critical step towards re-teaching people how to think about and engage in transit.
SCAT is providing an enormous service to the USC and Los Angeles communities by making these realistic, practical solutions available.
In Los Angeles, any sense of hopelessness in the alternative transportation movement is amplified by the social (air)conditioning of the car culture. The mentality behind this car culture is rooted in that pesky old American Dream. Cherry red convertibles are as American as apple pie. As the country’s largest West Coast city and the home of Hollywood, Los Angeles is the city of manifest destiny. It’s not just the dream of something better, but also the materialization of it.
For years, that “something better” meant comfort. Cars offer instant comfort — this I can’t deny. But indulging in Happy Days nostalgia for an era when consumption meant liberty isn’t going to stay comfortable forever.
I’m all for comfort, don’t get me wrong. But as we creep towards completing the first decade of the new millennium, it is increasingly difficult to pretend that a smog-choked city is a lost cause, or that car culture is so critical to our economy that it can’t change.
We’ve inherited car culture, but we can’t keep relying on it. It’s time to take the reigns (or the handlebars, or even the bus). It’s time to hold ourselves to our own highest standards. Here on the USC campus, SCAT provides Joe Trojan with a minimal-effort opportunity to start making a difference.
Kelsey McLane is a junior majoring in international relations.