By Robert Rector
It’s a bright Monday morning and Joe Commuter is starting his workday routine.
He’s up with the sun, showers, grabs a cup of coffee, peruses his email and heads for the freeway.
But this is not going to be a typical day for Joe.
He creeps up an already congested on ramp and with some skillful maneuvering and great patience finally makes his way onto the freeway. As he does, everything suddenly comes to a standstill.
Not just stop and go traffic but a tire-screeching, horn honking halt. And not only on Joe’s freeway but on every freeway from the Ventura County line to the Mexican border.
Joe, it seems, has become the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The traffic congestion has become so severe that the addition of just one more vehicle has brought the entire freeway system to a dead stop.
There’s no more room. Not for Joe. Not for anyone. It’s enough to give gridlock a bad name.
Fiction? Perhaps, but not far from the truth. Consider:
The 405 widening project cost $1.6 billion and took six years to complete. Yet commute times are roughly the same through the Sepulveda Pass as before.
The number of trips taken on bus and rail routes last year fell to the lowest level in more than a decade, according to published reports.
If we are to believe experts and officials, the decline is attributable to undocumented immigrants now being able to obtain driver’s licenses (more than a million have done so), ride-sharing competition and more people buying cars as well as perceived problems with transit service and security.
Translation: They’re not sure why so they throw a bunch of hypothesis against the wall and report on which ones stick.
Of course, we could go a long way to identifying and solving the problems by requiring every MTA official to ride public transportation for a year. And pay for it. That would stir the creative juices.
In the meantime, there are billions of dollars on the table for current and future projects involving public transportation.
Will it be money well spent?
Or are we building monuments to a failed experiment?
Let us now shine the bright light of optimism on our gloomy state of affairs.
First, give it time. It’s only been about 35 years since Los Angele got serious about a modern transportation system. In other major metropolitan cities, subways are a major part of the fabric of life. London has had a subway since 1890, Glasgow since 1896, Paris since 1900, New York since 1904.
If they could give up the horse, we can give up the car. If we don’t, we will become a megalopolis of maniacs.
Second, nobody is going to build or even expand freeways. (There is a 63-mile high desert freeway connecting the Los Angeles County communities of Palmdale and Lancaster with the San Bernardino County communities of Victorville, Apple Valley and Adelanto on the books but for those who live in the Los Angeles basin, it might as well be on Mars).
There is no reasonable evidence that new or expanded freeways would ease traffic congestion (see 405 above). Traffic tends to expand to meet the space that’s provided for it, experts say.
Add to that: the last major construction project, the Century Freeway, came in at $150 million a mile. Today, that would be bargain.
Elon Musk’s plan to build a massive system of underground tunnels to carry traffic throughout Los Angeles on electric sleds sounds like Professor Harold Hill selling musical instruments to the hayseed residents of River City, Iowa.
Much of the technology is still in the development stage and the disruption of the area’s infrastructure during construction could be unimaginable. The only beneficiary of this plan would be the battalions of lawyers busily filing suits brought by a lot of folks who don’t want a massive series of tunnels under their earthquake-prone fair city.
Uber’s flying car concept hopes to take to the skies over Los Angeles by 2020, the ride sharing company announced. Uber’s vision: Tens of thousands of flights per day. Electric, autonomous vertical takeoff and landing aircraft buzzing from rooftop to rooftop. Trips costing as little as $20, according to one report. Complete, I suspect, with ham-fisted TSA agents.
But safety testing and air traffic control aren’t issues that are going to be solved in two years. And the “flying cars” have yet to be built.
Of course, climbing aboard a self-flying electric aircraft would take the kind of intestinal fortitude, to use an old analogy, possessed by the first person to eat an oyster.
Mayor Garcetti has floated the idea of a monorail system above the 405 that would extend through the Sepulveda Pass. Los Angeles has flirted with monorail for years but it never, ahem, got off the ground. Too expensive, too disruptive, too unreliable.
All things considered, it seems the best solution to traffic congestion is to improve and expand the system we are building now. And at least one considerable segment of the population agrees.
A survey from The Rockefeller Foundation and Transportation for America finds that the majority of Millennials want to be less reliant on cars, according to published reports.
The survey questioned 18-to 34-year-olds across 10 cities with varying levels of public transportation: “mature” – Chicago, New York and San Francisco; “growing” – Charlotte, N.C., Denver, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul; and “aspiring” – Indianapolis, Nashville, Tampa-St. Petersburg.
It found that Millennials want low cost transit and multiple options for getting around a city. More than half of respondents said they would consider moving to another city if it had better access to public transportation. And 66% listed high quality transportation as a top factor in deciding where to live.
In fact, according to the survey, Millennials aspire to be less reliant on a car. Almost half (46 percent) of current vehicle owners surveyed agree they would seriously consider giving up their car if they could count on a range of transportation options.
Want to eliminate gridlock? Reach out to an audience that’s ready to ride instead of drive.
Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector1.