My hair (or what’s left of it) stood on end when I read this portion of Tim Rutten’s column on Wednesday about Rick Caruso’s mayoral campaign:
Mythology has it that the old Red Cars were killed by a conspiracy, but the truth is that after the war, people abandoned them for cars and then came to actively dislike them because they snarled traffic. Just imagine a trolley going up and down Ventura Boulevard and then envision the backups north and south along, say, Coldwater or Laurel. You get the picture.
Such statements are usually considered heresy, but in fact, Rutten is exactly right. Despite the prevailing myth in Los Angeles, the streetcars were impediments to vehicle traffic because they moved on fixed tracks in the middle of the street. If something stopped one streetcar, such as a breakdown or an accident, every streetcar following behind was also stuck until the blockage was cleared.
In one particularly memorable example, a car making a turn onto Spring Street from the old Hall of Records got wedged between the northbound and southbound streetcars, blocking both lines for hours until the accident was cleared.
Immediately after World War II, Los Angeles experimented with “trackless trolleys” that were powered by overhead wires but had tires – sort of like an electric bus. Being on tires made them more maneuverable, but these vehicles were more costly than buses.