A New Vision for Los Angeles Streets

When you think about Los Angeles, a lot of things come to mind. Hollywood. Beaches. La La Land. But somewhere, close to the top of that list, has to be cars. In LA, they’re everywhere. In fact, 24% of LA’s land area is made up of asphalt, streets, and parking spaces — a staggering 340 square miles. That’s almost fifteen times the size of Manhattan and seven times bigger than San Francisco, all devoted simply to cars in LA.

This makes LA a great place to look at the Transportation Revolution underway in our country right now. Because as our co-founder, John, predicted last year, self-driving cars and ridesharing will soon all-but end private car ownership in cities. That means fewer cars on the road, more space to rebuild our cities around people — and, for our urban spaces, one of the most significant transformations in history.

We wanted to see just what this transformation might look like, so we teamed up with our friends at Perkins+Will and Nelson\Nygaard to take a look at the future. We’re focusing on LA because it’s one of the country’s most notoriously car-centric cities. And by partnering with the Southern California Association of Governments on their 100 Hours Campaign, we’re beginning to bring this vision into reality.

LA Today: Pavement, Traffic, and More Pavement

Credit: Perkins+Will, Nelson\Nygaard

Every day, an average of 110,000 cars pass through this intersection, making it one of the busiest in LA. But, as you can see, it’s not just the traffic that’s the problem. It’s that we’ve devoted all this space to cars, crowding out people.

Take a look at this chart. It shows how many people are able to use Wilshire as it’s currently designed every hour — and how.

Credit: Perkins+Will, Nelson\Nygaard

At first, this doesn’t look so bad. After all, more people could walk than drive along this corridor. But no one wants to walk in an environment like this, and the space dedicated to vehicles is used inefficiently. Almost 70% of those cars only have a single person in them, meaning the system is only able to transport a relatively small number of people. And LA Metro’s buses have to sit in that traffic congestion as well, making LA Metro one of the most delayed transit systems in the country — roughly 1 in 4 transit vehicles are late. As a result, people choose not to ride public transit and choose to drive alone: creating more traffic and an endless cycle.

Every year, the average LA driver spends 104 hours in traffic — making the LA commute one of the worst in the world. That’s more time than it took Apollo 11 to make it to the moon. For those of us here on Earth, it’s enough time to binge-watch almost every episode of Game of Thrones and House of Cards combined, or drive all the way from LA to New York — and back. In large part, this is all because we’re trying to cram too many cars, too inefficiently, onto our roads.

Unless we make changes, this problem is only going to get worse in the years to come, as urban populations explode across the country. The U.S. already has ten cities with more than a million people — and LA alone is projected to add almost a million people by 2040. By 2050, almost 100 million more people will move to cities across America.

If all of those people keep driving everywhere alone, on roads like this, our streets are going to become parking lots — full time.

Fortunately, government agencies are aware of this problem and are looking proactively at solutions from around the world. The 100 Hours Campaign, launched this summer by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) is the start of a dialogue about a package of mobility solutions that can work for LA. Lyft is proud to be partnering with SCAG to look at solutions that can get Los Angeles moving again. This fall, we’ll be working together to explore new policies and infrastructure designs that help support safe and sustainable transportation options across LA. To start, we’ll be working together to help promote carpooling through our Lyft Line service and reduce the single-occupant vehicle trips that contribute to endless LA traffic*.

Better Streets, Better Cities

This is why it’s time for cities to focus on policies and urban design that encourage people to drive alone less — and take broader advantage of things like public transit, carpooling, and biking.

As John wrote earlier this year, there are a number of policy options that could help achieve this — from smart lanes to congestion pricing. Cities like London, Milan, and Stockholm have already seen encouraging results by implementing congestion pricing — applying market-based pricing to travel in the most congested areas during the busiest times. Stockholm, for instance, reduced traffic by 22% in its city center. And through its 100 Hours Campaign, SCAG is exploring whether a “Go Zone” concept, modeled in part on the successes in London and Stockholm, could be part of the solution for Los Angeles to encourage people to drive alone less.

We think it’s time for Los Angeles to start exploring such policies, not only for the local traffic reductions and air quality improvements, but to demonstrate to other U.S. cities that these policies can really work.

Credit: Perkins+Will, Nelson\Nygaard

If we achieve this, it won’t just decrease traffic. It can actually change the face of the city itself.

Right now, every lane in every one of our streets represents precious space that we can’t use for bike lanes, green space, wider sidewalks, or anything else that might make the street a more pleasant place. But as people begin to change the way they travel, the street itself could change, too.

Remember Wilshire and Veteran? If we achieve LA’s vision of reshaping transportation, here’s what it could look like by 2040:

Credit: Perkins+Will, Nelson\Nygaard

This is what happens when you design a street for people and communities, not just cars. There’s room for green spaces and public gathering spots. There are protected bike lanes and lively sidewalks. Over on the right you can see loading docks for shared autonomous vehicles — which riders can use to connect to a frequent and reliable transit network.

These changes would transform traffic patterns on the street. By using the space more efficiently, this won’t just eliminate congestion. It will allow more than twice as many people to use the space every hour.

Credit: Perkins+Will, Nelson\Nygaard

Better Streets, Healthier Future

Los Angeles County is one of the most polluted regions in the nation, with vehicle exhaust emissions releasing high-levels of particulate pollutants. That air pollution is responsible for more than 2,000 premature deaths every year. Similarly tragic patterns persist across the country, where more than 53,000 premature deaths every year are linked to air pollution from cars and trucks.

This, too, would change if we could shift to policies that encourage a full ecosystem of transit options. The LA region has set a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 21% by 2040 — and scaling up public transportation, ridesharing, and other shared transportation options would also go a long way to helping it achieve that mission. In fact, our future plans for a ridesharing network of shared, autonomous, electric vehicles will play a central role in helping reduce air pollution. A recent report found that a fleet of autonomous vehicles like Lyft’s, powered by electric powertrains, has the potential to reduce U.S. CO2 emissions by a gigatonne every year — the equivalent of all emissions from California and Texas combined. At the same time, it would reduce America’s gasoline demand by up to 60% by 2035 — and save tens of thousands of lives every year.

Credit: Perkins+Will, Nelson\Nygaard

This future is possible — but it’s not guaranteed. Right now, we’re at a crossroads where our country will decide whether to double down on the old infrastructure of the past — or reach for something better.

It’s up to all of us to be catalysts for informed, intentional, and graceful change. Our country can strive to create places that prize beauty, resiliency, and sustainability — and we can start today. At Lyft, we’re proud to stand behind a vision of the future that puts people first, and we look forward to continue exploring policies and urban planning principles that support this vision.


*From Monday, September 18, 2017 to Wednesday, October 18, 2017, Lyft will provide users 20% off two Lyft Line rides, up to $5 each ride, when they use the code “100HOURSLA”. The code is valid Monday through Friday, from 7 AM to 6 PM and is only available while supplies last.

Sharing the Ride with Lyft

Insights and analysis on how Lyft is improving people’s lives with the world’s best transportation.

Emily Castor Warren

Written by

Venture Partner at @Fontinalis_FP. Former @LimeBike @Lyft OG policy wonk. Ice cream fanatic. Cities built for people, not cars.

Sharing the Ride with Lyft

Insights and analysis on how Lyft is improving people’s lives with the world’s best transportation.