Monday, April 19, 2010

Who Are They Landscaping For?

I rode my bike the long way to school today, detraining at Irvine station and rambling through the maze of creek trails and freeway overpasses that makes up this conspicuously gridless simulacrum.

Often recently I've had to leave the wide bike lanes that signify some ancient (1960s or 70s) vision of a bicycling way of life here because of landscaping trucks parked along the strips of sidewalk. Irvine appears lush and pillowy, as though water in Southern California flows plentifully. This blatant lie can only be maintained through constant manicuring, with who knows how many Latino workers trimming, shaping, watering, and planting the grass and shrubs that line all of Irvine's winding streets.

These streets usually have a greenbelt between the sidewalk and the street, and on many streets bicyclists get confusing indicators that they are also welcome on the curving paths that wind through the grass along the road, despite the clearly marked and wide bike lanes. Most of the time when I ride here, though, these sidewalks lie empty, a mere concrete line wiggling along with the cars as they speed past. Bicyclists do not get contiguous facilities; bike lanes invariably disappear near freeways, exactly where we most need infrastructural support to navigate the transition of drivers from a surface street mentality (if they even have one anymore) to a freeway mentality.

I really think Irvine maintains all of these greenbelts and park-looking spaces so that the people ripping through their city at 60 miles per hour can see something that appears pleasant to their conditioned eyes as they gaze through their windshields. I don't think they do it for the humans who actually attempt to use their legs to ambulate through this "town," cause I see a lot more two legged creatures on the off-street paths that have little attempt at landscaping running along their asphalt lengths.

In Irvine grass is meant to be seen through glass, air is meant to be breathed through an engine, and those who use other modes of transport must remain secondary to the automobilized vision of paradise. The sidewalks and bike lanes can be there because they refer to some pretended interest in quality of life, and we can even use them, but make no mistake, the landscaping is not for us. I remember that every time a landscaping truck ends the bike lane and every time I must ride between drivers speeding onto freeway onramps on my right and drivers speeding past me on my left.