Auto traffic in Los Angeles? It's been stressful from the start

Auto traffic in Los Angeles? It's been stressful from the start
The stretch of the 405 freeway that connects the Westside to the San Fernando Valley. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

When automobiles hit the streets of Los Angeles, it became clear pretty quickly that this was going to tax the nerves.

First came complaints from streetcar users and pedestrians that car owners drove like maniacs.


L.A. needs layers of roads!

By 1914, The Times declared a traffic gridlock crisis. The paper reported that motorists were sitting in their cars on narrow streets that seemed to never move, without the parking needed for a quick luncheon or trip to the barber. There was talk of building elevated boulevards "several stories" high.

The paper declared that L.A. has the best drivers in the world, because getting around the city is so difficult it takes a pro to complete the daily commute.

Streets were widened, and freeways were eventually built. But complaints about the stress of traffic continued. By the 1980s, they were getting louder.

The science of traffic stress

In the early 1990s, The Times wrote frequently about UC Irvine research that showed long commutes can intensify negative feelings, lead to lower productivity in the office and even make commuters sick.

The research concluded that heart rate is not affected by traffic, women get more stressed than men on the daily drive, and Type B personalities become more agitated in traffic than Type A control freaks.

The UCI team found that if a commuter leaves home in a happy frame of mind, a bad commute isn't likely to sour his or her mood. But if your temper is already thin, traffic congestion will further blacken your mood, especially at the end of the day, the peak commute-stress time.

The 405 rush-hour workout

In 2006, The Times asks fitness experts how drivers stuck in traffic can reduce stress and feel better. Some suggestions:

•Counteract the driver's slump with a posture check. Keep your eyes on the road. Sit up straight and try to "grow an inch" out of your seat by bringing your shoulders back. Lift your head so that your upper spine is erect and in more of a straight line. Retract your chin so that your ears are directly in line with your shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds while breathing in and out.

•Roll your shoulders up and then back while holding the steering wheel. Gently pull your shoulder blades down and back toward your tailbone.

•Tighten your abdominal muscles to scoop up your belly and pull in your waistline so that your navel moves toward your spine.

Blame it on your friend from New York


Of course, the commute stress can get worse if an outsider is there to observe — especially one from New York. Times editor Robert Knight wrote in 1985:

What annoys me more than Californians complaining about this wondrous, man-made monument to the cement lobby is New Yorkers who visit and complain about the traffic jams and the smog in a tone that would suggest they hailed from Tahiti themselves. If you have self-control, it is almost possible to avoid bringing up some bad stuff about New York. But then they go and do it; they start bragging about the subway system.

"Yeah, no Santa Ana Freeway gridlock for me. No changing any oil, either," my visiting friend Phil of Manhattan said one day as he watched me eat some gravel while working under my car. "No, we New Yorkers don't have to own cars," he said with a smirk.

Source: Times reports