From the Publisher/Arnold G. York
Saturday night, Karen and I were going to a very elegant black-tie holiday gala in Beverly Hills, above the Beverly Hills Hotel. It began at 7 p.m., so we left Malibu at 6 p.m. figuring we’d be a little fashionably late. We figured wrong, very wrong. Actually, we thought we might avoid the traffic by going up Temescal to Sunset, and then take Sunset into Beverly Hills. Two hours later, we were sitting in total gridlock on Sunset Boulevard, stuck alongside UCLA. One of the lanes on Sunset was closed because during the week work was being done and several pieces of heavy equipment were parked in the lane, creating a bottleneck from the freeway to Beverly Hills. There were no lights, no warning signs, no flagman-just a few traffic cones and a major traffic jam. We finally gave up in frustration and turned off into the Bel-Air Hotel, where it took several glasses of wine before I felt human again.
The conclusion we reached was evident. Life on the Westside of Los Angeles has become unlivable. In the 40 years since Karen and I graduated from UCLA, traffic on the Westside has gone from being an inconvenience, to being a problem, to being an impossibility. Just mention it to your friends and you’ll hear a litany of frustrations and missed curtains, and relationships ended prematurely because you simply can’t get from here to there anymore.
This is beyond irritation. It has become an economic and health problem for all of us. Billions are being spent to revitalize downtown, with Staples Center, Walt Disney Concert Hall, rehabbing the theatrical complexes and a proposed hotel. Are Westsiders saying, “How wonderful!” No, what they’re saying is, “I’m just not going downtown anymore if I can avoid it.” A trip to the Walt Disney Concert Hall or Dodger Stadium or any of the downtown venues is two hours on a Friday night with bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way. You arrive exhausted, angry and definitely not ready for a nice evening. Ticket season holders are saying no more. Frequently, they can’t even give away their tickets.
But it’s not just downtown. It’s also the Westside venues. How many of you look with dread to driving into Beverly Hills or Century City to shop or go to dinner? Our physical world is getting smaller. Going into the city now means going to Santa Monica, not downtown.
I’m sure some of you can remember when you got on the freeway at 4 p.m. the road into the city was open and the traffic was coming home from work, usually between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Now, any day on the Santa Monica freeway the traffic is equally as busy in both directions, and the heavy traffic starts at 2 p.m. and ends at 8 p.m. Could it be that everyone is just living in the wrong place? That everyone is commuting to the other end of town? Sometimes I think that the best part of owning The Malibu Times is that my commute time is roughly two minutes, and that’s if I hit a red light. Still, even in Malibu the traffic is getting heavier and heavier in both directions. PCH used to be one-way traffic. Now it’s both and growing. We’re not going to escape this.
There are still a few things you can do. The old standby of your own special route doesn’t seem to work anymore. There are obviously more people and they’ve all discovered your shortcut. You can start getting up at 5 a.m. and leaving at 6 p.m., but it makes for a long day. Maybe you can work partially at home or some flextime, but we all spend a lot of time trying to beat the traffic to make life tolerable. And it feels like it gets tougher each year.
We may not be able to do anything about population and all the cars, what with two-income families. But there is something the government can do.
First, government officials have to recognize that this really is a problem and it costs all of us a lot of time, which translates to money. People who can are leaving Los Angeles. The young are getting out. Life is easier in other places.
I see a long-term solution and a short-term solution. Long-term we need more public transportation. Think about it. How many major cities of the world have as minimal a public transportation system as L.A.? Very few, I think. On a short-term basis, it absolutely has to be verboten to close down a lane of travel on any major thoroughfare without a traffic diversion plan. How many times have you driven down PCH and into a traffic jam because there was no diversion around the closed lane? Understandably, sometimes you have to close a lane for construction or utility repair. What would it take to put up cones and use the middle lane so there are always two lanes moving? It would take an individual and it would add a little bit to the cost of the job, but it’s essential. Multiply that blockage by 50 or 100 times all over the Westside and you understand why we’re gridlocked. Government needs to develop, train and place a series of traffic swat teams that respond immediately to bottlenecks and keep the traffic rolling. The cost would be minimal compared to the cost of delays.
I’m amazed this has not yet become a public political issue. It should be, because I suspect there are probably a dozen similar things that can be done to keep the traffic rolling and improve the quality of our lives.