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Why is traffic so bad in L.A.? Because driving and parking is too cheap

That’s the conclusion of a Rand Corp. study released today that puts the lie to the Measure R sales tax hike as the answer to L.A.’s traffic woes.

The study found local officials have taken most of the cheap and politically easy solutions — what a surprise! — and now need to move quickly and decisively to adopt measures that work all around the world.

“Without bold action, congestion across the region will only get worse
and cost everyone more — financially, environmentally and through a
diminished quality of life,”said Paul Sorensen, lead author of the “Moving Los Angeles” study.

Congestion pricing for driving and parking in peak hours, local fuel taxes region-wide bike paths, restricting parking on main thoroughfares, one-way streets, more HOV lanes are among the 13 practical proposals for reducing the nation’s worst traffic congestion within five years.

In the simplest terms, drivers who use the roads the most, especially during peak hours, are so heavily subsidized by the rest of us that they don’t have to make the economic decision to make different choices like using public transit, ride sharing and staggering work hours.

Make them pay more and their behavior will change. In other words, sales taxes– already at 1 percent for the MTA and soon to rise another half-cent unless voters wake up and reject Measure R — hit everyone equally and encourage traffic congestion.

So what do our local officials who thirst for the public’s money like vampires for blood have to say about that?

Wendy Greuel, who heads the City Council’s Transportation Committee and wants to be the public’s watchdog on money as Controller, told Rick Orlov in the Daily News that the report confirmed the city is “doing all it can on short-term solutions.”

“The
fact is, we have to look at the more costly programs, such as Measure
R, the half-percent sales tax on the Nov. 4 ballot,” she said. “What we
need to do is pay for the mass transit we need and continue to look at
our land-use decisions to get people to live closer to where they
work.”

Wait a minute, the report said just the opposite. It said make the people who cause the problem pay by imposing short-term solutions that don’t require higher taxes.

It said local officials “adopted most of the ‘easy’ ways to reduce congestion — those that are
effective, affordable and uncontroversial — such as freeway on-ramp
meters, traffic signal timing, and ridesharing programs” but haven’t implemented the effective short-term solutions that require leadership and political courage.

Rand researchers did not even look at costly long-term infrastructure investments like adding freeway lanes or the subway-to-the-sea. In fact, the study pointedly notes that while getting 2 or 3 percent of the cars off the roads can produce up to a 15 percent reduction in congestion, the impact is only temporary. As soon as people see congestion isn’t so bad, they get off the bus and go right back to driving.

“Pricing strategies are the only sustainable option for reducing
congestion over the long-term, and they will be immediately effective
upon implementation,” said Martin Wachs, one of the study’s authors.

Did I miss the MTA announce a series of pricing strategies that would reduce the massive subsidies that support traffic congestion? Is that a secret part of Measure R nobody wants to talk about?

Hardly. It’s easier for the mayor and his colleagues on the MTA board to go out and raise $10 million from contractors, consultants and lobbyists to buy votes than to tell the public the hard facts and take the tough steps that might cost them votes.

How can they possibly know what infrastructure investments would produce long-term benefits to the community if they haven’t taken the only steps that work?


Here’s how Rand explains why traffic is so bad:

“The population density of Los Angeles
metropolitan region is very high in urbanized areas, and parking is
cheap and abundant. Most drivers do not pay the full economic and
social costs of driving. Los Angeles also is polycentric: instead of
one single, dominant downtown region, it has many sub-centers with high
populations or job densities. Though polycentricism can spread traffic
out, it also makes it more difficult to provide a fast, effective, and
well-connected transit network and reinforces auto-reliant travel
patterns, according to researchers.”

These are the study’s 13 recommendations:

  • Install curbside parking meters that charge more during peak
    business hours for parking in congested commercial and retail districts.
  • Enforce the existing California state law that allows employees to
    “cash out” the value of their parking spaces. Companies with more than
    50 employees who lease parking are supposed to offer their employees
    the option of cash instead of free parking, but this law is not
    enforced.
  • Implement local fuel tax levies at the county level to raise transportation funds.
  • Develop a network of high-occupancy/toll lanes on freeways throughout Los Angeles County.
  • Evaluate the potential for implementing tolls on those entering
    major activity centers, like those that exist in London and Singapore.
  • Expand rapid bus transit with bus-only lanes on arterial streets and express freeway service in the high-occupancy/toll lanes.
  • Offer and aggressively market deeply discounted transit passes to
    employers, who would purchase passes for all employees, allowing those
    who commute by transit to ride at reduced cost.
  • Develop an integrated, region-wide network of bicycle pathways.
  • Restrict curb parking on busy arterial streets.
  • Convert selected major surface streets to one-way streets.
  • Prioritize and fund investments in upgraded signal timing and control.
  • Bolster outreach efforts to assist businesses in promoting ridesharing programs, telecommuting and flexible work schedules.
  • Evaluate the costs and benefits of implementing a regional incident
    management system on the arterial streets to reduce congestion caused
    by traffic accidents.

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11 Responses to Why is traffic so bad in L.A.? Because driving and parking is too cheap

  1. Amy says:

    Rather unfair to try to push people onto public transportation when public transportation doesn’t really exist/work in LA yet. A crying woman once flagged me down from a bus stop asking me to drive her to work because her bus was an hour late and she’d get fired if she was late again.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Really bizarre how you twist this to mean that there should be no mass transportation solutions as well — that goes hand-in-hand with “congestion pricing” wherever it’s worked, from New York to London to San Francisco. The city’s already radically increase parking meter rates and hours of operation — though meters can’t handle different prices at different times, unless maybe they’re new-fangled credit card things that can accommodate different “time zones.”
    And look what happens when the city tries to follow other Rand suggestions like charging for use of roads/ highways at peak hours (“they should remain free to all, including the guy/gal from the Valleys commuting 2 hours in a single-occupancy SUV!” come the cries of “suburban injustice”) or removing parking from main thoroughfares like Pico/Olympic for just an extra hour at rush hour, and making them partial one-ways. What you’re saying is that the NIMBYs suing over that are wrong, and are the ones who “are heavily subsidized by the rest of us” with high financial and quality of life costs. These are among the 13 Rand suggestions you now extol but like other commenters here, condemn with the next breath when the City/County propose them.

  3. A lot of those ideas were tried in the Soviet Union. :)

  4. Anonymous says:

    Wonder why Ron doesn’t quote the LA Times article by Steve Hymon on this matter, instead of using it to falsely claim that the Rand study opposes mass transit?
    Hymon notes, “Some of Rand’s suggestions are already in the works. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is pushing a plan to turn Olympic and Pico boulevards into mostly one0way streets on parts of the westside. But citizen groups alleging the plan would increase congestion have forced the city to do an environmental review of the plan.”
    You kind of lose credibility as a reporter, Ron, when you choose to ignore this because it would mean giving some begrudging credit to the Mayor and Jack Weiss for having had the guts to push this in the face of narrow-minded opposition from those who, to use your words, “are heavily subsidized by the rest of us” who suffer the consequences.
    About the MTA, it’s “in the process of converting the carpool lanes on parts of the 10 and 101 freeways into toll lanes. The tolls will be highest at rush hour to discourage too many cars from cramming into the toll lane at the same time.” This is something you and your valley and eastside SLAP members and commenters oppose claiming a God-given right to congest the 10 and 405 Freeways in particular, creating 85% of the congestion on the westside (including that aforementioned Olympic and Pico corridor), while denouncing the midtown/westside subway extension as “raping the Valley and Eastside.”
    One of the authors of the Rand study, Martin Wachs, says, “We’re trying to only say that everyone complains about traffic congestion, here’s a way to do something about it…There’s evidence to say (that)…if properly informed and given more information, citizens may opt to take some of these measures, as they have done in London and Stockholm and Oslo and a number of cities around the world.”
    Okay, now we’ll hear from the usual “No to Everything but Gripe about Traffic Bunch,” on why L A isn’t those cities (or Tokyo or Singapore or…) and why nothing will work here. (We’ve already heard from Mayor Sam Higby that these measures sound to him like Soviet Russia — uh-huh…)

  5. I’m afraid the assessment you offer of our report, “Moving Los Angeles,” misstates our findings and inappropriately suggests that the study speaks to the proposed Measure R. First, our findings should in no way be seen as suggesting that increased funding for transit is not important to the region. The study looked at options that could be implemented and that could demonstrate results within five years; as a result we did not evaluate rail transit or land use policies. These are important to the region, but cannot be considered “short-term” approaches. The study does make a clear statement that expanded and improved transit options are crucial to the success of the congestion pricing strategies our report proposes. The recommendations are complementary — because expanded transit is needed to improve alternatives to driving for those wishing or need to avoid the higher price of car travel that would result with certain types of pricing strategies. Second, our report does not take a position on Measure R. But our report is clear that transportation decision makers have tough choices ahead, that improved transit is one strategy that would improve traffic in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and that revenue is badly needed to make change.

  6. I’m afraid the assessment you offer of our report, “Moving Los Angeles,” misstates our findings and inappropriately suggests that the study speaks to the proposed Measure R. First, our findings should in no way be seen as suggesting that increased funding for transit is not important to the region. The study looked at options that could be implemented and that could demonstrate results within five years; as a result we did not evaluate rail transit or land use policies. These are important to the region, but cannot be considered “short-term” approaches. The study does make a clear statement that expanded and improved transit options are crucial to the success of the congestion pricing strategies our report proposes. The recommendations are complementary — because expanded transit is needed to improve alternatives to driving for those wishing or need to avoid the higher price of car travel that would result with certain types of pricing strategies. Second, our report does not take a position on Measure R. But our report is clear that transportation decision makers have tough choices ahead, that improved transit is one strategy that would improve traffic in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and that revenue is badly needed to make change.

  7. Anonymous says:

    How about this for a “short term” approach:
    Deport Illegal Alien Criminals, and their families.
    Then start on the rest!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Sorensen and RAND are nothing more than a shill for promoting mass transit. There’s nothing objective about this paper.
    Ridesharing has not been promoted and is the most logical citywide transportation philosophy. It is not seriously discussed only because of political objectives and emotional bias towards subways and buses.
    Even RAND lies to the public, along with our politicians.

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