There’s no getting around the fact that L.A.’s traffic is terrible and getting worse.
Doing something about it will require leaders with the political will not only to ask average people to make some real sacrifices but also to break the stranglehold developers too often exert on public policy through their campaign contributions.
Three of America’s busiest highways run through Southern California; the nation’s most congested urban stretch of interstate is the 405 through Los Angeles. Increasing sections of the 181 miles of freeway and 6,500 miles of surface streets within the city limits slow to a snail’s pace for longer and longer periods each day.
Congestion already distorts our social and economic decisions on a daily basis. It has imposed new standards of etiquette: Whether your appointment is with friends for dinner or your physician for a flu shot, you’re either ridiculously early or unforgivably late. And everyone understands the reason – traffic.
Traffic congestion imposes economic costs at a staggering level: The average Southern California commuter annually spends 61 hours, or more than 2.5 irreplaceable days, out of the only life they’ll ever live stuck in traffic. Congestion’s cumulative annual cost to the greater L.A. region is estimated at more than $12 billion.
When thinking about even partial solutions to this seemingly intractable problem, there are two rules to keep in mind:
For most of us, the best solution to congestion continues to be the one that gets the other guy out of his car so we can go on using the freeways as we like.
All the easy stuff already has been done. Easy in this context doesn’t mean cheap. If all the expensive mass transit projects now on the Metropolitan Transportation Agency’s books are completed – including the “subway to the sea,” the extensions of the Gold and Exposition light-rail lines and the light-rail connector under downtown Los Angeles – traffic congestion will not diminish. It just won’t get any worse. That’s a lot of money to spend on maintaining a status quo with which nobody is satisfied.
So rather than just grin and bear what’s become increasingly unbearable, perhaps it’s time to consider some of the “difficult” – by which we mean unpopular – solutions.
The cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica might start by refusing to permit new high-rise office and residential buildings west of La Brea Avenue and in Hollywood. Without such a step, giant office and multi-unit condo and apartment buildings are going to continue springing up all over the Westside, which already is choking on congestion. Such a ban will be attacked as just another of the city’s