By Steve Hymon, September 30, 2014
From left, UCLA’s Brian Taylor, FAST’s Hilary Norton, Metro CEO Art Leahy and KCRW’s Kajon Cermac. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.
Zocalo Public Square and Metro held a panel discussion Monday night
at the Petersen Automotive Museum with an appropriate topic for the
venue: what, if anything, can be done to speed up traffic in our region?
A podcast of the discussion is above (see website). KCRW traffic reporter Kajon
Cermac served as the moderator with the panel including Metro CEO Art
Leahy, UCLA Director of Transportation Studies’ Brian Taylor and Hilary
Norton, executive director of Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic.
Can traffic be fixed or seriously improved? The short
answer: probably not much can be done unless the region embraces drastic
and politically unpopular measures such as heavier tolling across all
lanes on freeways to reduce peak hour traffic, passing laws to greatly
restrict driving, building many billions of dollars of new freeways
(which includes the challenge of finding places to put them) or going
the Detroit route by shedding jobs, residents and the local economy.
In other words, as UCLA’s Taylor put it, the status quo of traffic
congestion is the least bad option for the politicians who frequently
ask him how to fix traffic.
Which is not to say that things can’t be done to improve mobility and even some traffic.
Taylor praised the congestion pricing projects on freeways in our
region (which Metro’s ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110) and said they are
improving capacity and speeds in the toll lanes, as well as Metro’s
Rapid Buses and the Orange Line. Norton pointed to the increasing number
of people taking transit to big events.
And Leahy noted that thanks to Measure R, Metro is currently in the
midst of the largest transit building boom in the nation (one that will
include a subway station next door to both the Petersen and LACMA on
Wilshire Boulevard’s Miracle Mile). He said the goal is to keep
expanding the transit network and making it work better so that people
can use it travel far and wide and get out of their cars.
The conversation covered a lot of ground and I’m interested in
feedback and comments from those who listened or attended the event.
My three cents: I felt like it was a good, albeit brief, adult
conversation about traffic and urban planning — and the fact that
traffic is not something easily “fixed” without serious consequences. I
also thought UCLA’s Brian Taylor did a good job pointing to the fact
that a lot of the traffic stereotypes about our region are total bunk
and that concentrating density around transit and high activity centers
may not fix traffic — but often makes places nicer, happier places to
live and visit.