Saturday, August 18, 2007

Right to drive

Originally uploaded by amsterboy
On this holiday driving a car has played a big role. Coming from Amsterdam it is stunning to be in a place where getting around would be nearly impossible without your own car. Lack of public transport is coupled with the sheer size of the city. Just getting across Los Angeles metropolitan area yesterday to Santa Monica and Venice Beach was 45 miles one way which equals to 50 minutes driving without traffic jams.

Halfway we decided to switch our radio station from one of the dozen soft rock stations to public service. In the news they had a piece on the new policy of Beijing for limiting the number of cars on the roads. The city preparing to host the Olympics is suffering from horrid air pollution and has therefore decided that cars with license plates with even last numbers can hit the road one day and cars with uneven numbering on the other. The policy introduced this week has cut the number of cars daily by a million. Air pollution is a serious risk not only for the citizens of the megacity: The International Olympic Committee has signaled that without a better air quality it might be that the long-distance running sports cannot be organised in Beijing.

In Los Angeles the solution is carpool lanes. It does not sound much to qualify for a carpool if you have 2 people in your car but when on the highway it is quite amazing how empty the carpool lanes are and how much time you save by taking it. You realise on the one carpool lane when looking at the four other lanes how much of the driving is done with one person per car. I found the Nordic in me thinking that this is a place for new government policy.

I remember seeing once a documentary about urban planning where they compared cities designed for horses and once for cars. This has its impact on the width of the road and the visual stimulants by the road. Los Angeles and most American cities are clearly designed for cars whereas most European cities can be experienced also by walking. My hometown Helsinki is somewhere in the middle.

Having said that, yesterday's trip to Santa Monica was amazing. Cute little shops in all imaginable colours, sunny beach, ferris wheel on the pier, skaters, surfers, cafes with only organic products, women with Botox lips and men talking on ther mobiles loudly about "his last film that sucked big time". California.

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