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Of Trouble and Tow Trucks

November 27, 1987

It may be rank ingratitude to mention it, but there is a hitch in an otherwise excellent City Hall plan to keep traffic flowing in downtown Los Angeles during the Christmas shopping season. Or maybe it's the lack of a hitch.

What brings it to mind is this recent downtown street scene at rush hour: A middle-aged automobile, heading north on Broadway, broke down between 1st and 2nd streets. The driver, at some risk to his own chances of reaching middle age, got out and pushed his car to the curb through lanes seething with honking commuters. A white compact, with a yellow light on the roof and Parking Enforcement printed on its doors, pulled in behind the stalled car and began nipping at its heels with the horn, like a dog challenging a mail carrier. The driver explained the problem. The white compact disappeared. A series of commuters, possibly thinking that a blast of the horn is all that it takes to bring a dead car to life, did their best. An RTD bus driver stopped alongside the dead car, opened his door, experimented with verbal abuse as a possible solution, and drove on. Finally, a young Samaritan in a red pickup drove up and helped the auto's driver push his car up to 1st Street and around the corner, out of the heavy flow of traffic on Broadway.

As it says in children's books: "What is wrong with this picture?" The first thing is that the Parking Enforcement terrier made no use that we could see of its radio to summon a tow truck. The city's plan to beef up traffic enforcement during the holiday season includes extra police and more intense towing of scofflaws who deliberately park in tow-away zones at rush hour. The towing operation involves pre-programmed sweeps along downtown streets. But breakdowns occur randomly, and tow trucks can answer a call no faster than traffic permits. A tow also costs money, and there is often a correlation between a dead automobile and the ability of its owner to pay for a tow.

The city should take a harder look at this hitch, because streets can get clogged up by accident as well as by design. It could take it upon itself to pay for a tow and collect from a stalled motorist later. Outsized bumpers that would allow the Parking Enforcement terriers to nudge cars out of harm's way would help. Anything that avoids gridlock.

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