letters


There’s velo drama in Northeast Los Anglees, and you know it has to do with bike lanes because that’s the SINGLE MOST GALVANIZING ISSUE to communities across the city nowadays. In this case, it’s the proposed, supported, vetted, approved, and funded plan to add Class II bike lanes on North Figueroa across Northeast Los Angeles.

All was going accordingly until a righteously indignant area mouthpiece orchestrated and staged an anti-lanes campaign citing the complete and total devastation that would be wreaked upon area businesses and stakeholders if any vehicular traffic lanes were sacrificed for dastardly cyclists.  The bike community reacted initially with something of a collective “Pfffft!” a bit like the way Gov. Gray Davis dismissed the recall campaign that ended up successfully putting a “Former” before his title and a Schwarzenegger in his chair. And sure enough the rhetoric proved loud enough to gain the traction needed to get the noodle-spined Highland Park Neighborhood Council to reject the proposed, supported, vetted, approved, and funded lanes in favor of an alternative route that, of course, stays off Figueroa, and is ironically as weak as those naysaying councilmembers’ aforementioned backbones.

That in turn has gotten Los Angeles City Councilmen Jose Huizar and Ed Reyes — both of whom who have been very pro-bike in the past — to suddenly backpedal their support and slam on the brakes pending additional input regarding the alternative route.

In short the lanes are in serious danger of being disappeared.

It is entirely similar to the actions taken by the Burbank City Council in the mid-2000s, when they ignominiously caved to resident pressure and outcry (with claims that more bikes would bring greater gridlock — and crime!) and slaughtered a proposed, supported, vetted, approved, and funded route connecting the LA River Bikeway with the Chandler Bikeway.

So you know I sat myself down and tapped those councilmen out a letter, the gist of which is if you guys wanna deny the entire city those bike lanes I’ll still ride there, but when I do I’ll deny the business in your districts my entire wallet. And the point being that the decisions they make not only effect their constituents but those beyond their jurisdictions:

Councilmen Huizar and Reyes,

I am an avid urban cyclist who has ventured all over this city on two wheels. I am disheartened by the tactics used by some in the community against the proposed bike lanes on North Figueroa, and I am dismayed that it is having the desired effect in getting both of you to step back and suddenly qualify your previous support.

Personally, I ride all over the greater Los Angeles and Southern California areas with or without bike lanes beneath me. And if, like the Highland Park Neighborhood Council, you bend to the pressure being exerted to kill these lanes in your districts — lanes previously approved and funded — you can bet for sure I’ll continue to utilize Figueroa through the Northeast area.

But here’s the problem. Axe those lanes and I also guarantee that whenever I’m on those rides, I will make it my own personal mission to purposely avoid doing any business at ANY establishments on those routes throughout your districts.

If I’m dying of thirst coming back from a ride around the Rose Bowl I’ll either quench it somewhere in South Pasadena or wait until I’m west of downtown. If I’m on a ride that’ll leave me hungrier than a bear I’ll either pack a lunch with me or just suck it up through Eagle Rock and eat in Glendale.

It’s not much money for sure, but it’s mine. And I for sure won’t spend it in districts led by purported bike-friendly councilmembers who can so readily backpedal on what is clearly an IMPROVEMENT to the communities they serve.

Do the right thing, gentlemen. Support and build the North Figueroa bike lanes.

Sincerely,
Will Campbell
Silver Lake

A Thursday Los Angeles Times article on the then-pending City Council vote to demolish the historic 6th Street Bridge over the Los Angeles River in favor of a replacement of more modern design, illicited a strong enough reaction to what seemed the councilmembers’ foregone conclusion that I wrote the Times a letter that morning.

My issue is not with the bridge’s required destruction — that’s long been mandated by its increasing instability due to a chemical reaction that’s slowly decomposing its concrete. My issue is with those factions who are demanding that no aspect of the 79-year-old icon be incorporated into the new bridge, which renderings depict as having little more character than a Golden State Freeway overpass in Burbank.

On Friday, the council — with the surprising notable exception of Tom LaBonge — did as despicably expected and decided not to remember history, but to forget about  it.

My letter ran at the top of today’s opinion section. Here’s a snap of the print version (click it for the bigger picture):

On July 14, in response to a post on BikinginLA to contact the Auto Club about its opposition to Senate Bill 910, (which would make it law for motorists to allow at least three feet when passing bicyclists), I wrote to the heads of the Northern and Southern California chapters, the letters of which you can read here.

In the mail yesterday came the following two-page reply from Stephen Finnegan, AAA’s manager of Governement Affairs and Public Policy (both images can be enlarged to readability if clicked):

In a nutshell it’s a restatement of what I knew already to be AAA’s position, with some insight offered into the organization’s initial interest in getting “clarifying amendments” added to the original bill. When those amendments were not included an “oppose unless amended” was the stance taken.

Finnegan also included some companion materials to reinforce a point he made about the Auto Club’s commitment to multi-modality. Unbeknownst to him those pieces did more damage than endearment as they were a slanted feature in Westways magazine that I took letter-writing issue with after reading it last year, and a booklet AAA published, whose first words disagreeably read by this previous 30-mile roundtrip bike commuter are “Bicycling is a great option for shorter trips…” and whose last page features the following image of a road sign showing an aggressive sportscar “sharing” the road by passing the cyclist with decidedly less than three feet between them:

Just as Finnegan wrote that AAA supports the intent of SB 910 but doesn’t think it will be effective in achieving this objective, so do I support the intent of his cordial and informative and timely response, which was ultimately as ineffective.

From the indispensable BikinginLA blog comes a call to point an angry finger at the leadership of the Northern and Southern California-based AAAs because of their insistence that Senate Bill 910, which would require drivers in the state to give bicyclists at least three feet of clearance when passing from behind, is a bad idea.

Look, I understand that an organization has to operate in what it perceives to be the best interests of its membership, but the problem here is that the Automobile Club of Southern California and the California State Automobile Association are lobbying hard about the “detriments” of the potential law without any facts to support their claim.

They insist that SB 910’s three-foot passing provision might confuse and inconvenience drivers, which could ultimately cause vehicular collisions and result in millions of revenue dollars cumulatively being lost. Yet such a conclusion was submitted basically as a stand-alone statement, with no corroborating evidence. Given that 19 other states have enacted three-foot passing laws, the oldest one on the books being enacted in Wisconsin 38 years ago, you’d think that evidence of extensive confusion and fender benders and untold amounts of money lost would be there… unless it isn’t.

So instead like a schoolyard bully the AAA is standing before our state’s senators and assemblymembers and demand they kill this bill… just because!

So I wrote to CEO Thomas McKernanan of the SoCal AAA (below) and sent the same thing to Paula Downey of the NorCal AAA and I told them how reprehensible and irresponsible they are being and that as a long-time member of their group this is just not the kind of battle that I want my dues financing. And I copied my state assemblyman and senator:

Thomas V. McKernan
Chief Executive Officer
Automobile Club of Southern California
2601 S. Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, CA 90007-3254

Dear Thomas McKernan,

As an otherwise proud and faithful 28-year member of AAA I’m writing to express my concern and disappointment with its opposition to Senate Bill 910, which would require drivers in California to give bicyclists at least three feet of clearance when passing from behind.

With 40% of adult bicyclists who die in collisions with vehicles being killed by drivers passing them from behind, this is the single largest cause of such deaths. Existing law contributes to this problem by failing to specify how much clearance drivers should give bicyclists. SB 910 provides that specification.

I read that at recent legislative hearings in Sacramento your lobbyists argued SB 910’s 3-foot passing provision might confuse and inconvenience drivers and cause traffic delays. Yet such a conclusion was submitted without proof. They could not provide any evidence of these consequences in the 19 other states that have enacted three-foot passing laws, including Wisconsin, which enacted its three-foot passing law 38 years ago.

I wouldn’t be surprised if AAA lobbyists were in Madison back then arguing with the same unsubstantiated claims against such a proposal. But it’s a different world now, and for AAA to be willing to sacrifice lives today instead of supporting guidance that will save lives is reprehensible.

As a driver, I take seriously my responsibility to share the road safely with bicyclists and other road users who are particularly vulnerable to vehicle collisions — and I see all too often drivers who don’t. That’s why I support the easy-to-understand direction for drivers provided in SB 910 and why I find AAA’s opposition to SB 910 dangerously irresponsible.

And so I strongly urge you and your organization to reconsider such a narrow-minded position. I assure you, since this is how AAA is opting to spend my dues, I’m strongly reconsidering whether or not to continue as a member, one now substantially less proud and faithful.

Sincerely,
William Campbell

cc: California State Assemblymember Gilbert Cedillo; State Senator Curren Price

 

Whether you ride every chance you get, haven’t in years, or are somewhere in between, we are all bicyclists. As such, please consider answering the California Bicycle Coalition’s call to submit your support for Senate Bill 910 — the 3-Foot Safe Passing Distance Bill — to the following elected representatives in the State Assembly and Senate:

Here’s the email I sent in hopes of reducing harrowing incidents such as the following (I encountered in San Diego) from happening — and thus reducing the leading cause of cycling fatalities:

Hon. Bonnie Lowenthal
Chair, Assembly Transportation Committee
State Capitol, Room 3152
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Assemblymember Lowenthal,

As a dedicated bicyclist in Los Angeles I’m writing to express my support for Senate Bill 910, and to urge yours.

Having pedaled thousands of miles over the years all over our state, I’m only all too aware of the dangerous condition existing on California’s streets and roads due to motorists passing me too closely. From trucks crawling by me slowly with less than two feet of space between us to SUVs speeding past with only inches separating me from becoming another statistic, I’ve experienced every variation of this potentially deadly situation.

But regardless of the type of vehicle and how close they are to me, when such an unsafe encroachment occurs, even the slightest change in trajectory by either the motorist or myself could result in the type of collision that is the leading cause of adult bicyclist fatalities in California and the United States.

As I understand it, SB910 modifies existing state law requiring a motorist to maintain an unspecified “safe distance” when passing a bicyclist. The California Driver’s Handbook already recommends three feet of clearance when motorists pass bicyclists. Eighteen other states have enacted similar laws, and by joining them and mandating motorists provide bicyclists at least three feet of space when passing, SB 910 will not only help reduce the number of such deadly collisions, but will help increase the number of cyclists who choose to ride their bikes — whether it’s to work or for recreation.

A specified passing distance provides a more objective and easily understood definition for “safe passing” and gives law enforcement and the courts a more objective basis for enforcing California’s safe passing requirement. Most importantly, it enforces the special responsibility motorists have to share the road safely with more vulnerable road users like bicyclists.

I hope I can count on your support for SB 910.

Sincerely,

William Campbell

CC: Sen. Alan Lowenthal

It’s an old story: as the source of a success the writer is often the first forgotten and the last remembered. I always hate it when that happens — and especially when the scrub is perpetuated by another writer! Well, it happened today in an LA Times story looking at the implications and causes of the recent mass bird die-offs. In a  sidebar to the feature, staffwriter Amina Kahn makes a case that a 1961 incident around Monterey Bay was director Alfred Hitchcock’s inspiration for his 1963 film “The Birds.”

As a footsoldier in the Army of St. Jude fighting the never-ending battle for lost causes, I was compelled to point out such a regrettable oversight to Khan:

You connect Hitchcock’s “The Birds” to an alleged mass bird anomaly he heard about while vacationing in the area, but the true source for the movie wasn’t any acid-induced incident near Monterey Bay. Rather it was the imagination of writer Daphne Du Maurier, whose 1952 novella of the same name was Hitchcock’s true inspiration. Whether you or your editors were unaware of that or just elected to exclude it, either way It’s disappointing that fact wasn’t mentioned.

We were thrilled to be in the audience for the final performance of “Othello” last night at Griffith Park and had so been looking forward to the show, but unfortunately once it started we found that our position centered some 50 yards away from the stage was fatally detrimental to our enjoyment and comprehension given the number of the performers who were unable to project their voices such an apparent herculean distance. Seriously: there was a gentleman behind me gamely whispering a play-by-play to his companion who was literally drowning out some of the actors on stage.

The young lady’s expression inadvertently captured in the foreground was probably unrelated to the company’s lack of projection to this distance, but it certainly mirrors the frustrations I had with such inexplicably weak voices used in an outdoor venue.

For the price of admission I suppose I shouldn’t complain, but I will: it’s patently unforgivable — especially at the final performance. I suppose fault could be placed in our laps for so naively arriving at 6 p.m. instead of, say, 6 a.m. when we could have secured and defended a space much closer to the stage and well within the range of such a rampant use of camera-ready voices. But since we weren’t alone at arriving at so far more civilized an hour I’m wondering (hoping and praying, actually) if consideration is being given either to having the director rigorously explain the art and science behind voice projection, or perhaps installing even the most rudimentary of electronic amplification systems — or even better: both!

To be sure, even from so far away I could recognize the energy and enthusiasm and talent present in the production, but if no one at the Independent Shakespeare Company either on the stage or behind it recognizes that the importance of being heard at such a venue is far more than the importance of being earnest, I’m afraid the flood of patrons fleeing from the rear at future intermissions will continue with many never to be seen again.

My wife and I among them.

Sincerely,
Will Campbell

How now? Good sir David Melville, the managing director of the company saw fit to take good and surly issue in a reply to my email (to which I parry with my reply afterward).

He writes:

My goodness what an insulting email.

Why on earth didn’t you move closer if you were having difficulty hearing? If you arrived at 6pm then you certainly could have found a better seat. There were plenty of good spots closer to the stage last night even with over 600 people in the audience. I stood at the back last night behind everyone and had a brief conversation with a patron who was amazed at the good acoustics and the skill of our actors. I’m sorry this was not your experience.

I take great exception to your comments about our actors. This is most decidedly not the prevailing attitude to our work.
Thank you

David

And my reply to his reply:

Hi David,

My goodness what a speedy and ultra-dismissive and defensive reply in so excellent an attempt to be as insulting as you deem me to be. Had I any idea I was contacting such an easily offended and myopically over-protective representative of the company I would have dispelled with anything resembling constructive cordiality and just gone straight to the expletives.

But I’ll hold off on those pending the tone of any follow-up reply you might feel is required.

As to your ridiculously inconsiderate suggestion that we relocate further up, rest assured, had there been the opportunity to do so once the show started we certainly could have been even bigger asses than you presume us to be and packed up our low-backed lawn chairs, food, drinks and other materials and gone “excuse me, pardon me” trudging through the densely packed patrons in front of us to clatteringly unpack and resettle and better disturb their enjoyment — something you no doubt wouldn’t hesitate to do.

But shame on us for being respectful of our fellow attendees and for not being entirely accepting of those weak-voiced members of your apparently unimpeachable cast. For what it’s worth I didn’t hold every single player accountable. For instance, the fine actor portraying Cassio was as wonderfully audible as he was talented.

Anyway, I’m thrilled for you finding a guest in the back who represented that “prevailing attitude” to your work by reinforcing how everything was just peachy. Conversely, I’m embarrassed for you that you so readily disregard this guest who had a far different experience — and the truth is you’re not sorry in the slightest about it.

If nothing else you’ve reminded me that making suggestions that could be beneficial in improving an experience for everyone sometimes falls on deaf ears — ha! But at least in doing so you’re patronizing reply has provided me ample reason never to waste even a moment considering patronizing any future productions the ISC might be involved in. For that, I thank you.

Sincerely,
Will

UPDATE (12:30 p.m.): In the meantime I hear back from the far more reasonable Melissa Chalsma, ISC artistic director:

Hi Will,

Thanks for your input. I would say that your experience, on the whole, isn’t the norm, though that certainly doesn’t invalidate it. Many of the actors you saw are among the best trained in the country, and none are camera actors, having performed on Broadway, Ashland, Utah Shakespearean, Festival, etc. So, for the most part, it is the acoustics of outdoor theater, not their ability, that is the challenge.

Acoustically, it’s difficult not to have a back wall behind the audience not to bounce sound off. Any theater with 600 people generally has something to bounce the sound off of, and perhaps we will be able to do so someday, though the finances of that are decidedly challenging. Overall, though, it’s good to be a victim of our success. I’d ask you to remember, we are doing this without significant city support, and will provide free, professional theater for nearly 15,000 this summer.

If you return, please ask one of our volunteer ushers help you secure a spot closer to the stage.

Thanks again,
Melissa

To which I return:

Dear Melissa,

I had braced myself for a reply whose tone mirrored Mr. Melville’s initial response, and it’s a relief to get one featuring far more consideration than he could manage. I can appreciate that my experience might be in the minority, and as I stated in my initial email even though I couldn’t hear much of it, I could readily see that there was talent and commitment all over that stage. That in part is what made last night so frustrating.

Melville blamed us for not packing up and muscling our way during the performance to a patch of grass closer to the stage. Sorry, but that’s not how I was brought up.

I do apologize for my sarcastic reference to “camera-ready actors,” which unfortunately theater in Los Angeles has occasion to suffer from because it’s the nature of a training that is focused for dialogue on soundstages rather than stages.

And while my first email [may] not seem like it, I do recognize the difficulties you face both financially and acoustically, and I do understand and applaud the great job the ISC is doing despite those hindrances to bring professional theater to the public. It’s an important reason why we came out there last night to support it.

In closing, my suggestions — any snark aside — were offered as a life-long fan of theater outdoors and in, because I always want to see it be the best that it can be.

Regards,
Will

But just as things seem to be mellowing out, Melville comes back with the coup de grace:

Well one less pompous arse in the audience is fine by [me]. Especially one that needs a hearing aid.

To which I briefly deliberate going a little wider and posting this entertaining grind on Blogging.la but I decide just to throw back to him:

Honest Mr. Melville,

In that case, I’ll see you at the next performance to make much ado about something. I’ll be easy to spot. Just look for the villain standing in one of the old bear cages with a rapier in one hand and a bullhorn in the other yelling “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

Best,
Will

What ho!? Nay! It lookst to me as if there might be a thaw in the ice to see. Melville writes:

That is actually quite funny. I’m beginning to like you.

Sensing an opportunity to end things on a better note, I offer my broader mind in response:

David,

I’m a sucker for a kind word. So nevermind. It’s all my deaf-assed fault.

Seriously: I can imagine how much hard work you’ve put into herding this endeavor — and probably for little reward more than the satisfaction of seeing angelenos flock to watch it happen. As vested as you are it’s understandable that you’d be so paternally protective of your productions and your actors. I hope it’s ultimately understandable that though I’m coming at it as an unvested audience member, I’m just as paternal about theater as a whole, and always want to see it be the best it can be.

As I wrote to Melissa, my suggestions ( I won’t call them simple because I’ll wager nothing is simple where these shows are concerned)  were sincerely offered because all sarcasm and disgruntlement aside, I’d be the first one to jump up on the battlements to cheer you on for what you’ve accomplished. You interpreted what I wrote as an attack and baseless, but I  submitted it not as a hater but as a diehard supporter who saw room for improvement.

Certainly you could argue “Well why didn’t you just say THAT instead of all that snarky malarky? And that’s a good note worth taking.

So howsabout a truce: You go put on a fresh coat of teflon and I’ll put the rapier and bullhorn back in storage and remain hopeful that you and the ISC will continue to look for ways to make a cherishable experience even better. Deal?

Best,
Will

In fact, all’s well that ends well. Melville writes:

I like you even better.

Next time you come please let us know and we’ll save you donor seats.
I conditionally accept:
Sold… As long as there are no internal organs I’ll be required to part with for the privilege.

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