I was interested to read the article in the Jan. 19 issue about how developer Jim Thomas put up $100,000 of his own money to help fund a Rand Corp. study to find some inexpensive, short-term solutions to L.A.'s world famous traffic congestion ("Non-Profit in Drive to Ease Gridlock").
Rand spent a total of $300,000 on its study and came up with many ideas, 10 of which were listed in the Business Journal. I could have given them the names of up to a dozen people on the Westside who in a few hours could have run through all the ideas that have been explored during the 38 years I've been a citizen activist in traffic and public transportation, and saved them $300,000.
All the major traffic mitigation I fought for during 30-plus years was beaten back by homeowners, like the Beverly Hills Freeway. But let's forget the past and that the subway could be approaching Century City by now had it not been blocked for reasons I will never understand. Let us deal with what exists today and look at the some of the ideas from the Rand study:
One proposal is to synchronize traffic lights in adjoining cities, which is a great idea. But did they investigate how long that idea has tried to be implemented with no success because of parochial vision on the part of those adjoining cities? Their primary argument is "Why should we synchronize our traffic lights to help people who are passing through from one part of Los Angeles to another?"
Another proposal is to decrease the availability of peak-hour curbside parking along congested thoroughfares. Yeah, great idea. Who needs all those mom-and-pop stores that line the commercial areas of those thoroughfares?
Many years ago, then-Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky came up with a great idea. Using the power of eminent domain, he took two houses directly behind a commercial strip of stores and he built a public parking lot using parking meter funds. But the result was that the residents in the area were very unhappy, as they feel that each single home must be protected at all costs. Then they put in parking restrictions where only the homeowners could park with a permit on their streets.
As long as this kind of parochial thinking is going to be allowed, solutions will be unattainable. After all, sometimes a few must sacrifice for the good of the many.
When the Olympic-Pico plan was first proposed, I suggested that permit parking restrictions in nearby neighborhoods be lifted during the rush hours when parking on Olympic or Pico boulevards, in commercial zones, was not allowed. That would allow customers to park on the residential streets and walk to the stores. If they could have, they would have tarred and feathered me. My idea went no place and Councilman Jack Weiss didn't want to upset his vocal constituents. So scratch this idea.
Next they came up with the idea to encourage companies to offer employees cash instead of paid parking as an incentive for commuting alternatives. What commuting alternatives? Certainly not buses that are stuck in the same gridlock as the automobiles.
I do like one idea, which is to develop and market deep annual bus pass discounts for employers in well-served transit areas, such as downtown.
Another idea is to develop a regionwide network of bicycle lanes. They should talk to Ryan Snyder about that. He devoted more than 10 years of his life trying to get a bike lane up to UCLA and got nowhere.
Gridlock getting worse
Finally, my favorite: the dedicated bus lanes in urban areas. It is a wonderful idea that doesn't work. I know, as my office is at Wilshire Boulevard and Barry Avenue, which is the end of the test route for dedicated bus lanes, and my wife's office was two blocks away from the beginning of the test route. Space precludes me from detailing the idiocy of this idea but at one point, one car per light cycle, about three minutes, could get out of our building to go east on Wilshire.
Assuming the economy of Los Angeles doesn't collapse, gridlock is going to get worse with each passing year. Our hope would be to try to maintain it at the level that currently exists. In order to do that, the silent, suffering residents on the Westside are going to have to make their voices heard.
Currently, the Department of Transportation is dedicated to the concept that they must prevent cut-through traffic in neighborhoods. But almost every time traffic mitigation programs are installed, gridlock gets a little and some times a lot worse.
Let me give you an example: Beverly Glen Boulevard from Sunset Boulevard to Wilshire. The neighbors got together and had the street reduced from an artery (it was carrying people from the San Fernando Valley to West Los Angeles) to a neighborhood street with the removal of one lane in each direction.
Mitigations such as that one do not eliminate a single car, they just move them to another street or they make the drivers spend more time on the same street.
I believe they should pick a few north-south residential streets and allow the traffic to flow on those streets in order to save the majority of residential streets.
If Rand wants to do a study, I suggest it studies how we get those people to realize they can't have it both ways.
The general rule of public action is that it should harm the fewest in number and benefit the many. When this rule is acknowledged, maybe we will finally be able to address the problem of gridlock.
Harold L. Katz is a partner in a CPA firm in Los Angeles and a citizen activist.
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