The closest thing to an identity Los Angeles has, aside from the shallow and misappropriated stereotype of Hollywood and Beverly Hills, is the mega-infrastructure of its freeways that runs through its every region.
The Los Angeles freeway system has a reputation of being overbearing. It is seen as the source of poor air quality, detrimental urban conditions, aesthetic impurity, and the high volume of traffic. There is some truth to these beliefs, but it’s more complicated than that. Out of the 36 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., Los Angeles actually ranks last in freeway lane miles per resident. The original freeway master plan in 1959 called for almost double the amount of freeway mileage we currently have built today. This is to say that LA’s freeway system might be overbearing, but not overbuilt.
That isn’t to excuse the LA freeway system of any criticism. A disproportionate number of Los Angeles residents are heavy highway users. LA still has the worst traffic in the nation, with residents spending 59 hours sitting in traffic a year (San Francisco is the third worst.) LA also claims 35 of the 162 most congested sections of the freeway in the nation.
While 81% of residents drive to work, only 10% use public transportation. (Only 4% cycle or walk to work. 5% work from home.) The Los Angeles transit system is seen as sparse, complicated, and ineffective. While there is some truth to this notion, the issue is, like the freeway system, more complicated than that. The LA area has established one of the most extensive transit systems in the U.S. with 73 miles of subway and rail, 500 miles of commuter train lines, and 2,670 buses with 18,500 stops.
The sheer size of the LA area and the lack of centralization makes the transit system complicated and ineffective. But the city’s attempts at establishing a viable transit presence suggests that they desire a balance between car transit and public transit. The problem is, nobody has yet figured out how.
These projects that never come to fruition give us a hint at the desire for efficient and alternative methods of transportation. Why have they never been built? What technologies can we embrace the make them a reality?
So how do we achieve our desire for a more efficient and balanced system of car and public transit? How do we open the residents up to alternative modes of transportation? What technologies can we use to increase efficiency and flexibility? How do we shift our identity away from the overbearing freeways to something else? Or how can we co-opt this identity and the infrastructure given to us and re-use, recycle, or reprogram them?