It should come as no surprise that Los Angeles has made the list of top 10 cities for worst traffic congestion in the country, according to a newly released report from the Texas Transportation Institute. It might seem surprising however, that we've come in second instead of first. That honor goes to Washington D.C.
On average, Los Angeles drivers spent 61 hours stuck in traffic in 2011, costing them $1,300 in time and fuel. That’s just six less than D.C. drivers.
At the moment, I have the luxury of not having a commute, of being able to plan my drive across L.A. based on off-peak hours, but I have paid my dues on our jammed roads. In fact, I probably used to reach 60 hours wasting my life away in my car just in the first quarter of the year.
My commute, which still gives me nightmares, stretched 35 miles across our city to Santa Monica. I was one block away from the beach, a glorious view, which came at a heavy cost.
For three years, my mornings were filled with frustration, anger, mind-numbing boredom and the overwhelming anxiety that I wasn't going to be able to make it to work on time, yet again.
Only two good things came out of my traffic routine – the pleasure of listening to NPR and the time I saved in the morning by doing my makeup in the car as the speedometer sat at zero for minutes on end.
There was always the fear of getting into an accident – no matter how good of a driver you were. The distance and the carelessness of other drivers increased the probability more than ever.
By the time I got to work, I had suffered through such trauma that all I wanted to do was turn around and go back home. Of course, I didn't. Instead, I had another two hours of torture waiting for me when I finished work, spending the same amount of time on the road to get to my house on the other tip of L.A. that I would spend driving to San Diego.
It could have been the traffic, or other things at play, but it made me realize that I have never really been particularly fond of L.A.'s “Car Capital of the World” identity. I've never derived particular pleasure of getting a car, much less driving one.
While L.A. has cut its average congestion time to 61 hours, which was at a whopping 78 hours around eight years ago, scientists are beginning to study the psychological and physical impacts of what idling away in cars can do to us.
In 2011, epidemiologist Heather Volk at USC's Keck School of Medicine was quoted in a WSJ article about the effect of traffic on our health. According to a review of birth records, her team calculated that children born to mothers living within 1,000 feet of major roads or freeways in three California cities – L.A., San Francisco and Sacramento — were “twice as likely to have autism, independent of gender, ethnicity and education level.”
Another study, “The Public Health Costs of Traffic Congestion,” in the same year by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis at the School of Public Health estimated that emissions traced back to traffic congestion can lead to more than 2,000 premature deaths in the United States, with the public health cost at a staggering $18 billion.
Although there's a long way to go in studying the impacts of traffic congestion to make concrete conclusions, there are forces at play trying to change the path of our traffic-addicted city, the most major one being that L.A. has, in recent years, become an exciting hub for bicycle enthusiasts.
With the approval of Glendale's Bicycle Transportation Plan, I'm feeling encouraged to leave my car behind more often. All that's left is replacing the traffic trauma with a bit of nostalgia, and picking up where I left off before my initiation into car culture to choose the right bicycle. No training wheels needed this time.
LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a Los Angeles-based journalist whose work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Paste magazine, New America Media, Eurasianet and The Atlantic. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.