How We Roll, March 29: let’s run through the list of ways to ‘fix’ a freeway

ICYMI: exciting new video of the tunnel boring machine digging the first of two Regional Connector tunnels under DTLA.

Photo by Praynito Photography, via Flickr creative commons.

In Monday’s HWR, I asked what changes you would make to improve our freeway system if you were the Dark/Bright Lord of All Things. Thanks for all the thoughtful answers.

I rounded up many of your suggestions and added a few of my own freeway fixes. I think it boils down to this:

•Install congestion pricing (i.e. tolls) across all lanes at all times of the day with tolls applying to all vehicles to keep freeways from becoming overcrowded. Pros: with higher tolls at peak hours, it could discourage some folks from driving at those hours and such a plan could probably raise a ton of money for transpo. Cons: it’s probably politically impossible and would undoubtedly raise the already high cost of driving, especially for those who don’t have flexible work hours.

•Widen freeways to add more lanes. Pros: Sure, it would add capacity. Cons: Displacement of homes and businesses, more air pollution, probably impossible politically, might not work because of all the lane switching required to enter/exit freeway and may quickly fill up with cars (i.e. induced demand) no matter how many lanes are added.

•Allow freeways to only be used for self-driving cars when the technology is finally ripe. Pros: If the autonomous car software works, we can probably stuff even more vehicles on the freeway by reducing space between cars. Cons: Short of finding a fourth dimension, there’s only so much space on freeways and stuffing more vehicles into that space doesn’t ensure speedier trips. There’s also a civil rights issue as self-driving cars may be more expensive than conventional ones, raising questions about who could afford them.

•Limit trucks to certain hours or certain times. Pros: might free up a little space on some freeways and increase perception of safety. Cons: Would likely lead to increased truck traffic at other times, could raising shipping costs (ultimately costing consumers more) and result in more trucks on local streets at all times of day and night. Also would be politically challenging because of business impacts.

•Thin the number of freeway on- and off-ramps. Pros: interchanges slow things down and getting rid of some of the worst offenders probably would help improve traffic speed and flow, at least at some times of the day. Cons: Other entrances and exits would probably see an increase in traffic with more cars traveling longer distances on local streets to reach their destinations.

•Install trains down the middle of all freeways. Pros: highly visible transit that would be separated from local roads, meaning faster trains. Cons: very expensive to retrofit freeways, expensive to build on freeways constrained by space (which is most of them), unpleasant station environments with platforms isolated from the general public, more transit that is more removed from neighborhoods and usually harder to reach.

•Eliminate all carpool lanes and prohibit any tolling. Pros: Might help spread all traffic across all lanes and an easy political score for pols who like to feast on low-hanging fruit. Cons: Probably leads to traffic conditions that spurred creation of carpool and toll lanes in the first place.

•Convert HOV lanes to ExpressLanes on all freeways while keeping general lanes free. Pros: Keeps the majority of lanes on the freeway ‘free’ for those who don’t want to pay, adds speedier trips for those willing to be tolled. Cons: if ExpressLanes are going to be open to single motorists and carpoolers, you have to figure out who pays, who doesn’t and how to enforce it.

I put the last item at the end of the list for a reason. When you look at the other alternatives, it seems the most reasonable and doable.

Metro takes a key step on Vermont subway (Urbanize LA)

A typically thoughtful take on things — in this case the Vermont bus rapid transit project — by Scott Frazier.

Only thing I would add is request for a headline change to “Metro takes a tiny baby step on Vermont subway” given that no one has any idea where the billions of dollars needed for a subway under Vermont would come from. Measure M did include $25 million for a Vermont BRT project — bringing the total available funds to $425 million.

China poised to take lead on climate after Trump’s move to undo policies (NYT)

The President is seeking to roll back federal rules that require cleaner power plants, among other things. That’s an issue because cleaning up electricity generation was a big part of the climate plan that the US of A agreed to in Paris as part of the worldwide climate agreement in 2015.

China is still the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases — America holds the No. 2 slot — but the NYT reports that China has been pushing renewables much harder in recent years, with the country’s leaders see as a way to make a buck in a world that will need renewables.

Looking for something you can do about climate change? As my colleague Anna often notes, try eating a little less red meat. Or as I often note, try taking transit sometimes instead of driving alone. Or convert some of those driving trips to walking or biking trips because both are emission free activities.

FWIW, in order to meet California’s climate change goals, according to the LAT:

Californians will need to cut their driving by 1.6 miles per day, which they could accomplish through telecommuting, carpooling, biking or taking transit to work once a month as well as replacing short car trips with walking and combining multiple errands into one trip, state climate regulators said.

I’m no brainiac, but 1.6 miles per day seems very doable.

Art of Transit: 

Close Encounters of the Squirrel King while trainspotting on Expo yesterday (below). Photos by Steve Hymon/Metro.


7 replies

  1. I have a lot of co-workers who would take the train, but the metro parking lot is already full by the time they get there. The NoHo station could benefit from making the parking lot multi level. Universal as well and lots surrounding the Expo line.
    Also, we need an extension line out to Century City. THOUSANDS of employees journey over there and is a huge reason the 405 is congested.

    • Yeah, I wish they’d just build another level of parking and then build all the new development on top of that (similar to Hudson Yards over the existing rail lines in New York). The current plans on Metro’s site calls for several smaller parking garages yielding an increase of about 500 spaces. I guess a parking garage (and all the time wasted navigating a structure compared to a flat lot) is a necessary “evil” but I worry about the time I pick a garage, find it full and then have to drive to one or two more before I find a space. I guess we’ll see if charging for all parking will change people’s behavior more.

      Of course, I guess we should be lucky to have any parking – so many transit advocates would say “take the bus!” and eliminate all station parking.

  2. Vermont south will soon become a popular project in my opinion. I’m glad that someone recognizes the value of connecting Pico Union to Koreatown proper. Vermont between Pico and Venice is a major infrastructure bonus (we don’t get many of those in L.A). Reason being is that If I’m correct, the distance between the two Blvds is about the length of Pershing Square station; this means a Pico Union Station could service both Blvds.

  3. I fully support the converting of all HOV lanes to paid express lanes. I think the HOV lane experiment has served its purpose so far and doesn’t seem to be very effective at encouraging carpooling/reducing traffic. Plus, even on the freeways that permit HOV in the express lanes, those vehicles still need a transponder that costs an additional sum regardless of if they are paying the toll or not. It seems like it would be simplest to just charge all vehicles equally for access to those lanes.

    While I love the idea of converting all HOV lanes to rail (think of how well connected LA would be with a combination of that and some well-planned feeder BRT lines stemming from the freeways), I agree that option is realistically impossible.

  4. How about make the entire Los Angeles freeway system HOV. Minimum two people per vehicle for any vehicle getting on the freeway. Add a park and ride lot near most on ramps and get people carpooling.