By Hillel Aron, November 11, 2013
Glammed-up traffic in a city defined by movement
This week's question comes from a transplant who can't take the
traffic. If you have your own burning question for a Native Angeleno,
you can e-mail us using the subject
line "Ask A Native Angeleno." It's fine if you want to be anonymous,
just let us know which neighborhood you live in.
Dear Native Angeleno,
I've lived in L.A. for a little less than three years. I
really like it, but the one thing I can't stand is the traffic! Ugh!!! I
feel like it's slowly sucking the life out of me. How do you deal with
Trapped in a Tin Box
Dear Trapped in a Tin Box,
Traffic may well be Los Angeles' defining existential crisis. There's a scene in Hal Hartley's film, Simple Men,
where a character is trying to fix a broken motorcycle and exclaims,
"Nothing like a machine to make a man feel insignificant." That must
hold doubly true for a machine that is literally boxed in by other,
nearly identical machines.
And so on behalf of the LA's 3.8 million inhabitants, I am sorry.
However. Some perspective may be in order.
In my most recent column, I noted that Los Angeles is less a city and more this humungous thing (incidentally, I referenced a map showing other cities drawn inside of LA; as an astute commenter
pointed out, the map has a number of flaws—namely, it grossly
underestimates the size of San Francisco. LAist regrets the error;
however, we feel that the map has a sort of greater truth, in that L.A.
is still really really fucking big, bigger than a number of big cities
combined). When it takes a long time to get from point A to point B in
Los Angeles, part of the problem is the enormous distances we're
attempting to traverse. It's a bummer that it takes me 30 minutes to get
to the Grove from Echo Park in rush hour. But how much is traffic
really adding there? Ten minutes? Fifteen?
It was with great anticipation that I first rode the Expo Line, which
connects Downtown to Culver City, and will eventually run all the way
to Pacific Ocean. But I was disappointed to find that the ride takes 30
minutes—about as long as the westbound drive would take during rush hour
(perhaps a bit shorter than the eastbound trip). Now, the Expo Line is a
bit slow. But all the public transportation in the world isn't going to
make the Westside and the Eastside closer to each other.
Are we condemned, then, to a life trapped within slowly rolling glass
cubicles? The Native Angeleno thinks not. There is no silver bullet;
however, like many incurable diseases, a number of steps can be taken to
mitigate the problem—choosing to live closer to where you work, biking
to work a couple days out of the week, taking public transportation a
couple days out of the week, driving to work early or late in order to
beat rush hour, and so on.
Reyner Banham, that Brit who unexpectedly fell in love with Los Angeles,
once wrote that the city's, “mobility outweighs monumentality.” Whereas
the character of many other cities can be gleaned from iconic
architecture, Banham argues, the character of L.A. can only be
understood through movement, through seeing how all these funny little
I wonder sometimes if that is in fact changing, if the menace of
traffic, which has gotten noticeably worse since I was a kid (there used
to never be traffic on the 10 West in the morning, or any traffic on
weekends) is choking off what Banham called the "language of movement."
Throw in a Disney Hall here, an Eli Broad museum there, maybe the city
is becoming a more conventional one, one that takes its architecture
more seriously and its driving less seriously.
For many, car-dominance in LA is simply the price of admission, the
punishment exacted for 300 days a year of sunshine. A growing number of
Angelenos believe a change is afoot—a slow train coming,
if you will—that the automobile is soon to be dethroned in favor of an
East-coast-esque public transit system. (Sidebar: wouldn't it be just
like Los Angeles if the driverless car really took off just as we were finishing our 30-year light rail monstrosity?)
The Native Angeleno, for one, believes the truth to be somewhere in
the middle. The misery of sitting in traffic will always be a thing,
like the sub-par air quality and the preponderance of actors. But it
doesn't have to be the thing that defines us, the syntax through which
our Angeleno-ness is forever understood. That will change, one way or