Only in LA.
It’s something we mutter when we sit in traffic. Admit it. In my case, I marvel that my former commute from Silver Lake to Pasadena is actually faster than to Downtown LA, even though it’s twice as far. In LA, time and distance are mutually exclusive. Angelenos don’t describe our trips in miles, only in minutes. I’m sure you’ve had a conversation eerily close to this one with your out-of-town friend:
“Hey, I’m coming from the airport. I’ll meet you at the restaurant. How far is it?”
“It’s 45 minutes.”
“Huh? Isn’t it only about 10 miles away?”
“Yeah. 45 minutes.”
Only in LA.
At least we don’t have the worst traffic in America this year. The crown goes to Washington, DC even though it had to take “the crown” from us in 2014. It’s like a traffic equivalent of the Lakers and 76ers seasons this year.
My ranting points out the obvious: Los Angeles traffic is bad, and has been bad for a half century. We know it. California knows it. America knows it. The world knows it.
In some perverse way, Southern Californians enjoy the notoriety. Like Chicago Cubs fans sticking with a hometown team that hasn’t won a championship in over 100 years, Angelenos take a certain amount of self-flagellating pride in our commuter’s misery. A shared misery is still shared: traveling side-by-side in our shiny metal shells, 10 feet apart, creeping along at 2 miles an hour on the 405. Except…
…in 2008 we collectively snapped like Michael Douglas’s character in the ultimate “I can’t take this anymore” movie, “Falling Down“. We decided that a massive transportation bill called Measure R was needed to help solve our collective woes. This $30 billion measure was a comprehensive measure to fund widening the worst bottlenecks on our freeways AND provide alternate transit options – namely adding rail. We achieved the required 2/3 vote to implement this new sales tax.
Measure R was a watershed moment for a couple of reasons: 1) we voted by a super majority to tax ourselves. I think this bares repeating. Almost 70% of us voted to TAX OURSELVES! You understand that every time a person utters that phrase a Tea Party member’s head explodes somewhere. 2) Things must have been terrible, horrible, no good and very bad for us to agree to tax ourselves. And it was. LA City Council members had started to instruct their staff not to book meetings after 2pm on the Westside because they could never get back home at a reasonable hour. Yikes.
Consequently, we have embarked on a great adventure of widening freeways, laying down rail, and debating whether we are spending our hard-earned money wisely. As the County readies “Measure R2”, the conversation is beginning to heat up, as illustrated by a recent LA Times front page article about diminishing transit ridership in LA County (followed by a counterargument for boosting ridership).
Amongst all of the rhetoric, something will get lost: the core reason why we taxed ourselves in the first place. We cannot get around this city and county efficiently. Whatever traffic vision and solutions mid-century transportation planners had for our region, it did not work. The fact is that by only accommodating for car mobility over the past 40 years, we’ve left our city population’s mobility life support. We are one freak storm away from complete gridlock.
Our freeways and city street system are maxed out. There is no more practical widening left to do. The 405 widening project cost us $1.1 billion and was back to business as usual almost immediately after it opened last year.
With Southern California projected to increase in population by 10 million people by 2050, we must continue to build infrastructure that provides us with transportation options that include all modes – rail, buses, bicycles, pedestrians and, yes, automobiles. With our innate and ingrained car culture, we should expect this change in the transportation paradigm to be revolutionary, painful, and costly. However, like the hundreds of movies and television shows shot here every year, the hero will undergo trials and tribulations only to realize the folly of her ways and will rise to the occasion to complete the happy ending.
Only in LA.