Picture from a funny article here

Discovering LA Traffic

If you’ve ever lived in Los Angeles or talked to anyone from there, you’ll know that the area is infamous for it’s horrendous traffic. I was having brunch with a friend there over a school break and conversation almost immediately turned to the ridiculous travel times within the city.

“So, where are you staying in the city?”

“Oh, in an apartment building in West Hollywood.”

“How far away is that?”

“Like 10 miles….or about an hour and a half drive.”

It can be that bad sometimes — kind of ludicrous. But I really wanted to know why the traffic in LA is so bad. Official investigation didn’t really happen, but after spending a week or so in the city I could definitely pinpoint a few problem areas.

The major thing I realized is that LA is incredibly car-centric. This means that the personalized motor vehicle (I’m just going to use “car” for all types of these for simplicity’s sake) is the undisputed king of transportation there. Everyone drives, and it causes chaos in the streets. I feel like half the noise I hear downtown is just the honking of people’s horns as aggressive drivers force their way into traffic that doesn’t want them there. It’s a pain to drive around, it’s a pain to park (both to find parking and to pay for it), and it’s a pain to enter and leave. It’s an overall frustrating experience, and it made me wonder just exactly why people drove.

Then I tried alternate modes of transport, and quickly discovered why.

Let’s start with biking. Biking in LA is terrifying. Combined with a solid lack of designated bike lanes, the sheer number of cars and the hot-temperedness of drivers make biking feel similar to dodging giant bullets. Bikes seem to follow a sort of downward spiral: no-one bikes, which makes drivers less aware of the possibility of bikers, which makes bike-and-car accidents much more likely. This pulls more bikers off their bikes and into cars. If the city was more biker-friendly, perhaps people could safely take a cleaner and perhaps faster mode of transport to their destinations.

Secondly — public transport. Before anything else, I want to give kudos to the LA metro system — it’s trying, at least. It’s the second-best alternative to cars, in my opinion. It does a fair job of reaching out to the various parts of LA, both the downtown and some of the less clustered areas. However, the bus system is at the same level as biking, for an easy reason: buses are limited by the same factors as the cars, making it just as bad, if not worse, than driving. The buses are also not exactly top-of-the-line, either. They’re not horribly unclean, but I definitely don’t feel like Beverly Hills nobility when I’m riding them. Overall, LA public transport leaves a lot to be desired, but I respect their attempts. There just should be more of them/more resources dedicated to them. I think it’s pretty clear at this point that more highways are not the answer to LA’s congestion problem.

All things considered, I believe the source of LA’ s car problem to be the fact that everything is so spread out, and that the city developed in a way that made car travel necessary. The suburban neighborhoods are all connected to the downtown by highways instead of rail. The majority of living spaces are in the suburban areas instead of closer into the city. Ergo, everyone commutes into the city. It’s no surprise to me that people comment that LA is the only city with a 12-hour rush hour. However, it’s not something that is completely unavoidable. If the city takes steps to improve public transport, add affordable residences in the downtown areas, and makes the streets safer for pedestrians and bikers, the city is sure to see some improvement. Then the next time someone talks about traffic in LA, they might comment on the reasons no-one drives, not just how bad the traffic is.