Getting L.A. Traffic Wrong

Traffic in Los Angeles

Zocalo repeats the old bromide that “once upon a time” the streets of Los Angeles were empty and getting around was simple.

Nothing could be further from the truth. After years of reading old newspapers, I can say with authority that congested traffic is a century-old problem in Los Angeles and everything we take for granted today – right turns on a red light, one-way streets, no parking zones, freeways, widened and realigned streets – were all designed to alleviate traffic. The best description of traffic control in Los Angeles is “running as fast as you can to stay in the same place.”

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About lmharnisch

I work at the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in A Kinder, Simpler Time, Streetcars, Transportation and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Getting L.A. Traffic Wrong

  1. Cal and Lulu says:

    In the 1940′s and early 1950′s, before the Santa Monica Freeway, we could drive from Beverly Hills to Downtown LA via Olympic Bl. in 20 minutes. We could go to 20th in Santa Monica in 15 minutes or less. We could take the bus from BH to The Santa Monica pier in 30 minutes. The street traffic was a lot more reasonable. In 1964 we could drive from Van Nuys to WLA (Sepulveda and National Bl) on the new San Diego Fwy in 25 mins. In 1984 during the the Olympics the Freeways were clear because the Olympic Committee managed to get the trucks to use early morning hours. Why they didn’t keep things that way is a mystery. It really worked. In By 1994 the freeways were jammed and the city streets were not much better.1995 the traffic got so bad that we left LA for good. The question is how many more people live in LA than in 1984? How many more cars on on the streets than in 1984?

    • lmharnisch says:

      In the 1970s, I stayed with a friend in Valinda and drove to UCLA every day to do research and the traffic on the 10 and the 405 was terrible even then. One of the worst traffic jams of my life was in the early 1980s on the 405 on a Friday afternoon.

      More to the point, the old newspapers going back to the 1900s are full of accounts of traffic jams and terrible congestion. I can show you a guidebook to L.A. from the 1930s that — yes — refers to the terrible traffic.

      • Cal and Lulu says:

        Question: Were you in LA during the 1984 Olympics? (If not, ask someone who was in LA then)
        Also, We lived in NYC in the late 60′s and early 70′s for a few years. Traffic in NYC was completely stopped.
        We guess that it is all relative. From time and memorial, the people have complained about the traffic in LA. LA has always been behind the curve relative to keeping even with population growth. That’s the single reason why we moved from LA to San Luis Obispo (SLO)

      • lmharnisch says:

        I wasn’t living in L.A. then but The Times has done many stories about how the dreaded traffic jams failed to materialize during the Olympics and why can’t we do that all the time. It seems that predictions of terrible traffic do wonders for preventing them!

  2. Santos L. Halper says:

    As a New Yorker, I won’t presume expertise on LA traffic for even a second. But I do believe these synchronized traffic signals that the city boasts of are doing some amount of good. On every trip out west, I always go with a friend to Langer’s for a Friday late lunch. The only excruciating part (besides feeling stuffed) is the inevitable traffic getting back to West Hollywood. Though last time, we took 3rd and literally cruised in about 20 min back to La Brea. It was the first time I’d seen such a thing — and a far cry from my first mistake of taking the 101 back in the late 90s.

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