Is LA Changing Its Car Culture?

Jessica Beeli  |

Los Angeles’s fabled car culture is deeply engrained in the foundations of the city. Although the cities sprawling freeways and blur of white and red break lights are undoubtedly an iconic feature of the city, the way transportation works around here is not without its problems.

Los Angeles is the classic example of sprawl. Since the 1950s the city has expanded outward, creating suburbs. But Los Angeles’s outward expansion didn’t correspond with an expansion in public transportation, like the growth of other urban cities such as New York or Chicago. Instead people turned to cars. 

Why is Los Angeles a car city? Well there are many theories and conspiracies around that question, which have been explored in pop culture over the years, including the movie Who Framed Rodger Rabbit? The common theory suggests that GM (GM) and oil companies banded together to discourage public transportation and consequently increase their profits.

Whether or not these theories are true, Los Angeles is undeniably the city of the car. Almost 80% of Los Angeles’s working population commutes to work each day. And as the population continues to grow so does the city’s car related problems, such as smog, traffic, parking difficulties and time wasted. One third of California’s population lives in areas where the air does not meet federal health standards. It’s clear that being a car city is not without its problems.     

A Cultural Shift

But Los Angeles is trying to change that. It’s no secret that there is a move to shift the city’s culture, and recent data shows a rise in public transportation usage and a slight but significant decline in car usage. Los Angeles is hoping to become a city where a car isn’t always necessary.

This shift in culture comes with a change in values. No more do young people dream of owning a house in the suburbs. These days people increasingly place priority on living where they can walk. To shops, restaurants, work, people want to exercise more and commute less. But most importantly people just want to get out. And why can’t people have that in Los Angeles?

Smartphone-based ride hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are also contributing to this shift in culture. This new method of transportation, heavily embraced by young people, is reducing traffic and moving to end the era of single-occupant cars.

This shift in Los Angeles corresponds with much of its population centralizing into the heart of the L.A. Basin. Recent neighborhood revivals, such as the renaissance currently occurring in downtown Los Angeles, are creating living spaces where a car isn’t always a necessity.

The City Steps In

Efforts by city officials have put Los Angles well on its way to becoming a less car centric city. Recent projects led by Mayor Eric Garcetti are making the city an urban area compatible with walking and biking and creating more public space.   

To make the city more aesthetically pleasing and walkable, Los Angles has undertaken a number of projects. Mayor Garcetti’s program “Great Streets” recently announced its first 15 streets in Los Angeles to be remodeled as pedestrian destinations.  Grand Park in downtown opened this fall and has quickly become the staple outdoor gathering place for Los Angeles.

The city has also been working to turn the LA River into an actual river, instead of just a concrete flood channel. The first step of the river revitalization plan, North Atwater Park, opened this year, and increasingly exciting plans to redevelop the river continue to come forth.

Efforts like these are making Los Angeles more and more welcoming to pedestrians. A recent report from Smart Growth America shows that Los Angeles ranked 18 out of 30 major national cities for “walkable urbanism”.

Embracing Public Transportation

Public transportation has a reputation for being about as scare in Los Angeles as rain. But more people in Los Angeles use public transportation to commute to work than you’d think. Around 194,760 people, or 11% of Los Angeles workers, are already regular public transportation users.

To conquer traffic problems, the city hopes to move its residents away from the freeways, and hopefully toward the public transportation system. In the last 20 years alone, the Metro Rail system has built six transit lines feeding into downtown, as many lines that serve downtown Chicago.

Three new rail projects have been planned. These rail projects include the first transit line to LAX Airport, and an expanded Expo Line that, upon completion, will go from downtown to the beach city of Santa Monica. Facilitated by the 2008 ballot Measure R, which called for a 30 year half cent sales tax for mass transit projects, officials hope to return to transportation era before the mass production of the automobile.

Despite recent efforts, Los Angeles is by no means a pedestrian’s paradise, at least not yet. Only around 60,000 Angelenos commute to work via foot, and a majority of these pedestrians are only pedestrians because they can’t afford a car. The LAPD still prioritizes citing jaywalkers with hefty fines. Much of the cities sidewalks continue to be in a state of disrepair and one-third of fatal car crashes involve a pedestrian.

But real and effective efforts are being made to fix what is wrong with the transportation culture in Los Angeles. With new parks, renovated rivers, pedestrian friendly streets, and more public transportation options, the City of Angels is really moving towards becoming even more like heaven than it already is. Make sure to keep your eye on the horizon for Los Angeles’s future, just maybe not from the window of your car.  


DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not represent the views of Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to:


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