It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Friday, July 18, 2008

Los Angeles


The picture is lifted from here on 3quarks. I don't know anything about the picture. The traffic is quite light; it could be a sunday morning or something, which makes the haze all the more impressive.

Huge interchanges fascinate me, in the light of the constant assertions of the powerlessness of the public sector to achieve anything non-automotive. These are astonishing constructions, the likes of which were never seen on earth before the modern era, and are treated as mundane, especially in the southern half of the US, where respect for government is perhaps lower than anywhere on earth.

The south (and for these purposes that includes California) is a land of bizarre contradictions that are somehow invisible to the natives.

9 comments:

Donn said...

Very unusual picture of the LA Freeways . . . or a very old one. If you notice, not one of the lanes is backed up. That particular exchange spend s more time in stop and go and go these days, whether day or night, rain or shine, weekday or weekend.

Donn

Michael Tobis said...

The picture is lifted from here on 3quarks. I don't know anything about the picture; it could be a sunday morning or something, which makes the haze all the more impressive.

Huge interchanges fascinate me, in the light of the constant assertions of the powerlessness of the public sector to achieve anything non-automotive. These are astonishing constructions, the likes of which were never seen on earth before the modern era, and are treated as mundane, especially in the southern half of the US, where respect for government is perhaps lower than anywhere on earth.

The south (and for these purposes that includes California) is a land of bizarre contradictions that are somehow invisible to the natives.

PaulSchick said...

One of the fortunate properties of constructions like that interchange is that when you use them, the traffic may be heavy at times, but at least you don't have added to that the typical lazy, slow-moving, glassy-eyed government functionary right in your face halting your life for the sheer pleasure of it. I can't say the same thing about, for example, transit systems, the drivers can't seem to be taught that noon means when the big hand and the little hand are both on the twelve, not midafternoon - or the trains or buses just don't show up at all - and the managers just sit on their plush behinds doing absolutely nothing about it, while both these species of overpaid incompetent do-nothing collect magnificent ultra super deluxe luxury fringe benefits such as retirement by age 40.

Now, the construction of those interchanges is another matter. The spaghetti bowl along I80-94 just south of that cesspit of corruption known as Chicago has been under construction for at least ten years - I've lost track - with marginal visible results and no apparent increase in traffic capacity. By the time they "finish" it - if they ever do - they can just start over.

So even though I've never lived in the South, I still don't have a whole lot of respect or enthusiasm for government. It's an enormously wasteful and expensive way to get very little done, and at a glacial pace at best. Service is simply an oxymoron, with every kind of extraneous factors such as politically-correct ethnic body counts, political photo-ops, political sabotage of the other party, and fawning subservience to every NIMBY who comes crawling out of the bottom of the barrel, all coming first.

Michael Tobis said...

Wow. Where to start with that one?

As I suppose you might guess, you and I see things very differently.

I think that the better parts of Chicago proper (nearly half, now, and expanding) have a very strong case for being the finest built environment in North America, and yes, I've seen most of it.

Chicago has a very strong government, though. You wouldn't care for it. It might get your theories all tangled up. I hope you don't plan to get all litigious trying to fug them up? I hope not.

If you're complaining about the trashy suburban sprawl along I-80, though, I am with you. That's another story though. The Chicago burbs have so many ridiculous jealous little fiefdoms that nobody except big corporate money can get anything done. However, that wasn't what you were complaining about, was it?

Nphyxx said...

Hey I hope you'll forgive me for commenting so long after your original post.

Private toll roads can cost less than half as much as public roads (in terms of taxes paid per trip vs. toll paid per trip), road quality and engineering can be much higher, and problems are addressed more quickly.

It's not a matter of can the government do anything, it's a matter of can they do it better, or more accurately what's the trade-off we get. For instance in social services - the federal government gets about 20-25% of the money collected in taxes for welfare to the recipients themselves, the other 75-80% going to government employees and disappearing into government black holes. In contrast charities average about 80% spent toward their cause. Do we still want universally accessible welfare that isn't subject to the conditions and whims of a charitable organization? Probably, yes, but the costs must be considered and we have to be sure that the government is the best choice for delivering it.

There are a lot of places where people are willing to compromise quality for lower complexity (it's certainly easier to have someone take your money with promises that they'll sort-of-kind-of use it to your benefit). We just have to be careful where we make the compromise and always be sure we're on top of the facts. Working for the government for several years really woke me up to how wasteful and corrupt it is, and I'm always wary when I hear they have the answers to anything. If you haven't, I recommend the experience - it could really change your opinion.

King of the Road said...

Yes, Chicago has a strong government all right, see http://www.friendsofmeigs.org/html/reflections_on_a_dark_night.htm.

Strong enough to ignore the law and and destroy an airport, as the group says, it's the only airport in the United States destroyed by terrorism. Photos of the results of the terrorist act, done literally in the middle of the night, are at: http://www.aopa.org/whatsnew/newsitems/2003/03-1-157x.html

The terrorist? Mayor Daley. So I agree with the notion that it's a strong government, strong enough to ignore the law for personal and political gain. But it has always been so in Chicago. Sigh, as elsewhere I suppose...

Your comment that Paul Schick "wouldn't care for it" implies that you do. Is this correct?

Michael Tobis said...

Well, it's complicated.

Ironically, given everything, I am on the whole a supporter of Mayor Daley Jr. though I certainly wouldn't want to get on his wrong side.

I am sorry to tick you off like this but I have long been amused by the Miegs story and tell it all the time.

Though I could imagine it being quite a kick in the butt for a few people, we really didn't need the aggravation and it was a great improvement to the lakeshore.

We may disagree on whether the greater good was served in this case, but on the whole, comparing Chicago to the competition (St Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo) is pretty decisive.

American democracy has altogether too many levers. This may be a reason it is so ineffective. You may not like this particular decision but it certainly took some cojones.

Neither the Daleys nor LBJ were nice people, but they got good things done for their contituencies.

Compare with leaders of more delicate sensibilities.

I wouldn't want people like that in power in Canada, say, where the levers of government more or less work. But around here, yeah, you need to break some eggs.

King of the Road said...

But what is the point of having laws if politicians are free to decide when to disobey them?

Whether Meigs should have been there and whether the lake shore is better off without is an issue on which you and I can disagree. But that's not the basis of my disgust.

In any event, it's not germane to the substance of your blog or your post but Daley's approach is certainly one of which, for example, the Burmese military rulers would certainly approve. I'm genuinely surprised that you support it.

Michael Tobis said...

I'm surprised at me too.

But compare the state of Chicago with the obvious competition: St. Louis, Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo. The midwestern cities that never aspired to the first rank (Milwaukee, Cincinnatti, Pittsburgh) are in only slightly better shape. Chicago stands unique as a major city on the world stage that is a survivor of the heavy manufacturing cities of the interior US.

Strong government is worth a lot. Strong government that is aligned with the majority can do major damage to minorities, and injustice is a real threat, so I don't say this lightly, but a government that is too constrained by rules and traditions may not be capable of dealing with major challenges.