Kyle Taylor, author and founder of Fair Vote UK, on the Los Angeles 110/105 freeway interchange.
GB Tell me why you’ve chosen this.
KT I grew up in the Greater Los Angeles and since I moved in 2002, I’ve realized that I never understood how great the highways were. Living in other cities, I’ve seen that freeways are a way to get from point A to point B. They’re usually built and designed way after the place needed a road, so they’re all retrofitted. They’re all these modified bits of nonsense. The thing about LA is that this has always been the plan so there’s this mastery to the way that the city moves people around in cars. I grew up in a place where people had a favourite freeway. I think it’s beautiful because from above, it looks like art. It’s visually stunning. And when you’re driving on it, you feel like you’re a part of that art for a moment. It’s like being in an industrial painting. For me, what’s so spectacular is that it looks so simple, but the amount of planning and research that has gone into its creation is incredible. The peak flyover is more than 100 feet off the ground. Imagine the engineering marvel to make that happen. Also, it’s not exactly symmetrical. The research has led to the creation of a carpool only flyover. Think about the math, statistics, engineering, concrete and human innovation that have gone into that little intersection. People just drive over it every day without any realization of how spectacular it is that we can do this.
GB You must love driving.
KT I do love driving. The joke about Americans is always freedom. There is something so freeing about driving. It’s the same with trains and planes to a degree but you’re not in control of the direction of travel. In Southern California, 16 is freedom because 16 is when you get a car if it’s affordable. You have your own music, your temperature-controlled environment, it’s your storage unit, a place to take a nap, a place to hang with friends: so a car is just the symbol of freedom to me.
GB So this crazy intersection doesn’t feel noisy and dirty or is that part of the buzz?
KT There’s a unique skill to driving in Southern California because of the scale of the freeways. To get from my house to LAX, which is off the 105, you would take the 57 to the 91 to the 605 to the 105, and then on the way back it would be the 105 to the 110 to the 91 to the 57. How many places have that many freeways? It’s not noisy. There’s a skill to the way people drive. It’s offensively defensive.
GB Is it dangerous? Is that a part of the beauty for you?
KT The adrenaline comes when you’re taking someone who’s not from there on these things because you’re reminded how exceptional they are. That’s the danger; when you’re flying over that carpool lane overpass, and you’re at 100 feet and there’s just three feet of concrete each side of you and you’re with somebody who’s never been on that before. But at sunset it’s one of the best views in LA. You’ve got the sun setting over the ocean. You can see the Hollywood sign. You can see the LA skyline, and it’s all set in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range so in the winter there’s snow on the mountains.
GB So if it wasn’t in LA, would you still find it beautiful?
KT No, the beauty of the freeway really is unique to LA. There’s something about the concrete being just so grey while Southern California is so desert tan. It feels a bit ‘60s brutalist. LA feels stuck in the past. Like it peaked in 1997 and basically, it’s just the same, so this experience is like moving through the static in a car on these amazing overpasses. Also, Southern California has the most beautiful sunsets in the world and the irony is that they’re made better by the smog, and the smog is generated by the cars driving on this intersection.
GB Do you think one day this interchange will just be a huge monument to climate change and why it happened?
KT Not necessarily. LA is forced to be the most innovative when it comes to cars, because it’s the world’s largest automobile market. The reason that there are seat belts in cars is because of the State of California. The reason there’s a third brake light when you brake is because of California. The reason electric cars exist is because of California’s fuel economy standards. LA believes its leapfrog moment as a place is fully autonomous electric cars. It could simultaneously be the monument to human destruction and the place that leads the way to climate sustainability regarding movement of people. The reality is the world is huge and the automobile is a necessity.
GB What does this choice say about the way you think? You’ve chosen something gigantic and really complicated. And you work on data rights, which is about as gigantic and complicated as it gets.
KT I think the link in terms of me working in progressive advocacy for almost 20 years is the appreciation of how hard it is: the beauty in the determination and complexity. In progressive advocacy you’re mostly losing. You spend your whole career pretty much losing. You get maybe one or two wins in the duration of your career, because you’re rooting for change. The journey to change is so complex, and there are so many pieces to a puzzle, you learn to see the beauty in the complexity of something that also appears simple. Think about the Obama campaign of 2008. It was “change.” But what sits behind this simple consumable idea is complex policy development and coalitions of different groups of people coming together. And I look at this intersection and I think of the total lack of understanding from the lay person of how complex it was to get to hope and change.
GB Do you think manmade structures like this can be as beautiful as things in nature?
KT I mean, the short answer is absolutely, yes. I look at things that are human made and see beauty. I think, look at what we can accomplish. Humans are able to do incredible things. I imagine some people will think this is just a stain on nature and I understand that argument as well, but let’s shape our future and not just judge our past.
GB You’re such an optimist. It’s amazing.
KT But it makes me even more angry about the current state of democratic society because we have so much potential. How does an absolute charlatan get into power? We deserve better. We’re capable of more. The California Los Angeles highway system is a wonder of human creation, regardless of whether it’s good or bad, it is extraordinary.
GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?
KT I think it’s intrinsic to the individual. Beauty to me is like love and I think something worthy of the word beauty is something that gives you a flutter, that’s breathtaking. It was funny when you asked me to think of something beautiful, this was literally the first thing that came to mind.