With Expo Line Extension 60% Done, Los Angeles Rethinks Traffic

Eileen Meng Lu  |

Los Angeles’ subway Exposition Line extension is 60% done and a year ahead of schedule, and will hit Colorado Boulevard and Fourth Street just three blocks from the Pacific by the end of 2015. So far all of the bridge construction is done and all seven stations are under construction, bringing the promise to finally connect the "Silicon Beach" tech hub in Santa Monica to the rest of the LA metropolitan area closer to reailty.

Less Cars, More Public Transit

Traffic in Los Angeles has been a pain for its residents for decades. Seven of the top 10 most congested roads in the United States are in Los Angeles County. Thousands of hours are wasted every day in the always-jam-packed highways such as “the 101,” “the 110,” and the notorious “405.”

Now Los Angeles has started to follow the trend of instituting legitimate public transportation. And it’s set to change the landscape of LA permanently.

According to the latest survey conducted by the Frontier Group and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, more Americans now commute to work by foot, bicycle, or public transportation. By 2011, the average American was driving 7.6% fewer miles per year than that in 2004, and from 2006 to 2011, the per capita average of vehicle-miles traveled dropped in almost three-quarters of major urbanized areas in the United States.   

Southern California residents mirror the national shift in transportation habits. The Los Angeles-Long Beach- Santa Ana area saw a 2.3% decrease in the miles residents drove per capita compare they did in 2006. The volume of workers commuting by car fell by 2%. 

In contrast, the average number of vehicle miles traveled on public transportation in Los Angeles-Long Beach- Santa Ana area increased by 14%, compared to 2000 mid-year.

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Authors of the report suggested at the end of the survey that “officials should reallocate resources away from wasteful highway expansion projects and toward system repair and programs that expand the range of transportation options available to Americans.”

Government Accelerates "Car Culture" Shift

California has never seemed to give up on freeway expansion projects. The 405 Freeway Widening Project, or the cause of “Carmageddon,” was a notable example. The city spent $1.1 billion widening the third worst traffic corridor in the nation, and, after years of construction, traffic did not improve nearly in proportion to the money the city threw into the project. The first day the new 405 opened, with a new carpool lane stretching all the way from Orange County, it received both applause and eye rolls from users. During rush hour, Google (GOOG) Maps still showed the 405 Freeway was red as always. 

Slowly but surely, LA is catching on. In 2012 “the Metro” opened the Expo Line Light Rail Phase 1, and an extension of the Orange Line Busway. Now with the construction of Expo Line Phase Two is going to be done soon, an even sharper increase in the number of public transit commuters is widely expected.   

Before Mayor Garcetti was elected in 2013, former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had already been on the track to accelerate funding for light rail and subways systems. Although projects like the freeway expansion ate a big portion of budget, the city has commited to lay almost 115 miles of track by 2036. Along with an increase in bus ridership, the city has seen a decline in the number of cars registered in Los Angeles County, a trend that is likely to continue.

In the past, it was nearly insane not to recommend tourists in Los Angeles rent a car and instead get taxis or buses and take the train. Today, and going forward, the city is rethinking traffic. Los Angeles, the "City of the Car,” is changing its pattern for commuters and looks likely to no one day no longer auto-centric.

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