Traffic in L.A. A city unclear on the concept


Steve Lopez of the LA Times writes about the utterly dysfunctional traffic in Los Angeles. 11 mile drives on the Westside now can easily take 90 minutes. Everyone wants the city to do something. But …

I called Jaime de la Vega, Los Angeles deputy mayor for transportation, to see what he says about it all and to ask if he’s gotten rid of his Hummer yet. He didn’t call back. I know it’s a free country, but we have to hope the transit boss in a city with legendary smog and traffic is no longer tooling around town in a goofball buggy the size of a tank.

Heck, he’s probably replaced it with a stretch Hummer by now. God forbid someone in charge of transportation in the City of Los Angeles actually have a clue about what to do, much less be a role model.

Los Angeles has never had a clue about transportation. A usable trolley system was scrapped and freeways built instead. The freeways were built in a spoke design, with downtown as the hub, rather than in concentric circles, which would have made far more sense. Mike Davis documents in one of his books how this was done not for the public interest, but rather because downtown real developers would make more money with a hub design.

Public transportation is woefully inadequate here. Yes, there finally is a subway, but it’s too little too late and still being fought by Westside interests, which is precisely where it’s needed the most. But even many of them now understand that their upscale home and location isn’t much good if it routinely takes 30 minutes to drive 5 miles during the late afternoon.

There are plans to have some major streets go in one direction, or maybe contra-flow during peak hours. Well, duh. This should have been done years ago. NYC has long had one-way avenues and Seattle has contra-flow, and it works just fine for them.

The traffic in Los Angeles is a major reason Sue and I are moving. It continually gets worse, never better. Changing the flow on a few streets, although needed, is a band-aid. The real problem is a lack of usable mass transit. That’s what the city needs, and that’s what it will not be getting.

What happens when a city becomes so choked by traffic that commerce slows down and people stop moving there? In the next 5-10 years Los Angeles will be discovering just that.

  • Joe Hartley

    While Mike Davis is always an interesting read, he’s not gospel, and he’s wrong about the LA Transportation system.

    The major problem with the LA transportation systems was that it was never implemented completely. When designed, it anticipated that no place would ever be more than a couple of miles from a freeway. Streets were scheduled to be redesigned for changeable lane flow, and the system was actually pretty sophisticated about how it would respond to freeway backups.

    The freeways followed pretty much the routes of the old Red Cars, which failed in no small part because they had never been properly integrated with the automobile. (Example: one of the original inter-urban lines ran through Hollywood before there was anything much there besides beanfields and grape arbors. What did the idiot city fathers do when the built a road? Built it so the railway ran right down the middle of the road, thus guaranteeing problems between interurban users and the automobile.) BTW,if you think traffic NOW is bad, read about the traffic jams downtown in the late teens and early twenties where there were enough automobiles to make life, well, interesting.

    The problem with the freeway design wasn’t a spoke model; it’s that most of the connector lines never got build. For example, an integral part of the freeway was to follow Santa Monica Boulevard where it intersects the San Diego Freeway in Westwood and go up through Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and Hollywood along the base of the Santa Monica mountains. Never got built because of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) from Beverly Hills. Ditto a bunch of others, and, of course, the City of LA never integrated its traffic grid with the freeways. The story is fascinating, but a lot more complex than Davis lets on.

  • The old trolly system of LA is fascinating to read about. Why it was abandoned in favour of freeways is beyond me.

  • Joe Hartley

    The major reason was that it was in desparate need of capital infusion at a time where having and driving a care was a symbol of social status. (Gas, also for those of you too young to remember it, was only about 20 cents a gallon.) The various systems were rickety and didn’t integrate well at all into a car-based society. Was it foolish to abandon them? You bet. But people’s vision of the future is rarely clear, let alone prescient.

  • DJ

    Bob wrote, “it routinely takes 30 minutes to drive 5 miles during the late afternoon.”

    Are you kidding? It can take 45 minutes to go 8 miles from Santa Monica to Westchester at 10:00 on a Sunday night! There is no time of day safe from “rush hour.” My recent visit (I’m an escapee from LA) showed no signs of improvement.

    I don’t see how more freeways can fix this. Unless the amount of pavement drastically increases, there’s just no place to put that many cars. Meanwhile, more buildings continue to be built (e.g. Playa Vista off Jefefrson Boulevard) but streets are not widened to accomodate the thousands of new and newly-concentrated residents.

  • Susan Wiedem

    The solution must be economically equal. It cant be something that only alters the habits of the middle and lower class because they cant afford the fees or tolls, such as some of the suggestions I read on Sunday offered by our hummer driving friend – fees for driving in congested areas!. It has to impact the wealthiest as well. If you have tolls/gas increases/fees for driving in congested areas/increased parking – it must be based on a persons ability to pay. If a system is used where you drive on odd or even days based on your license, people with additional cars should be assessed a fee. Consider crosswalks in some areas where all cars stop while pedestrians walk as they have in Europe – (Beverly Hills as well?) So when cars get the green they can move instead of waiting for pedestrians.

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