Breaking News – People like their cars & living in Los Angeles

Having grown up in Los Angeles I can attest to the validity of an admittedly unsubstantiated headline. This past weekend my motherland embarked on what had been dubbed a practice that would effectively end the world, at least in Los Angeles, as we know it. The proposal …. shut down the 405!!!

For everyone outside of L.A., the 405 is the major north-south interstate highway in Southern California. It is the busiest and most congested freeway in the United States. Needless to say, a lot of people take it, depend on it, curse it, and adore it, especially on Sunday mornings prior to 10AM.

It has long been congested which has prompted all sorts of policy measures over the years to clear up the 405. Couple problems: 1) L.A. has always been a car-town. People love their cars, distances are far, public transportation is actually available but the car culture is engrained and the city is too spread out to lead anyone to public transport; 2) The city is popular and keeps growing. Nobody is going anywhere, for now, and new drivers are springing up by the boat-load daily.

Back to last weekend, basically they closed the 405, public service announcements essentially communicated that should people actually choose to leave their homes that day traffic would be horrendous as a result, so in the end not that many people left home. After all was said and done, there were no terrible repercussions (Dr’s not being able to get to ER’s, etc.) and yesterday, Monday, everyone had their own, “it was such an enjoyable day spending time with family and walking everywhere moment.”

Living in Chile I can only imagine what it was like, but I have been reading now countless stories of how great this was. Some as far as saying it would be fantastic if people were encouraged to stay home more. Maybe it is just the cynic in me, but people didn’t stay home because they wanted to stay home. They stayed home because they knew if they left home traffic would be a nightmare. And what about all of the vendors around the city that lost business that day? I don’t hear much coverage on that side …

In the end they expanded the 405 which will put a band-aid on the traffic snafu, but until they install toll roads I can’t see this problem ever ending. The highway unfortunately is a commodity as well and people are paying now with time lost, stop and go wear and tear on your car, traffic stress. I’d argue it would cheaper for everyone to let some folks pay if they want to move faster.

I’m curious if other similar-sized cities with comparable congestion problems around the world have solved such a problem without toll roads.


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