As I'm writing this, I'm sitting alone at my desk eating lunch. Again.
I've never worked in a city where I eat so many lunches alone. The reason is not because I'm unpopular. No, really. Well, OK, maybe.
Actually, I believe the main reason is something else. It's traffic.
Traffic in this city is so oppressive, so choking, as to be life altering.
The standard lunch meeting is one victim. It's a daily routine in other places, but in Los Angeles, venturing out to meet someone for lunch can be a day killer. If it takes 45 minutes to arrive at a restaurant, that means it takes 45 minutes to get back. Add the hour and a half spent dining and chatting, and you've got a three-hour commitment.
And if the three hours spent on the lunch meeting sets you back at work, it means you stay late to catch up. Add the hour or so commute thanks to traffic and by the time you land at home the kids already are in bed. Again.
The result: I eat lunch at my desk more than I should. It seems to me that many Angelenos don't go out to lunch much, either.
This is no minor thing. Some matters should be dealt with on a face-to-face level. It is difficult in Los Angeles to have those great, spontaneous, let's-get-the-cards-on-the-table kinds of meetings whether over lunch or otherwise to resolve the issue of the moment.
The smothering traffic affects business in a raft of other ways. Timely shipments can't be counted on. Scheduling a big meeting is nearly futile because some crucial person or persons will be late, thanks to pinched-shut traffic. Office managers feel pressure to let people work from home. Retailers feel compelled to open more shops than they'd like in Los Angeles because they need to be accessible.
Highly specialized retailers or rare restaurants the kind that would not make it in Peoria because they need to be in a big city to survive would seem to be in an odd box in Los Angeles. They are in a county with 10 million people so they've got the raw numbers they need to survive.
But many of their would-be customers don't want to spend an hour or so in traffic to get to them. (For more on this, see the op-ed on the opposite page.)
This is the part of the column where I'm supposed to disclose a hidden solution. At least I should say what my favorite plan is. Sorry to disappoint you, but L.A. traffic is a big and serious problem, and it defies facile answers. At least, I don't have any.
More mass transit is the first-blush answer. But subways and trains, at this point in the city's advanced state of development, would be breathtakingly expensive. And, ironically, Los Angeles may not be dense enough to support a system extensive enough to be truly usable by the masses.
Another possibility is more buses. But they generally take longer than driving.
More one-way streets, with medians shaved away and traffic lights synchronized, would help. Imagine, say, Wilshire Boulevard with five lanes one way instead of two lanes each way. But that seems to fall in the too little, too late category.
Any bright ideas out there? All I can offer is my solution, which is a brown bag lunch and books on tape.
Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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