It all started several weeks ago, when I came home from the mall one Saturday afternoon to find my street full of cops, tow trucks, and totaled cars. As it turned out a drunk lady on her way home from brunch had come speeding up my residential street the way most assholes do and plowed into three other parked cars and a motorcycle.
Regular readers know that this sort of thing isn’t out of the ordinary for my street – only weeks before this incident a wayward car totaled the Camry parked 30 feet in front of The Mystery Wagon (RIP), and just about every other night we hear tires squealing outside as speeders slam on the brakes and narrowly avoid removing themselves from the gene pool.
Gathered at the edge of the street watching a procession of tow trucks hauling away the mangled cars, my neighbors and I all agreed that something had to be done to make our street safer before this happened again. My neighbors and I have this conversation every time there’s a car accident on my street. It plays out like a hyper-localized version of the gun control debate that erupts after every mass shooting.
First there’s Outrage:
“This street is too dangerous!”
“Seriously! It’s like, how can we even LIVE here!?”
“They need to at least put in some streetlights or something.”
“It’s like, HOW can they not put in STREETLIGHTS?”
“It’s like, HOW can they not put in STREETLIGHTS?”
“It’s like, I don’t even feel safe parking my car on this street anymore. It’s totally unacceptable!”
Then there’s Grand Plans:
“We really need to do something about this. Like, talk to the city council or something.”
“Yeah! We need to get, like, a speed bump. Or some streetlights.”
“If we had a speed bump, it’s like that crash wouldn’t have happened.”
“On Monday I’m totally calling the city council and I’m going to be like, ‘Hey. You guys need to, like, do something here, or somebody’s going to die.”
“You should do it! You should totally do it.”
And then about four seconds later, when everybody starts to contemplate how much work it would be getting the city council to make substantial and expensive safety improvements to our street, we move on to the final stage – Immediately Giving Up:
“Oh, hey, I forgot to mention, I got a callback for that webseries audition!”
“Ohmigod, that’s so great!”
“I know, right? It’s really just happening for me right now. I really think this is my year.”
This is how it always goes, because at the end of the day most people would rather take the calculated risk of leaving their car at the edge of a windy, unlit bowling alley for drunk douchebags than waste weeks or months fruitlessly wrestling with municipal bureaucracy.
But that afternoon, staring at the vehicular carnage, I found myself wanting to wrestle with municipal bureaucracy. Just about everybody on my street has had their car damaged in some way by a reckless driver, and I for one was sick and tired of living in fear.
Well, okay, maybe ‘fear’ isn’t the right word. But I was definitely sick and tired of living in mild concern. I wanted a speed bump and I was willing to fight for it, so I approached one of the cops watching the cleanup efforts and asked him how he’d recommend I go about getting a speed bump installed on my street. He took on a cautionary tone:
“You’ll have to go through your neighborhood council, and if it picks up enough steam there they’ll take it to the city councilman for your area and see what he can do, but… It might be kind of tough getting anything done. If you want I can put you in touch with the traffic division and we could just patrol your neighborhood more often.”
“Don’t worry, officer – I’ve seen season 3 of The Wire. I think I know how to deal with the city council.”
I didn’t actually say that, but I was so busy thinking it that I can’t remember what I actually said.
A few days later, after my roommate’s car got sideswiped by a hit and run driver in the middle of the night, I fired off an email to the transportation committee for my neighborhood council, laying out my case for a speed bump. The exchange spooled out over a couple of weeks and wasn’t terribly interesting, so I’ve whipped up a condensed version that covers the most important plot points:
The street I live on is dangerous because of drunk people speeding, so could we get a speed bump?
Thank you for your email, Mr. Capps. Unfortunately, due to budget constraints the city can’t afford to install a speed bump. However, we can add a new stop sign or ask the LAPD to do more patrols in your area.
-Studio City Neighborhood Council
I’m not sure how effective the police would be… I mean, the people doing all this damage represent only a tiny fraction of the traffic on my street, so the likelihood of the police being around to catch them when they’re doing it is pretty low. What if we raised the funds for a speed bump ourselves?
Sorry Mr. Capps, but because this is not an episode of Hey Arnold! there are various rules and regulations that make it impossible for you and your quirky neighbors to come together and scrape up the funds for a speed bump.
Well, shoot. What about streetlights? Or a speed camera?
Well, that’s a different bankrupt department’s responsibility, but if the city can’t afford to give you an oblong concrete lump they probably won’t be able to do anything that requires electricity or maintenance.
Okay... So… Earlier you said something about a new stop sign?
Actually, the city almost certainly won’t install a new stop sign that close to the other ones. But we can have the police come by more often!
My street is demonstrably unsafe, there’s a considerable risk to property and human life, not to mention a darecare center in the danger zone, and the city I pay taxes to can’t do anything to bring down the overall deathrap factor!? You know, all the other streets up the hill from us have speed bumps! Why is that? Is it because they’re upper middle class whereas my end of the street is lower upper middle class!? What the fuck is all this class warfare bullshit, asshole?
We’ve seen season 3 of The Wire too, Mr. Capps. Should we have the police come out more often or not?
Okay. I’m sorry for cursing.
I’d planned on burrowing into the red tape, keeping my eyes on the prize, and alternately jumping through hoops or fighting until I got my speed bump. But I got completely shot down on every conceivable front before even getting into the red tape. That said, I really appreciated that the City of Los Angeles wasted my time via email instead of in person.
This past Tuesday morning I was on my way to work when I coasted at three miles per hour through a stop sign at a right turn in my neighborhood, several hundred feet from my apartment. As I rounded the corner I saw a pair of LAPD officers standing on the lawn of the house – one was writing a ticket for an SUV idling at the curb, and the other one was stepping out in front of my car, waving his arms for me to pull over.
“You didn’t come to a complete stop at that stop sign. You just followed the car in front of you right on through.” The officer scolded, his pencil scratching as he filled out the form on his ticket book. “We’ve had some complaints about unsafe driving in this neighborhood…”
He trailed off for a second, looking at me. We realized it at the same time.
“Wait.” He said. “I think I talked to you a couple weeks ago. After that car crash!”
“Yeah.” I said.
“That’s pretty ironic.” He chuckled, handing me the ticket. “Just try to be more careful, okay bud?”
Truman Capps will be appearing in traffic court in Van Nuys sometime before August 8th.