Sunday, September 5, 2010

LA Times Bravely Stands up to the Subway Extension (eyes rolling)

The LA Times has a piece today by Dan Weikel entitled Proposed Westside subway will do little to relieve traffic congestion, report shows. It's based on the project's just-released Draft Environmental Impact Report and Statement (DEIR/DEIS) that have to be prepared to satisfy state and federal environmental disclosure laws. Don't get me wrong. It's totally legitimate for a newspaper to scrutinize a major public expenditure like the subway extension. However, I think you've got to have your philosophy in order to do that well.

As soon as I saw the story, I improvised this response in the comments section of the article:

"It's very important to remember two things:

1) There are purposes for transit besides traffic reduction

2) Traffic is a function of many things that we could change if we wanted to

Purposes for transit besides traffic reduction include improving the quality of life of those people who cannot drive or choose not to drive, reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, creating new opportunities for badly needed new housing and jobs and giving people real transportation choices besides driving. In cities with good transit systems, traffic congestion isn't as important because PEOPLE HAVE CHOICES about how to get around.

Traffic is a function of many things including the price of gasoline, the price of parking, the amount of required parking spaces for new development, whether or not we decide to price road space, and the amount of money society decides to invest in one mode of transportation or another. There are things we could do to reduce traffic. We could build neighborhoods that mix land uses so that people can walk in them. Basically you have to make it easier to use the alternatives and harder to drive. This is a matter of will on our part.

LA has more than enough road space. What we badly need is a commitment to a multi-modal transportation system that puts the environment and human safety above the ease of driving."


  1. cheers to that. quality of life is a big one. for folks that have never had the opportunity to live in an environment where driving is a choice, not a necessity, they fail to realize the convenience of being able to get around without four wheels.

  2. Good point. Put simply, transit rarely does anything for traffic congestion (unless it can create a HUGE shift in consciousness in an area). What it does do is create a class of people who no longer care. The obsession with "reduced traffic congestion" that we have in SoCal around transit projects is a direct result of automobile hegemony, and of course it's politically impossible now to build a transit project unless you can claim it will somehow benefit drivers.

    I wish it went the other way 'round, and you had to show how a freeway would benefit transit riders.

  3. Some people just don't understand how empty roads sow the seeds of their own destruction. The easier you make it to drive, the more people drive. It's really just basic economics (people demand more of something that costs less, and time is a cost).

    It's a classic example of Americans simultaneously wanting things that are mutually exclusive and getting pissed off when the impossibility of their contradictory desires manifests itself. ("Let's make it really easy to drive and then hope nobody drives!")

    They just end up turning against people (density) in the end, even though density and mixed land uses are the only strategy that can actually cut dependence on cars while maintaining a high quality of life. ("If only there weren't so many people, Los Angeles would be a decent place for automobiles again!")

    Time and again, our public policies put the needs of cars over the needs of human beings. It's got to stop.