What Los Angeles needs is a transit system that better reflects what it is -- a sprawling mid-density city. So build the world's easiest-to-use bus system. This network should expand such transit innovations as the MTA's Metro Rapid buses, which run in dedicated lanes, and Rapid Express buses, which make few stops. These systems are far less expensive to build than light rail or a "subway to the sea."
We also should synchronize more traffic lights, fix more potholes and -- most important -- build "village centers" in neighborhoods so people do not have to make as many trips across town. Lowering city taxes on home-based businesses, which would encourage their creation, would facilitate this transition.
Finally, we need to think about building toll lanes, or tollways, to divert the truck traffic that grinds through the city. The 110 and 710 corridors to the ports are obvious candidates for such lanes. This should be a win-win all around: safer freeways because of fewer trucks, quicker trips for trucks, and decreased pollution because trucks would idle less.
Our traffic nightmare didn't spring up overnight, nor can commuters expect an easy, quick fix. It will take coordinated efforts on the part of city officials, transportation planners and engineers, employers and commuters. Short term, these ideas, collectively implemented, could ease traffic congestion:
- Make bus rides faster by creating dedicated bus lanes on the 10, 101 and 405 freeways and expand the MTA's Metro Rapid bus system to connect such major employment centers as downtown, the Wilshire corridor, LAX, UCLA, USC and the South Bay.
- Connect subway, rail and bus stations to outlying neighborhoods through shuttles or the DASH system.
- To improve traffic flow, synchronize more traffic signals; make some major thoroughfares one-way; minimize left-turn opportunities during rush hours; use side streets for access to parking lots connected to retail outlets.
Turn carpool lanes into toll lanes
A big roadblock to faster traffic flow is the now-outdated notion that carpool lanes, or high-occupancy vehicle lanes, are good congestion-busters. For the most part, they're not. Carpool commuting is becoming less common even as more lanes to accommodate it are being built. Better that we turn these carpool lanes into special toll lanes.
The toll would go up or down depending on the flow of cars: The greater the congestion, the more expensive to use these high-occupancy-toll lanes, or HOT lanes. But the flexible-pricing system would maintain free-flow conditions, allowing more vehicles to fly along the same lanes that today are often as congested as the regular ones.
Apart from buying special software and hiring some back-office staff, setting up HOT lanes would be simply a matter of installing antennas for communication with electronic toll collectors, video cameras to catch cheaters, changeable message signs at various points along the route and plastic pylons to separate the lanes from the regular ones.
Transit buses also could use the special lanes, creating the virtual equivalent of an exclusive busway (think the Valley's Orange Line), but at the fraction of the cost because there is no need to build facilities from scratch. The Bay Area plans to develop a regionwide network of HOT lanes. Because L.A. is home to the nation's most extensive carpool-lane network, it would seem a natural for conversion to a HOT system.
Cut bus fares to boost ridership