By Steve Lopez, January 7, 2015
Traffic jams the 110 Freeway and downtown streets as commuters make
their weekend and Christmas holiday getaway on Dec. 20, 2013.
I have a confession to make to the entire Westside of Los Angeles.
years, I've been telling people in private that I could never live
there, even though I love being near the water if not in it. And it's
not the residents I have a problem with, so don't take this personally,
90064, or 90024 or 90404.
It's the traffic.
But now I can't
be as smug as I used to be because Westside traffic has moved east. No
matter which way I turn in and around Silver Lake, there are routine
tie-ups where there used to be relatively clear sailing.
So what's going on out there?
the school year began, a fellow carpool parent told me about Waze, the
crowd-sourced mobile app that helps drivers find the quickest route from
here to there. Sometimes that route is along residential streets rather
than highways or thoroughfares, as my colleague Laura J. Nelson
reported Tuesday, so there's traffic where it never used to be.
heard last year from an Encino woman who told me her physician husband
was thinking of retiring early, thanks to Waze. She claimed his commute
time to the L.A. Basin had doubled thanks to new patterns of gridlock.
But it's not just mobile apps that are making things worse.
The price of gas has plummeted. The economy has picked up. Bike lanes have replaced vehicle lanes.
High-density living is all the rage. And the kind of gentrification
that swept through Silver Lake and Echo Park, making them all the more
like Westside communities, has spread to many other neighborhoods.
There is, by the way, an upside to the misery of sitting through three traffic signals.
of the most exciting places in the world that we want to go to on
vacation, like Paris and London, are highly congested," said Martin
Wachs, a Rand Corp. traffic expert. "Do you want to go to Duluth for
vacation? There's very little traffic there."
hundred years ago, Wachs said, people in Los Angeles and other cities
complained about streets overrun with pedestrians and horse-drawn
carriages. The solution was to reduce density by building the suburbs.
Today, one popular solution to transportation problems is the exact
opposite — to increase density with mixed-use inner-city developments
near mass transit.
And how's that going?
It depends on where
you live and how you look at it. According to Wachs, there's increased
walking, cycling and use of public transit in those developments. But
more people are driving to such places because they've become cultural
and commercial destinations, so traffic congestion is getting worse.
Taylor, of UCLA's Institute of Transportation Studies, is in the midst
of studying that very thing. People with higher incomes make more trips
in a day than those with lower incomes, Taylor said, whether it's to go
to the store, a movie, school or work. And they're drawn, "in spite of
the congestion," to developments in West Hollywood, Santa Monica, the
San Fernando Valley and Newport Beach, among other destinations.
With more than 6 million vehicles, we can't help ourselves. Build a pedestrian-friendly environment, and we drive to it.
traffic could be eased a bit by launching a significantly larger
investment in public transit while making it more expensive to use a
single-occupant vehicle, but neither is likely to happen. And in fact,
traffic is more likely to get worse than better.
"If the economy starts booming, you're going to see severe congestion problems in Los Angeles," Taylor said.
Going to see?
already beyond severe for my dentist, Dr. David Kitada, and his wife,
Jocelyn, who runs his West L.A. office. When all the cavities are
filled, they drive home to South Pasadena, and the commute time has
grown by about 45 minutes in the last couple of years.
it takes two hours," said Jocelyn, who told me their back-street escape
route is now clogged with suspected Waze users.
If you want the
advice of a professional driver, Bryson Strauss, of the delivery service
Schlep & Fetch, says the journey isn't so bad if you're lucky
enough to travel in that ever-shrinking window of off-peak hours.
this minute," he said early Tuesday afternoon, "if you want to go from
midtown to Santa Monica, you can get there in 20 minutes. But when the
gridlock happens, it's way worse now than it used to be."
is "almost impossible now," Strauss said, and he moved to the West
Adams district two years ago because it's still got character and
affordability but isn't yet overrun. Traffic follows money, he said, so
"whenever we try to get up to Echo Park or Silver Lake, it's horrible."
said he advises clients not to order any deliveries around peak commute
times, especially on the Westside. If they insist, he charges a premium
because his drivers will be idling for hours.
"In the Sepulveda
area around the 405, it's a lost cause," Strauss said. "And if you're
trapped on Santa Monica Boulevard at 3 o'clock, you can't get to the
east side anymore."
Sad but true, and I happen to like Minnesota. So I thought I'd look into Duluth, as Marty Wachs suggested.
At 3 p.m. L.A. time Tuesday, the temperature in Duluth was 3 degrees.
The forecast high for Wednesday was minus 1 degree.
Yes, the HIGH. Not the low.
Did I say the traffic was a problem here?