Transportation headlines, special edition: LA Streetsblog’s post “You can’t fix traffic, you are the traffic” is a must read

Traffic on the 405. Photo by malingering, via Flickr creative commons.

Traffic on the 405. Photo by malingering, via Flickr creative commons.

If you have three minutes to spare, I highly recommend Damien Newton's post in response to an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times griping about Westside traffic.

In the Times, editorial writer Carla Hall complained that Los Angeles City Council candidates for the Westside seat (11th district) didn't say much about fixing traffic at a recent Streetsblog forum. She's a longtime Brentwood resident and motorist and doesn't think transit and cycling improvements will help improve her commute to downtown Los Angeles.

I thought the article was intended to be more provocative than informative — it's hard to blame Westside motorists for venting/blowing their stack. Damien apparently thought likewise.

I think the issue that we both had was the notion that traffic can be fixed solely by focusing on traffic. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of evidence from around the world that traffic gets “fixed” — chokepoints can be smoothed, roads can be managed differently (i.e. the ExpressLanes) but it's pretty hard to make traffic go poof and vanish without without wrecking the economy or making it literally illegal or too expensive to drive.

Take it away, Damien:

But to your specific problem, living in Brentwood and commuting via car Downtown there are really only three solutions: move, get a new job, or get over it. That commute is a result of decisions you made and are making. Thanks to a wife that makes quite a bit more than I do, we could live in Brentwood if we wanted to, but we live in Mar Vista. Why? Because the Expo Line and Bike Path are coming. Brentwood may have a legendary private school system and some of the nicest real estate in L.A., but Mar Vista will have much better bike and transit options.It’s all part of the decisions we make. It’s the governments job to make it possible for you to live where you want and can afford and work where you want and can get a job. It’s not their job to make it as easy and smooth as possible. Your commute is part of the price you pay to live in Brentwood and work Downtown.And if you think there are too many cars on the street, remember that you are in one of them. You’re part of the problem, not part of the solution.

In my job as government mouthpiece, I'll take the time here to mention some Metro projects that I think will improve mobility on the Westside.

The first two are the Expo Line Phase Two and the Foothill Extension Gold Line. When both projects open in a few years, Metro's rail network will gain 18 miles of track and make it possible to ride from Azusa, Long Beach, North Hollywood and downtown L.A. to Santa Monica. I think that will make it easier for some people to reach their jobs on the Westside and/or Westsiders escape the Westside. Hey Kurt Russell: “Escape from the Westside” — I'd go see it!

The second is the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project, which is adding a northbound carpool lane to the 405 between the 10 and 101 freeways and making a host of other fixes. Among those are a widened Sunset Boulevard bridge over the 405 and new Wilshire Boulevard on- and 0ff-ramps. Both of those are designed to improve traffic flow better around the 405 on Sunset and Wilshire boulevards — two sources of chronic frustration for Brentwood motorists. The carpool lane will perhaps encourage more carpooling or transit use between the Valley and the Westside.

The Wilshire bus lane project will add about 7.7 miles of peak period bus lanes from the Santa Monica-Los Angeles border to just west of downtown on Wilshire. The project is designed to shave a few minutes off local and rapid bus travel in the corridor. It should help until the subway gets built (see below) and once the subway is built, the bus lanes should help speed surface travel to areas between rail stations.

The Westside Subway Extension will end at the VA Hospital in Westwood and make it possible to travel downtown in 25 minutes, mostly under Wilshire Boulevard. The line doesn't quite reach Brentwood, but it's close and should help provide an alternative to driving for those visiting the VA, students and staff at UCLA and workers in Westwood, Century City and Beverly Hills. Of course, the subway isn't currently scheduled to reach Westwood until 2036, but Measure J (which narrowly lost at the polls with 66.1 percent of the votes) would have accelerated that to the early 2020s. There are other efforts by Metro to secure the funds needed to build projects more quickly so that all commuters can enjoy their benefits. Those efforts would likely benefit from media coverage and/or discussion.

The Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor is seeking to build transit between the Westside and the San Fernando Valley via the pass. Among options under study are bus rapid transit, a rail line and a rail line in conjunction with a tolled tunnel for motorists. The project is also under study as a public-private partnership as a way to perhaps get it built sooner. In my view, a rail line between the Valley that intersects both the Expo Line and the subway could provide a tremendous alternative to driving that would likely be faster than driving.

Of course, these are all big taxpayer-funded projects. They need and deserve media scrutiny to help ensure they are the best projects they can be. It would also be tremendous if other influential media outlets in the area could look at transportation issues and improvements that may help the Westside and other areas of Southern California grappling with traffic congestion.

20 replies

  1. One of the huge problems on the Westside is that it’s been adding jobs faster than housing. With that pattern, people are forced to commute in, and many of them are going to feel (rightly or wrongly) that transit is not a convenient and time competitive option. And of course it runs up the price of existing housing. While I think the “Not!” is the primary motivation for NIMBYs, restricting the housing supply has the side benefit (for them) of increasing property values.
    This jobs/housing imbalance is not only true in Beverly Hills, but also in the Westside portions of the city of Los Angeles and in Santa Monica too. It’s been a big battle to get the city of LA and Santa Monica to approve housing near the planned Expo Line stations, even though developers are eager to build it.
    Building housing and commercial uses together doesn’t guarantee that people will make shorter commutes, but it makes those commutes possible. Given the level of traffic congestion in LA, people will seek opportunities to shorten their commutes. It would also be helpful to focus more job growth on Downtown LA, the one place which has direct transit service from all directions.


  2. I think property developers should just buy out the NIMBYs homes in LA for more than its worth to shut them up. They’ll think they got a deal and move out to the suburbs. Good riddance.

    Then the property developers can move into demolish those homes and build a 20 story condo, 10 2-bedrooms units in each floor for a total of 200 units to sell.

    They can do this everywhere to reduce prices back to affordability range. Then they can sell each unit for $200,000 and property developers can make $40,000,000 easily out of a plot of land where a single family single story home used to sit.

    Those NIMBY homes have a lot of land space if you consider the wasted use of front lawns and backyards in each of them.


  3. The Tax Foundation issued a report in January showing that we Californians subsidize road building at nearly 70 percent. As it appears that drivers don’t pay for the roads anymore anyway, I would subversively suggest making traffic worse. That is, we should take out travel lanes on major through ways and replace them with bike paths, street car lines, and bus lanes. When traffic is slow enough, people will have incentives to try alternate transportation. Of course, they will always have the option of continuing in the climate-controlled comfort of their cars, albeit slowly.


  4. @ Frustrated with TAP

    The indiscriminate use of “NIMBY” is more in line with Curbed commentary, along with back of the napkin cost-benefit analysis of building a high-rise apartment building.

    I felt the article was impulsive and unhelpful. The writer conveyed a condescending attitude instead or recognizing that in fact, our transit planning is imperfect and there are cost-effective, seemingly better alternatives to what we currently prioritize. The writer made me feel as if he was the equal and opposite of the double-decking 405 supporters, which would make him just as easy to discredit.


  5. Mr. Hymon,
    I grew up in Cincinnati as well, and if you know your local history you may be familiar with the fact that there was a plan (post-WWI) to to build a subway where the drained Miami/Erie Canal was. Sufficient funding did not materialize and we got Central Parkway (and, later, the masssive traffic jams on I-75) instead. My father would sometimes point out to me the gates to the never used tunnels. A tragedy in the history of my hometown.


    • Hi Mike;

      I used to live right near Central Parkway in lower Clifton and am very familiar with the old subway project. It would be great if they one day can use the tunnels for something other than the yearly tour!

      Go Reds, Go Bengals!

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source