Is N.Y. Times' 'Freaknomics' Falling in Love With L.A.?


Talk about your truth and reconciliation commissions -- South Africa's have had nothing on the New York Times, lately. Or at least, that paper's Freakonomics blog, which has been running a six-part series written by UCLA's Eric A. Morris, alluringly called "Los Angeles Transportation Facts and Fiction." The series' stated goal is to "discuss stereotypes about Los Angeles transportation." It began by presenting the reader with a quiz about Los Angeles transportation. Each of its six True/False questions then became a topic for subsequent columns:

1. Los Angeles has developed in a low-density, sprawling pattern.

2. Los Angeles's air is choked with smog.

3. Angelenos spend more time stuck in traffic than any other drivers in the nation.

4. Thanks to the great distances between far-flung destinations, and perhaps to Angelenos'
famed "love affair" with the car, Angelenos drive considerably more miles than most Americans.

5. Los Angeles is dominated by an overbuilt freeway system that promotes autodependence.

6. Los Angeles's mass transit system is underdeveloped and inadequate.

Morris' study has been a lively and refreshing debunking of myths and half-truths, along with justifiable criticism of L.A.'s traffic system. His executive summary might be found in his introductory column:

"Los Angeles is cast in the role of the nation's transportation

dystopia: a sprawling, smog-choked, auto-obsessed spaghetti bowl of

freeways which meander from one bland suburban destination to the next.

The heroes of the picture are cities like San Francisco, or especially

New York, which are said to have created vastly more livable urban

forms based on density and mass transit.

But this stereotype is as trite and clichéd as any that has spewed from

the printer of the most dim-witted Hollywood hack. And it is just as

fictitious. The secret is that Los Angeles doesn't fit the role it's

been typecast in."

Still, our roadways still hold terrors for Morris, a former TV writer and producer who came West from Chicago, as he makes clear in his description of the Pasadena Freeway:

"Sadly, the builders didn't quite get it right. A jaunt down the road will remind you of a trip to Space Mountain; it twists like a snake, lacks acceleration and deceleration lanes, has inadequate shoulders, and features hair-raising exit ramps with tight turns and 5 m.p.h. speed limits."

Upon reading this, however, Angelenos are left scratching their heads, wondering where's the rest of Morris' copy. After all, this list of the freeway's charms is not followed by any complaints.

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