Once again L.A. is the traffic nightmare capital of America, and much of that can be blamed on our own damn selves. We chose to live in a city with limited public transportation, far-out suburbs and already-stuffed roads. We drive to the 7-Eleven when we could easily walk.
But there are things that could be improved. Here are a few ideas, some radical, from this humble reporter and motorist:
5. Stiffer penalties for idiots. You wear your seatbelt and use your turn signals. Why? Getting busted is expensive. We need to make such typical L.A. douche moves like making a right turn from the middle of the street and merging onto boulevards like you're on a freeway onramp (stop signs be damned) capital offenses or at least wallet-busters. Stop the flow of traffic because you missed your shopping center driveway — and now you're going to make a line of cars wait as you hit the brakes and figure it out? $500 fine. Maybe that'll make people more aware.
4. Better enforcement priorities. It's clear that the LAPD has had ticket quotas for at least some of its cops. And it's clear that the department has run so called fish-in-a-barrel “ticket traps.” Why? Well, these are great fund-raising activities for a city perpetually swimming in red ink. But these actions often hurt traffic as much as they help it, by impeding flow in the right lane and causing the dreaded “spectator slowing.” Everything grinds to a halt.
How about a clear directive from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck that traffic cops must focus their ticket-writing time on violations (see above) that actually hinder traffic in the most congested city in America? All traffic stops would have to be conducted out of traffic so that cops aren't blocking the right lane, too. Those middle-lane right turners and busting-through-the-right-of-way-to-get-to-the-mall drivers would be enemy number one. Hey, maybe even give Metro bus drivers that don't pull their rigs all they way to the right lane at bus stops a ticket once in a while. Make a statement that clear, flowing traffic is a priority in this town, and that drivers here aren't just wallets with cars.
3. Mandatory retirement. This is the third rail of traffic problems in Southern California. Here's the straight talk: Older drivers suck. They lose their reflexes. They get confused. They're dangerous. They hold up traffic, make 18-point turns in the middle of the boulevard and, more often than you think, end up driving into (or on top of) buildings because of “accidental acceleration.” They're a problem.
But you won't find any politician standing up for, say, 65-and-older mandatory driver retirement. Why? Because oldsters vote and you don't. Just never forget this guy.
2. Immigrant driver training. Oh no he didn't. He did! Here's the thing: Pick your favorite bad driver stereotype — the Mexican, the Korean, the Iranian — and they all have something in common. The targets of your ire are immigrants. Immigrants, in general, are not so good at driving, in our experience. They don't know the rules or the flow of our roads, plain and simple.
It's not genetic. The children of Asians inspired the Fast and The Furious film franchise, for Christ's sake. It's not difficult to pin down the real problem here — a clear lack of decent driver education in America. (Look at how they train drivers in some Scandinavian countries.) We need to tack on mandatory road instruction for anyone who wants to get a visa, green card, or dish-washing job. Seriously. L.A. would be a much better (and smoother-flowing place). There, we said it.
Which brings us to our number one traffic solution:
1. Take the bike lanes back. We get it: Bicycling is an important and viable form of transportation in this car-choked city. We're not against it at all. And, as LA Weekly has reported, hit-and-run accidents, especially involving two-wheeled commuters, are out of control in this town. But taking an entire car lane and giving it to bike riders, as has been done in some parts of town, is useless. It means double the number of cars in one lane and, often, an unused bike lane that neither protects riders from cars nor particularly entices the cyclist. Take a ride down 7th Street, which used to have four lanes and now has two, and you'll see both mad traffic and an empty bike lane next to you. Creating a special bike lane for a mode of transportation that has a right to all lanes is no better than creating a special lane for motorcycles.
The city has built 165 miles of bike lanes since 2010 and plans a total of 1,680 miles. Some of those will replace car lanes. You can still ride a bike, regardless of what the paint on the street says. But that certainly means less room, not more, for L.A.'s motor vehicles. Make sense to you?
(Send angry emails to my boss.)