The Day The Freeway Stopped

For those of you wondering, yes, the 405 has come to a COMPLETE STANDSTILL today. There are powerlines down by the 405 at Santa Monica, and the northbound lanes have stopped. Thefreeway may be moving by now, but the overflow backed up onto the 10 as far east as La Cienega, and into all the artery streets connected or near the 405.

I actually wasn’t affected by this (and I did drive today, because I have client meetings and cycling isn’t feasible every day), but all my colleagues coming in have this I-fought-my-way-through-the-trenches look to them. Perhaps this is not a good time to point out that this is a consequence of basing an entire society around an impractical, illogical transportation source, distancing residential areas from places of business, and then hoping that nothing goes wrong when millions of cars hit the streets between the two. I’m pretty sure if I pointed that out, someone would strangle me with my mouse cord.

23 Replies to “The Day The Freeway Stopped”

  1. This makes a whole lot of sense. I didn’t get any traffic travelling from Palms to UCLA via Beverly Glen until I got to Santa Monica. I’ve never seen it so backed up and couldn’t attribute it to all the construction since that hasn’t been much of an issue. I’m glad I didn’t get caught up in that. I don’t think I would have made it class on time.

  2. My first nightmare traffic memory was in 1989 when a big rig truck jack knifed on the 405 at Olympic blocking all lanes at 5pm on Friday. I was stuck on Pico Blvd @ sawtelle for 3 1/2 hours.
    All the streets within 3 miles of the freeway were blocked. People freaked.
    The side streets around our freeways are not able to handle the overflow in such situations. Hell they can hardly handle the regular traffic.
    Wish I could blame this on poorly planned communities. But the real reason is that no planning ever took place. LA just spread out. Politicians and developers ignored the situation for decades. Until we now have the traffic nightmare know as LA.
    There actually used to be trollys running from downtown out to the westside. But some idiot way back when, thought cars and gasoline consumption were better for the economy and the trollys were discontinued.

  3. I know I’m going to regret this, but…

    How is the transportation source impractical and illogical?

  4. It is impractical because it can not sufficiently sustain the amount of traffic that it is inundated with twice daily. No matter how much money we put in to the freeways, they will never be big enough to handle rush hour traffic without massive delays in travel.

    The logical form of transportation for an area as sprawled out as Greater Los Angeles is a comprehensive commuter and high speed rail system like the ones that exist in every major city in the world except LA. At one time you could take a train from Santa Monica to San Bernardino and it only cost you a nickel. Huntington was a man of logic, unfortunately there is not much profit to be made with rail based public transport. The real money to be made is in cars, tires, gasoline, building freeways and repairing roads. Logic doesn’t follow money and vice versa.

  5. A nickel? Wow! And at one time you had to read by oil lamp. Highways and those wacky combustion-engine conveyances are good things — without them, commerce would grind to a halt.

    Do more people need to carpool or live closer to their jobs? Yes. Does the city need to get its collective head out of its collective ass about public transportation that people might actually want to use? Absolutely.

    But let’s not confuse public and private in looking for a cure. Public transportation isn’t a profit-making venture. Building cars and making tires are profit-making ventures, but they don’t negate the ability to build public transportation. In fact, it could be argued that the tax dollars generated by those make public transpo possible. But tax dollars only go so far. Does the need for schools that aren’t scary sewers of disinterest outweigh the need for better public transportation? Or vice versa? How about dollars for more cops versus dollars for a subway line to the beach?

  6. We need all those things, but the current discussion is about transportation. Huntington’s trains were privately owned so the public/private question isn’t the issue there. The massive amount of freeways that exist in the LA area aren’t a logical solution to the transport problem, neither is making them bigger. I have a car, I just wish I didn’t have to use it as much as I do.

  7. I think part of the problem is the reluctance of most white collar workers to even try public transportation. Its not practical for everyone, but far more usable than people realize.
    While I think that if some people just tried it a number of people would see how much it SUCKS (over crowded buses, bad schedules, etc), I think that a broader, more upper class base would at least see its potential and press city hall and private interests to pursue improvements and advancements.

  8. Well, I think what you’re describing is quite an illogical approach for Los Angeles. You’re thinking of cities with dense central cores like Chicago, New York, London, and Paris where people are brought in in the morning and out in the evening and otherwise run in manageable circuits to get around the city. L.A. would be a nightmare for public transportation as most trips would be from extremity to extremity, not through central junction points. I know I don’t want to take a train from Studio City to downtown, and then wait for a connection back west to the West Side.

    The picture I have in my mind is something I would hope is 10 years away from small-scale reality, but maybe 20 years: I see intelligent freeways that take over control of drivers’ cars and run them bumper to bumper at speeds over 100mph, programmed to move you in and out of the flow as needed to get people where they need to go.

    The freeway is perfect for L.A. A highly distributed network which allows virtually unlimited trip route options. It just needs to be made more efficient.

    I think we could even do it in ways that would make the system cheaper, quieter, and cleaner.

    So, I can’t at all subscribe to the freeway as an impractical or illogical system for Los Angeles. It works pretty damn well all things considered.

  9. I should add that I lived in Chicago for almost 10 years and rode the train almost every day. I am in no way afraid of public transportation. It worked great because the trains there took me where I needed to go–from a downtown core to dense but manageable neighborhoods. I could take a train from downtown to Lakeview and then easily walk around a enighborhood of ~100,000 people. Where in L.A. can you say the same?

    Drop me off at Belmont and Clark in Chicago and I can walk to hundreds of restaurants and shops and thousands of apartments.

    Drop me off at Sunset Junction and I can visit Sunset Junction. The boy at the counter at Eat Well is really cute, but I’d still get pretty sick of going there every day! So, I need a car to get around.

  10. I was actually referring to the whole mentality of cars. Los Angeles is spread out because of the streetcars, because there was a lot of real estate money to be made following the streetcar tracks. Sorry eecue – Huntingdon didn;t have so much vision for public transportation, as he did for making a serious buck from the property values that went up when the streetcars came through.

    When the freeways came in, as part of the city modernization efforts in the 50s, they just followed the existing patterns of the streetcars. I believe that what should happen isn’t so much a matter of public transit, but of rethinking our entire urban model – ie. having people live within a distance from their jobs that they can get there by either mass transit, walking, or cycling. The Western American concept of “commuting” to a job is a post-war idea, based on the cars that seemed to be the greatest thing EVER at the time. It’s a mindset geared to a machine that has been in vogue for less than a hundred years. It needs to go.

    I believe that America needs to shift our thinking beyond cars. Cars, to me, are impractical and illogical, and building a city around the assumption that this comparitively new method of transportation is viable, is ridiculous. I have a (smaller) car because it’s necessary for this society I choose to live in, and I accept that, but I try not to treat it as part of my every day life. If we all stopped thinking of cars as a “necessary” part of our day to day existence, and stopped taking the existence of individual combustion-engine vehicles for granted, then we would probably have a better societal model that wouldn’t cause me to get a headache every time i have to go from Westwood to Venice, like I did yesterday.

  11. I think that anytime you try to change people, you’re going to fail.

    People seem to value sprawl, no matter how it came about. No one ever puts Chicago, New York, Paris, London, or the like on their lists of the most liveable cities.

    If you think of cities like companies in competition with each other, the cities that are going to win are those that are most livable not by your standards or my standards, but by the standards of millions of people deciding where they want to raise their families. Those winners are going to be the ones with booming economies, great jobs, and higher standards of living.

    I think we have to think of solutions that respect human nature and not try to corral people into something that we think is best. We have to see what people want and find the best ways to give it to them.

    So far, the traffic has hardly stanched the flow of people into L.A., so it must not be that bad. Instead, people are telecommuting more, working different hours, and making more efficient use of our resources.

    I know George Will isn’t the most popular person to quote on this blog, but I remember a column of his once that has stuck with me: “Liberals never liked the automobile because it allowed regular people to move about without the direct supervision of liberals.” :)

    You can’t “supervise” people into the way of life you think they should be living. Focus on your real goals of protecting the environment and getting around quickly instead of trying to change others, and we’ll get somewhere.

  12. mass transit is needed in la, no matter what form it takes. the debate goes, however, that those that are driving cars currently will be hard pressed to even take the metro, let alone use the bus system. people are shocked and amazed when i tell them that the redline is packed shoulder to shoulder during rush hour, as their pictures of metro stations are lonely and desolate spaces that echo failure. true, the transit system in la isnt perfect, but its a step in the right direction, whereas the construction of more freeways to be a temporary band-aid.

    in response to cars being directly responsible for the decline of public transportation, aren’t there well known facts that automotive and tire companies bought up the rail stations back in the early 60’s just to let them go into disrepair, thus paving the way for dependence on bus and car transport?

    in some postive news, (or not so positive, depending on your stance on rail transit) mta has created a framework for possibilities of extending the Red Line down Wilshire ALL THE WAY TO OCEAN BLVD. here is the link:

    not exactly sure where $5 billion would come from, but im pretty sure if this ever got built it would make it one of the busiest rail lines in the nation.

  13. No, I can’t supervise people into a way of life – but I CAN point out to them that it even exists. Who even thinks that there could be a time when we didn’t have or won’t need cars? Most people don’t even think like that.

    And no, you’re wrong. Vancouver IS built around a dense core with a mass transit system, and it IS the world’s most livable city.

    Besides, change is happening:

    That’s the first step. Not relevant yet. But it could be.

  14. Uh, that’s not change. It’s a real estate development.

    And it’s not going to cause some philosophical sea change in the lives or decisions of those of us who live in houses with yards (which are much nicer for kids than some grass-free, concrete-jungle infill structure). We like cars (and most of us are responsible about how and when we use them). We drive them because they’re much easier to use than a bicycle when you’re carrying a child and groceries and work supplies — or when you don’t work in a profession with facilites that can be conveniently located within walking distance to your uptopian high-rise — and you don’t have all day to transfer around on bus routes that go nowhere you want to go. If I were single and childless, I still wouldn’t live in that type of development, because I don’t like sharing walls. Others do, and I bless them and am thrilled that there are lofts and infill developments and high-rise apartment/condo buildings to make them happy.

    By the way, Vancouver is only the world’s most livable city if you want to live there. I like Vancouver, but judgements like that are PURELY subjective.

    Focus on your own life, live by example, and realize that the rest of us are doing the same. It’s not up to you to save others from themselves. — and I say that as a life-long logical liberal (that’s one who believes that social programs should be a temporary assist, not a lifestyle — and thet the majority opf people will do the right thing without anyone else having to tell them how to do it).

  15. There are powerlines down by the 405 at Santa Monica

    And maybe if the city buried more of its damn overhead power lines in the first place such a malfunction wouldn’t have even happened.

  16. It is a real estate development. But it represents a model of mixed commercial and residential zoning. Which, prior to automobiles, was better known as Main Street, USA.

    You say you like living in houses with yards which are “much nicer for kids”, but your mentality goes right along with a city which has the lowest park space per capita of any city in America. Smaller yards + more parks = less sprawl.

    I agree that a car is convenient for carrying things. Especially kids, work supplies, etc. But no, I do not trust people to make good judgement calls on that. I don’t think it justifies having a Land Rover for the 1% of the time you might need to fill it with family stuff.

    And actually, the Economist study determined Vancouver as the world’s most livable city, not me:

    That’s a pretty objective source. It tied with Melbourne as well.

    I don’t take it upon myself to change people. I take it upon myself to tell them that change is an option, and an opportunity. Someday, change is going to happen whether we like it or not. I wouldn’t supervise people into change if I had the power, but it does break my heart to see how resistant people are to making the small adjustments that would change the world a little bit more.

  17. So the Economist is the arbiter of where we should desire to live? A city is not liveable to me if I don’t want to live there. Some people actually like Brooklyn. I don’t. I liked the small town we lived in in New Jersey when I was commuting into Manhattan; others believe New Jersey is an unliveable pit of suckage. I like LA; others wouldn’t move here at gunpoint.

    And LA yards can’t get much smaller than they are — nor should they to satisfy some odd fantasy of all of us gamboling joyously in green common areas. There are plenty of LA areas that have a “Main Street” feel and utility. When we lived in Marina del Rey, we didn’t need to get our cars out on the weekends at all. And Culver City, where we spend much of our time, has plenty of wonderful parks.

    I’m always amused by people — and I used to be one of them — who decide it’s their God-given mission in life to show others “the light” at all costs. Then they often complain like hell when others try to show them a different version of “the light.” Both are right — life experience is subjective, based on our own wants, needs and experiences. You sound, however, like one who prefers to offer the information and let others digest it. That’s good. I’m that way, too, although I love the debate and the conversation that ensues. But I’m not going to demand that others hew to my line.

    We are so free in this life that we can choose to: live our own lives confidently and joyously from the inside out; or to decide that we aren’t centered in our own abilites and judgments and we need to be led like little children; or that our way is the best way for all others and that we MUST convince them that we area right and they are wrong. There’s room for all of us and for all these ways of creating our experiences.

    But I’m not giving up my yard 8-)

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