Posts tagged traffic

Photo: Gary Lai

Congratulations, Los Angeles, you’ve won the title of city with the worst traffic in the world! According to INRIX, a transportation analytic company, Los Angeles has won the title now six years in a row – a distinction I was completely unaware of when I wrote this piece about LA’s traffic back in 2016. Back then, I mistakenly believed we only had the worst traffic in the country. Silly me.

With a recent move bringing me closer to work, my commute has dropped down to just 25 minutes from door-to-desk, and thus I’ve fallen completely out of the loop about average commute times. But last week, I got reacquainted with the plight of the average Angeleno. I had to travel across town to the Westside for a seminar. I needed to be at the Sunset Luxe Hotel by 9am, and I cheerfully left my Little Tokyo apartment at 8am believing this would be sufficient, with time to spare.

For those of you who regularly commute across Los Angeles, you can stop laughing now.

The distance between Little Tokyo to the Luxe is about 16 miles. The trip took me an hour and 25 minutes to arrive, even while aided toward the fastest routes by GPS. This comes out to an average of a little over 11 mph, or roughly, the speed of a bicyclist.

I don’t have to tell you how our city’s congested traffic affects our health, air quality, pocket books, and the overall economy. We’ve already voted to tax ourselves several times over the past decade in an attempt to alleviate these problems. Unfortunately, as with every large infrastructure project, relief will not be realized for another decade. For now, let’s just look ahead:

  • Our investment in public transportation will transform the city of Los Angeles. Planned rail lines and the development around those rail corridors will get thousands of people off the city’s freeways. The effects may not be apparent for a number of years, but our investment in rail will define the landscape of Los Angeles beyond mere transportation.
  • Ride sharing services like Lyft and Uber are here to stay for the foreseeable future, contributing in ways we have not yet foreseen, for better or worse.
  • Autonomous vehicles are coming. A paradigm change, autonomous vehicles will ideally allow Angelenos to maximize the use of our existing automobile infrastructure, while hopefully still reducing overall congestion.
  • Dedicated express busways will fill in the gaps where rail will not and cannot go. Express buses like the Orange Line and the 720 Wilshire will need to bridge the gap for riders currently using  our current road infrastructure until full rail implementation becomes available. Over time, like in the case of the Orange Line, ridership will hopefully reach a tipping point where demand from bus to rail emerges. Express buses are the proof of concept properly implemented transportation corridors can work.
  • Pedestrians and bicycles will have a large role in shaping our commute, helping us stay healthier. Believe it or not, people will walk (and bike) in Los Angeles if the facilities are safe, well designed and take us where we want to go. In many instances, walking or biking might actually be the fastest mode of transportation available. This is certainly true in Downtown LA right now.

Buckle up fellow travelers! The evolution of transportation in Los Angeles will take awhile to complete, but brighter days glow ahead across our horizon. But till then Angelenos, we’ll all have plenty of time to ponder these improvements as we crawl to and from work, stuck along the 10 or 405.




Bishan Park, Singapore | Green corridor with Kallang River which connects Singapore Strait and Lower Peirce Reservoir. CC photo:

Bishan Park, Singapore | Green corridor with Kallang River which connects Singapore Strait and Lower Peirce Reservoir. CC photo:

As cities become more dense the need to address the concerns of mitigating the way in which citizens move through the city becomes magnified. As of now, the prominent method of transportation has focused upon the automobile, with increasing progression toward implementing public transportation. However, those more interested in bicycling haven’t found the road as accommodating. Generations of infrastructure development has made automobiles the primary and sole owner of the road, with little concern for permitting other methods of transportation as plausible or safe options. The result has been high levels of air pollution, urban runoff, and congestion on the road.

In recent years, cities such as New York, Chicago, Barcelona, and Calgary have implemented projects to initiate methods to mediate transportation of cars, buses, and bicycles to create a safer integration of circulation. Los Angeles has followed with its own project, MyFigueroa, proposing improvements throughout the Downtown area to accommodate for the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, and drivers with planting, signage, and a protected bicycle lane network. As this is a step forward to a better integrated system for a dense urban hub, why not increase the momentum and address the health, safety, and welfare by implementing principles that can resolve other issues derived by urban conditions? Methods and materials can be utilized to develop systems to decrease runoff and increase air quality.

Thermal imaging capturing temperature distribution, with blue showing cool temperatures, red warm, and hot areas appear white. CC image obtained from NASA Earth Observatory webpage.

Thermal imaging capturing temperature distribution, with blue showing cool temperatures, red warm, and hot areas appear white. CC image obtained from NASA Earth Observatory webpage.

Since the inception of the first public park, it has been known that green open spaces aid in resolving health issues of those living in dense urban environments. Utilizing trees and other plants goes far beyond aesthetic appeal to a city, but can also service as an improvement of public health, both mentally and physically. With additional services such as mitigating urban heat island effects, planting can be integrated with the improvements currently proposed to filter and reduce polluting factors within the downtown area.

A few cities like Copenhagen, Denmark and Quezon City, Philippines have initiating large scale propositions to preserve and develop green spaces for public health. Quezon City has developed a plan to create open spaces that service as a “green lung”, utilizing plant materials that can filter and absorb toxins and pollutants, as well as contribute to carbon sequestration. Sustainable practices such as green lungs and curb breaks in parkways can be implemented into propositions, such as the MyFigueroa project that proposed bikeway networks, to dramatically mitigate conditions create by urban development. As much as the tree canopies above can filter light and reduce heat island effects, why not use plant materials contaminants along the bike routes that can filter water and reduce runoff.


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.