You Can’t Fix Traffic. You Are Traffic.

(Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times printed an editorial in their online opinion page by editorial writer Carla Hall. The editorial called out the City Council Candidates in CD 11 for not addressing car drivers’ concerns at a Streetsblog Forum and suggested some ways to “improve” traffic on the Westside. Since we were mentioned, we thought we would respond.)

Dear Carla,

This empty field might hold the answer to congestion problems for tens of thousands of Angelenos, but probably not Carla Hall

I read your piece in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times urging the Westside City Council candidates to come up with solutions to fix traffic. You cite the difficulties of living in Brentwood and working downtown and how awful it is to sit in traffic. You don’t seem to think that transit or bicycling is a good way to relieve traffic, mostly because it wouldn’t work for you.

I have some bad news for you.

There isn’t anything that anyone can do to make your commute any better. Double-decking the 405, an idea that Governor Schwarzenegger floated a couple of times, would be a disaster. You think construction impacts from adding a measly HOV lane are bad? What do you think double-decking would be like. Think Carmageddon for a month at a time.

The Pico-Olympic Plan was so unpopular that none of the Council Members that represent an impacted area (Rosendahl, Koretz, Wesson) think its a good idea. It’s such a bad idea it might have cost Jack Weiss a job as City Attorney. Many in his City Council district turned on him after his support for turning to already difficult streets into mini-freeways. Oh, and

Study after study shows that the best ways to support business is to increase access. Taking away parking, without adding improved connections for non-car shoppers, is doing just the opposite.

I don’t think I can say anything about a proposal to add hundreds of cars to a campus that caters to disabled veterans without getting insulting.

You have children. One day they might read this website. I shouldn’t be insulting.

So let’s focus on what we agree on.

The city hasn’t done a great job helping bicyclists and car drivers co-exist. Proper facilities, enforcement and training would help. That’s what our forum was supposed to be about. There weren’t a lot of new ideas on that front. One of the biggest ideas was about creating more bike corrals, where a car parking space is turned into 8-12 bike parking spaces. A good idea of integrating bicyclists into the existing car-centric network, but not really what you’re talking about.

I also agree that Los Angeles has to work with Culver City, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica on traffic solutions. That’s not always as easy said as done. Beverly Hills is fighting the current route for the Westside Subway. Santa Monica and Beverly Hills wanted nothing to do with the Wilshire Bus Only Lanes. Things seem a little easier with Culver City, for now.

But to your specific problem, living in Brentwood and commuting via car Downtown there are really only three solutions: move, get a new job, or get over it. That commute is a result of decisions you made and are making. Thanks to a wife that makes quite a bit more than I do, we could live in Brentwood if we wanted to, but we live in Mar Vista. Why? Because the Expo Line and Bike Path are coming. Brentwood may have a legendary private school system and some of the nicest real estate in L.A., but Mar Vista will have much better bike and transit options.

It’s all part of the decisions we make. It’s the governments job to make it possible for you to live where you want and can afford and work where you want and can get a job. It’s not their job to make it as easy and smooth as possible. Your commute is part of the price you pay to live in Brentwood and work Downtown.

And if you think there are too many cars on the street, remember that you are in one of them. You’re part of the problem, not part of the solution.


  • Mike

    I’ve though a lot about the Westside LA Bike Plan meeting afterwards.  I went there and spoke neither in favor or opposed, but, I think I’m in favor now.

    Here’s my thinking.  On a bike, I get around the Westside during rush hour faster than I do in my car.  This is a fact.  I bike to work three days a week and drive two, so I’ve run this experiment many times.  I don’t run red lights or stop signs, and I’m not a fast cyclist, but, 9mph on a bike is still faster than 6mph in a car.  But the only reason that I get to go faster than cars is because I’m fearless, and possibly suicidal.  Any cyclist that has pedaled down Barrington in that four-foot slot between the parked cars and the non-moving car traffic knows what I mean.

    But as the Copenhagenize and Amsterdamize consultancies have studied, you can’t get most non-riders to ride until things are dramatically safer: both in actual fact and in appearance.  Until you reach the point where parents would feel good about their kids riding the streets, you aren’t going to get non-riders to ride.  Adding these bike lanes on Bundy or Sepulveda isn’t really going to convince non-riders to ride.  They’ll be safer, but with all the traffic, they won’t feel safe.

    So, at best, Westside bike lanes may grow the number of cyclists from the cyclist subculture, but, it won’t be a paradigm shift.  It’ll push a couple of percent onto the bikes at most, I predict.  But there are only so many fearless, suicidal people to go around.

    But the mathematics of traffic are interesting, and the comparison of traffic to molecular motion are apt.  It isn’t necessary to remove half of the cars to make traffic go twice as fast.  The models predict that removing a small percentage of cars can greatly improve traffic flow: there is a sort of tipping point, where traffic goes from flowing to crystalizing.

    So, the future is questionable.  Maybe pushing just a couple of percent from cars to bikes will balance out the equation.  Or maybe it won’t.

    But one thing I do know: changing nothing will result in nothing changing.

  • Anonymous
  • Lilian

    What an unpleasant tone.  The ‘if you don’t like it get out/move’ arguments are really tiring and as ignorant as they are helpless.  The LA Times opinion discounted gains to be had by transit and bicycles and supported their case for doing so.  They are right on many fronts:  
    -rail works best with feeders, 
    -a vast minority of people can’t bicycle to work, and 
    -lanes that change directions are used many places to increase capacity.We are really happy that you chose to live in Mar Vista.  We hope you have a long and happy life there.  But not everyone can nor wants to live there, and everyone for their own reasons.  As a tax paying citizen of this county, I have the same rights and probably more need for transportation investment that serves where I live.  I imagine if Metro decided to fully fund the Sepulveda Pass project (worst traffic in the county) instead of all the other lines that will get a fraction of the ridership, you would be screaming from the hills about how Mar Vista needs transit, and bike lanes, and there is too much traffic, or would you move to the Valley because that is what smart people like you do?

  • Lilian

    correction: -a vast minority can* bicycle to work

  • Austin Brown

    I don’t understand, what else should be done to stop traffic? If you fight bike lanes and transit, what else should you do? Widening the roads and turning everything into a highway? Adding one rail system to the Sepulveda pass won’t fix her problems of going from Brentwood to DTLA.

  • Austin Brown

    Detroit has no traffic, and parking everywhere. Should we aspire to that?

  • Dennis Hindman

    A traffic engineer said to me recently at a recent community outreach meeting–who is part of the consulting firm doing the EIR for the east San Fernando Valley transit improvement project–“Where would the train go on the Westside after it gets through the Sepulveda Pass? This would require the removal of an equivilant of two and a half lanes on a street. The Westside residents along the I-405 corridor would almost certainly make just as loud of an objection to this as they are about taking away one travel lane on Bundy Dr, Westwood Blvd and Sepulveda Blvd for bike lanes,. The Westside along this corridor also strongly objected to having bus only lanes during peak hours along Wilshire Blvd.

    Putting buses in mixed traffic on a congested street will make the buses a slower and less convenient way to travel to and from the Expo Line compared to driving or riding a bicycle. Yet, getting safety improvements to encourage a several fold increase in the rate of bicycling on a street that would connect to a Expo Line station is being vigorously opposed by residents. Its as if you have tooth decay, but you refuse to go to a dentist because it would be more painful, so instead, you continue to let your tooth rot.

    How is it that the public is allowed to deny safety improvements for bicycling on a street and yet they are not allowed to do this to pedestrians or motorists? Its as if the public is sitting in a collisium in ancient Rome and are voting thumbs up or thumbs down on whether someone gets maimed or killed and the ultimate decision maker (council member) is often going with which ever way the public votes.

    Lanes on congested freeways in the LA area were taken away to create HOV lanes and this was proven to reduce congestion. Contrary to how drivers may feel about this.

    Now, lanes have been removed on congested freeways in the LA area to put in HOT lanes. This is to discourage people from taking the freeway at certain times and to encourage drivers to try a different route if necessary. Some of the same principles apply to taking away a lane on a congested street to create a bicycle lane. You want to avoid this congestion? Then, we encourage you to ride a bike instead is the message. 

    The motorists along the I-405 corridor on the Westside are doing everything they can to make sure that private motor vehicles remain the fastest and most convenient way to get anywhere in the area, even though all of the major streets in the area are operating at over-capacity at many of their intersections and encouraging more people to drive will only add to the congestion.

  • Anonymous

    In economic terms, congestion happens when driving is too cheap. Unfortunately, cities have few tools to raise prices, as such decisions are mostly made at the state and federal level. However, cities can “price” driving in terms of time. As it stands now, congestion isn’t bad enough yet to get most Angelenos out of their cars and into alternative transit modes. We can fix that by replacing car travel lanes with a thorough network of bus, street car, and bicycle lanes. 


  • Brian in Koreatown

    So you live in Mar Vista now because at some point in the future it will have better transport options, and this makes you great and the writer lame for living in Brentwood. 

    Transparent much?

  • John

    Bad Form. You’ve misrepresented her argument about parking – she was referring to providing more lanes of traffic by ending street parking earlier. To misrepresent your opponent makes me doubt the rest of what you’ve said.

  • calwatch

    It’s another perspective, but it is clear at least in this county that people walk more non motor transportation. In Orange County, they continue to expand freeways and the elected officials have shelved Metrolink to Midnight (which was a pretty stupid idea anyway) and that is the place you want to go to if you want to drive everywhere. Different strokes for different folks.

  • the grid that is the city of LA was chopped and blocked by the building of the freeways, the grid needs to be reconnected and in some places rebuilt…this is a solution

  • Erik Mar

    Here’s what I wrote in response to that article:
    All of the solutions proposed by Ms. Hall fall into the same category as the 405 widening, albeit perhaps with greater benefit to cost ratios: at best, they will temporarily alleviate some car congestion, until they, too, are overwhelmed by increased population, increased car commuting (perhaps engendered by the slightly improved facilities), or a combination of the two. At that point, Ms. Hall will need to write another article complaining about attempts to build alternatives and the cycle will start anew. A longer term persepctive would recognize that a transportation system based on the private auto has exactly one benefit when compared to alternatives: occasional convenience for the car occupant(s). The downsides, however, include greater pollution, greater carbon dioxide emissions,contributions to public health problems resulting from lifestyle diseases, and perhaps most importantly for this context,  increased sprawl, which create the conditions which in turn make it “impossible” for people such as Ms. Hall to even consider what many of us do every day, namely run errands, get to multiple workplaces, pick up kids, etc by bike. So yes, Ms. Hall, get a bike. Start with 2 mile trips, which comprise 40% of car usage in the US, and see where you can take it from there. – See more at:

  • Erik Mar

    “As a tax paying citizen of this country”, you’re entitled to exactly the same access to public goods as every other “tax-paying citizen”. Yet, when you elect to drive when you could either bike or walk, you’re occupying many times more space than the others, grabbing more than your fair share. You’re also imposing a cost on current and future generations with your pollutant and carbon dioxide emissions, thereby damaging the public realm, not only within the national boundaries of your “citizenship”, but well beyond. And, to top it off, you’re degrading the infrastructure, imposing higher maintenance costs than the other two alternatives. By your choice of how to use your share of the public realm, you’re destroying it more than those who walk or bike instead. “Tax paying citizens” who consciously choose to grab more than their fair share, while simultaneously destroying public goods to which others also have rights should not be entitled to continue their sociopathic behavior.
    Similarly, the 100 or so tax paying citizens riding light rail or a bus should have 100 times the access to public goods as you. During rush hour, more people travel the Wilshire corridor on bus than in car; in a strictly functioning democracy, where rights accrue to the majority, they therefore would have more than half of the lanes for their exclusive use.
    Finally, it’s worth remembering that the dominance of the private automobile is not the end result of some sort of inevitable evolutionary process  -it was engendered by a combination of carefully chosen incentives and carefully constructed obstacles blocking its competitors – carrots and sticks. The same will be necessary to move towards a more sane transportation future. 

  • grrlyrida

    Damien, your response was spot on. NPR had something similar on todays broadcast.
    I chose to live in Silverlake 13 years ago because it was more pedestrian friendly and had bike lanes on one of their major thorough fares. No one demands that we live in a certain areas. It’s our choice. Brentwood, Westwood and Beverly Hills have the parking lot streets because of the choices they made. They don’t want bike lanes, metro or bus lanes what do they expect politicians to do make magical new boulevards so residents can have faster commutes without them changing their behaviors?

  • locals only

    Does the author not know that one of the great triumphs of human evolution is the ability to plan ahead, which in her case might save her the trouble of carrying her entire collection of bags and sweaters with her?

  • “As a tax paying citizen of this county, I have the same rights and
    probably more need for transportation investment that serves where I

    This just isn’t true.  If you live way up in the Hollywood Hills, you don’t have the right to get the county to build a freeway, a subway, and a rapid bus to where you live, because those lines would require destroying lots of other people’s property and would only serve a very small number of people.  However, if you live at 7th and Figueroa, then you already have all three of those things, because you’re living somewhere that tens of thousands of other people go every single day.

    It’s definitely true that people don’t have complete choice in where they live and where they work – the permitting process makes it extremely difficult to add more housing units in places where they are sustainable (it’s only easy to build them way out in the high desert, where it’s hard to get almost anywhere), and people can’t just get a new job when they feel like it, especially in this economy.  But if someone can afford to live in Brentwood, then they can afford to live on Wilshire Blvd, and if they happen to work downtown, and choose not to live anywhere near the 720 bus, then they have chosen to deal with traffic, which will only get worse as the population of the world grows.

    The county can’t just come and make things perfectly equal for everyone living everywhere – that would involve flattening all the buildings and covering everything with asphalt, which no one wants.  What they can do is use the small amount of road space more efficiently, to move more people.  That means bus lanes and bike lanes, both of which can easily carry more people than a car lane.

  • “But to your specific problem, living in Brentwood and commuting via car
    Downtown there are really only three solutions: move, get a new job, or
    get over it.”

    It might have been more rhetorically effective if you point out that there are other options. If she lives in Brentwood and commutes to Downtown, then she probably makes a lot more money than many of the people that live between Brentwood and Downtown – if she (and everyone like her) paid those people not to drive, then she’d get there faster.  And if she doesn’t want to pay them, maybe she can get the city government to evict them.  Or maybe she can get their employers to fire them.  But if all of those people are continuing to go to work, and continuing to drive, then there is nothing that can be done to make her commute better.  If she wants to continue driving, and if she wants her commute to get better, then she needs to support something that will get everyone who lives between her house and her work to travel by some other means.  And if she is opposing the one thing that could do this, then she has to just get over it, or move.

    (Of course, this would be quite different if we were talking about someone who is not rich – in that case, they don’t have the choice of where to live, and all we can do is get the city to help improve access to poor neighborhoods.  And this probably means non-car access.)

  • Lilian

    To clarify, everyone who pays into the public coffers has the right to receive benefits from those coffers, including public transportation, whether they live in Mar Vista, Brentwood, or the Hollywood Hills.  I live in the city of LA and every transit line in LA doesn’t benefit me, but I wouldn’t presume to tell those who have benefited that they don’t have the right to those services.

    Erik Mar makes common knowledge arguments.  However, to call car driving sociopathic is extreme.  Car driving is necessary and common part of our society and will remain so for the foreseeable future.  Freeways and cars were not a mistake, not building them along with transit systems was.

    In summary, we need bikes, cars, buses, and trains.  We will likely always needs bikes, cars, buses, and trains.  No one is better then anyone else because of how they get to work.  Short of giving up their careers, homes, and recreation, a lot of people don’t have a choice but to drive.  And that doesn’t make them unintelligent or immoral.

  • Erik Mar

    As a by-choice car driver, even if you never take public transportation, you are receiving benefits from public transit investments – through decreased traffic congestion, through decreased per capita carbon and pollutant emissions, and also, indirectly, through increased density, which makes it more likely for you to find what you want for “career, home, or recreation” with less travel distance.
    WRT my “sociopathic” comment, I said people who “consciously choose” to drive (when it’s possible to take alternatives with less external costs) are acting in a sociopathic manner. This may sound extreme, but it’s not unlike someone who chooses to leave the air conditioning running when they’re not home. Yes, they “pay” for the additional energy consumption, but society pays for all of the externalities associated with that unnecessary waste. 
    By saying that we will always “need” all modes of transportation, you’re conflating “need” with “choice”, and the individual with the social. Yes, it may be true that at any point in time from here forward, there may be some individual who “needs” a private auto, but it may also be true that society, or most individuals, can no longer afford (in public health or in ecological terms) the negatives that inevitably follow from making cars the centerpieces of transportation networks. One place to recognize this coming truism is to clearly think through where each of us as individuals can “choose” not to drive, thereby creating market demand for alternatives without all of those negative externalities.

  • Erik Mar

    One more thing-
    this discussion is focusing on “choice” because the original article clearly came from an upper middle class perspective, where disposable income, and wealth, more generally, generate the possibility of making lifestyle choices. The US now has, by some estimates 1/6 to 1/5 of its “tax paying citizens” living near the poverty line (we might say, thanks largely to the sociopathic behavior of the financial sector, which _also_ imposes its negative externalities on the rest of society). That 1/6 to 1/5 of the population probably does not draw from the same range of options that Carla Hall does. Without widespread infrastructure which makes non-car alternatives a default option rather than a by-difficult-choice option, we’re not going to come close to addressing any of the multiple pathologies that follow from car-centrism.

  • Alison Kendall

    Now, if you want to live in Brentwood and commute by BIKE to downtown, there are some great proposals for Bundy bike lanes which would help you get to the Expo bikeway or you could ride on the Expo line of the Big Blue Bus 10 and arrive at work exhilarated instead of grumpy. (a suggestion from a NE Santa Monica to USC bike commuter family).

  • DaveQus

    Or she could lobby for her job to move to Santa Monica. That’s where the rich people who live west of the 405 are putting their companies offices. Their decisions are causing some of the worst traffic around, as the people who work for them but can’t afford to live west of the 405 have to commute to Santa Monica in the mornings and then try to get out at rush hour. The Expo line might help, if there is enough parking at stations east of the 405 where people can leave their cars. Better would be to stop building offices in S.M.


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