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I’m in the middle of another post that I started on Thursday but have not had the time or energy to finish, so, really, I should not be writing this. But I have to, because it’s a truth I’ve noticed and want to bring up.

I was just reading an article in Dwell about how transportation shapes American cities.

While critics insist that the West Side Highway will have to be rebuilt to accommodate future traffic needs, Wiley-Schwartz argues that traffic needs are created by the creation of roads and parking.

L.A. is, as everyone knows, car-centric. The 405 is currently undergoing a widening from just north of my exit, Wilshire, southward toward LAX. The new lane they are adding in each direction is going to be for carpools only. Oh, and for registered hybrid vehicles. It’s the final piece of the south 405 that does not have a carpool lane. (For those of you outside L.A., yes, we put an article in front of the freeway number out here. It took some getting used to, believe me!)

I think carpool lanes are just about the stupidest things in the modern world. Their original purpose of getting people to ride together and thus ease traffic, pollution, and save gas is, without question from where I sit in traffic each day, a horrible failure. People don’t change their mode of transportation so that they may use the carpool lanes; they use the carpool lanes if their mode of transportation just happens to allow them to do so.

In 1998, New Jersey removed some of their carpool lanes (or High-Occupancy Vehicle lanes… HOV lanes) because they failed on two of three criteria established by the Federal government. Boy, when I heard about that back then, how I wished they’d do the same thing here!

I take the 405 every day to and from work. It is a notoriously crowded freeway. What’s sad is knowing that we’re enduring a few years of worse traffic caused by heavy construction so that a single new lane in each direction will be completed that will in no way ease congestion, lower pollution, or reduce gas consumption. I have often wondered how less often traffic would be jammed if a full lane of traffic were opened for every driver to use.

However, when I think about what Wiley-Schwartz said, I have to wonder if it would really matter in the long run whether another full-use lane is opened on the 405 or not. The cars will always be there, and so will the traffic. Since moving here in 1994, my constant thinking about increasing the capacity of the freeways in L.A., how that would be accomplished, how prohibitive the costs would be, and how much it would ease traffic if somehow it could be done, has always been tempered by the thought that, really, the last thing L.A. or any city anywhere needs is the environmental degradation and urban ugliness brought on by fatter freeways. Just seeing the unattractive results of the widening of the 405 over the last several months has made me realize what a waste of space a freeway really is.

Believe it or not, freeways are not why I started this post in the first place. I was gonna talk about surface-street traffic. Let’s go back to Dwell:

[Wiley-Schwartz] visits neighborhood groups who think that the way to solve parking problems is to add parking. […] “People just don’t get that if you build faster roads and you build more parking, there will be faster roads and more parking,” he says.

I have lived in L.A. long enough to see the creation of several new shopping mega-centers. I daren’t call them malls, as they are hardly that. Anyone who’s visited The Grove, an attractive shopping offshoot of the Farmers Market, knows that most of these new constructions are so much more than malls. There’s Hollywood and Highland, an ugly and difficult-to-navigate blotch that features shops, movie theaters, restaurants, a bowling alley, and the Kodak Theatre, where the Oscars are held. There’s Sunset and Vine, another ugly and uninviting place to eat, shop, or, in this case, live. There’s the addition to the Cinerama Dome that houses Arclight Cinemas, a gym, a culinary school, and lots of unsold space. There’s the Empire Center, a sprawling heat-infested asphalt and corrugated metal eyesore in Burbank. There’s the new clump of shops at Santa Monica and La Brea.

In every single one of these locations, despite some effort on the part of the city where each is located, traffic has become worse. Highland always had it’s problems, what with the Hollywood Bowl and all, but now you can be assured of a slow drive down that street most times of the day. I used to take 3rd street to cut quickly across town going to or from Hollywood, but thanks to The Grove, I can’t do that anymore. Driving in the vicinity of the Empire Center means running into long lines of cars.

Maybe this is not exactly what Wiley-Schwartz was saying, but it fits into the same category, I believe. In every instance of the creation of these new, multi-use coagulations, people arrive like flies to an outhouse. The Empire Center, for example, is a huge place. Gigantic! Yet as soon as it opened, boom, the parking lots got full, the stores crowded, and restaurants packed. All this without an apparent lag in the popularity of other consumer-centric playgrounds like downtown Burbank or Toluca Lake. How does this happen? Where do the people come from? Were they all sitting at home before this shopping paradise opened?

If you build a big, multi-use structure, there will be crowds. And crowds cause traffic, especially in L.A., where the only way to get anywhere is to drive. Perhaps the planning commissions and governments and guilds and leagues did their best to plan for this traffic. Or perhaps they didn’t. They should all have known that the boost in traffic is inevitable. Yet there are other new structures going up. There’s a huge one in Glendale, next to the ugly Galleria mall, that will make the traffic on Brand even worse than the hit-every-red-light disaster it already is. A mixed-use thingy is planned for West Hollywood, also on Santa Monica. That boulevard already sucks to drive on, so a bunch of new stores, restaurants, and apartments will only make it worse.

In my own neighborhood, a similar project is underway, though this one is skewed mostly toward condos. Oh, and it’s friggin’ 24 floors! With 79 condo units! And office space! And retail and restaurant space! I first heard about the project from a cab driver, via the touching tale of how the owner of the little liquor store at one corner of the property—the liquor store where I bought my parents a bottle of Dom Perignon one year for Christmas—was asking a selling price for his land that the developer thought was too high. The cabbie said the liquor store owner was asking so much because of the air space the high rise was going to need. Smart!

Not long after this mobile lesson in current local affairs, I started seeing “Going Out of Business” signs in the windows of the shops at that corner. Then, finally, one of those signs popped up at the liquor store. Did he get his price, or did he get shafted? Whatever the case, the whole parcel of land is now abandoned and ready for demolition/construction. I simply can not wait for the traffic in my own neighborhood to get worse than it already is, both during the building of the high rise and afterward, when people stream from all those new residents and businesses to and from other residences and businesses. Parking is definitely going to get even worse.

How can traffic be fixed? Can it? When cities like L.A. continue to grow, what can be done? When you expand the issue outward to the whole of human population, how can there be any fix for crowding and inconvenience and noise and mess and TRAFFIC?

Wiley-Schwartz and others with his mindset have it right, but no one cares about what they have to say. Like anything else, money is the only thing that matters to the people who make the decisions, and people are too lazy to change their habits anyway. My God, I’m guilty of that myself! I live here, don’t I? As long as I choose to live in a huge city like this, I’ll have to expect more congestive hives of commerce and more wastefully useless widening of freeways.

* * * * * *

Once again, I took what was going to be a short posting and turned it into a book. One good thing is I finally got down to researching the high rise that’s going up a block-and-a-half from me. For your fun and delight, I present some of the links here now.

October 2001: Original developer petitions for the project

July 2003: Land sold to new developer

July 2004: New developer at the Brentwood Community Council

December 2004: Approval by Los Angeles City Council

August 2005: Changes and liquor store capitulation

2 Comments

SSneaky Expounded Thusly:

I don’t know what your problem is. I walk to work, walk to the store, and walk to the movies (oh, that happens to be my apartment). I probably only have to drive once or twice a week at the most. Apparently you don’t care much about the environment or anything like that.

No wonder this world is falling apart!

Monday, August 14th, 2006 • 5:14pm • Permalink

Steve, Polluter of the World Expounded Thusly:

You fool! Don’t you realize that’s exactly what the environmentalists want you to do? They want to destroy the very fabric of our country so the terrorists can infiltrate! Without the economy that buying cars and burning oil brings to this great nation, we are no better than pigs in a wallow somewhere in Iran!

You better start driving that car to work, to the store, and to a God-damned real movie theater, even if the trip is a few hundred feet, or the Islamists extremists have won the holy war!

Tuesday, August 15th, 2006 • 9:43am • Permalink

 

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