Comparing transportation in our region: 1985 and 2015

Even prior to 1985, there was a lot of traffic in L.A. This is the Sunset Strip circa 1979. Photo by Fred Seibert via Flickr creative commons.

Even prior to 1985, there was a lot of traffic in L.A. This is the Sunset Strip circa 1979. Photo by Fred Seibert via Flickr creative commons.

In preparation for being on AirTalk’s 30th anniversary show last week, I collected a few numbers to compare traffic and transportation in our region in 1985 and 2015. I mentioned a couple of them on the air, but here is the entire list — which I think is compelling:

•Los Angeles County’s population in 1985 was about 8.2 million. We’re now just north of 10 million people.

•In 1985, there were 6,057,648 motor vehicles registered in Los Angeles County. This total includes automobiles, trucks, trailers, and motorcycles. As of January 1, 2015, there were 7,719,360 motor vehicles registered in Los Angeles County, according to the California DMV.

•In the 1990 census for L.A. County, about 70 percent of commuters drove alone, 15.5 percent carpooled, 6.5 percent took transit and the average commute time was 26.5 minutes. In 2013, those numbers were: about 72 percent of commuters drove alone alone, 10 percent carpooled, seven percent took transit and the average commute was 29.3 minutes. The statewide average is 27 minutes, by the way, and the national average is 25.5 minutes.

•There were zero miles of rail transit in Los Angeles County in 1985. There are 87 miles of light rail and subway today, with about 341,000 boardings on an average weekday in  February addition to about 1.1 million daily boardings on Metro buses.

•There were zero miles of commuter rail in our region in 1985. Today the 512-mile Metrolink network reaches six counties.

•There were about 8.3 million revenue hours of bus service L.A. County in 1985 and there are more than 12.2 million revenue service hours today, according to Metro. The increase is due to an expansion of municipal bus service. Example: Foothill Transit didn’t even exist in 1985 — it

•There were no toll lanes in Los Angeles County in 1985. Today there are a little more than 20 miles of ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110 freeways.

•There was no train to LAX in 1985. There is still no train in 2015. But the Crenshaw/LAX Line is under construction and will eventually include a station at Aviation/96th that will connect to an automated people mover that the airport is building. Airport officials say the people mover could — emphasize could — be done by 2023.

•In 1985 there were about 200 days when our region exceeded the federal level for ozone, a main ingredient of smog. There were about 100 days in 2014 when that occurred, according to the South Coast AQMD. That’s still an issue but the concentration of ozone is on average less than half what it was.

•In the mid 1980s, virtually every bus in our county was powered by diesel. Metro’s entire fleet of more than 2,000 buses today runs on compressed natural gas and the agency will soon be testing its first electric bus.

•Gas prices in 1985 in California averaged about $1.10 per gallon of regular. As of this week, the average price of a regular gallon of gas in our area was about $3.19, according to the Auto Club.

Bottom line, people: We’ve got a lot of people, cars, jobs and homes in our region. As with other metro areas across the globe — many with extensive rail networks — there is traffic here. Traffic probably isn’t going to disappear, not as long as nearly every home is connected to a road and without drastic measures that wouldn’t float politically (i.e. converting all freeway lanes to congestion pricing lanes). We’re a popular place to live, work and play, as the saying goes.

Which begs this question? What if we hadn’t done anything the past 30 years? What if we held onto the diesel buses, never built a subway, light rail or commuter rail? The answer, I suspect: we would have hard a much more difficult time absorbing the growth that we’ve seen.

Your thoughts, readers? Was everything better in the good ol’ days? Or is 2015 more preferable?

P.S. I chose the above photo even though it’s prior to 1985 for one big reason: the Eddie Money billboard. Readers of a Certain Age will recall there was a time when he was almost relevant 🙂

Categories: Policy & Funding