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Changing L.A.’s car culture

Los Angeles, California, the City of Angels, a special place to this author as I grew up in said city and still call it home no matter where I lay my head. Los Angeles can be a difficult place to wrap your head around, however. Traveling as a tourist is fun, no doubt, but you need some time, perhaps even a week, to really get to know all the intricacies the city has to offer. Contrast that with other places on the West Coast such as San Francisco, Portland or Seattle, L.A. is more spread out and harder to navigate. When you come to L.A. you better have a car, and thats where this post is going L.A. car culture.

From the opening of the Arroyo Seco Parkway in 1940 which links downtown and Pasadena, cars really began to flourish. After all, getting from downtown to Pasadena was now possible as doing so on foot or horse wasnt going to cut it. From there freeways really began to take shape which today connect a multitude of Los Angeles neighborhoods stretching from the beach to Hollywood Hills, the valley regions and back over to downtown and of course Pasadena.

Now, the other side to all this is the fact that Los Angeles sits in a basin. Like Denver or Mexico City, it is a natural pollution trap. The mountains that surround the city combined with favorable temperatures trap dirty air in a highly efficient manner. To their credit, L.A. officials have done a lot to clean the air in recent decades. In fact, smog levels today in L.A. are no where near where they were in 1980. But L.A. wants to do more and that more will require nudging getting folks to drive less via various projects/initiatives, etc. A highly controversial one is converting carpool lanes to toll lanes. This would tax drivers based on mileage and charge drivers who want to enter certain neighborhoods at high peak moments.

The thought, like many cities, is higher costs will result in less cars which will reduce air pollution further and raise revenue to continue improving the citys highway network, something desperatelynecessary prior to the 2028 Summer Olympics. This proposal alone would raise an estimated $102 billion over the next 10 years and charging drivers to enter downtown would raise $12 billion. Thats a lot of money which probably has you thinking, what is L.A. waiting for, tax away! Well, this will come down to political will and the reason being comes back to car culture. Three out of every four commuters in L.A. drive to work. Their parents drove to work and some of their grandparents did as well. Its in the L.A. blood to prep that coffee mug in the morning and drive to work.

It challenges what Angelenos see as their God-given right to drive anywhere they want. A prescient quote by Manuel Pastor, Director of the University of Southern California’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity. Culture change is hard, and L.A. will eventually need to adapt. But this might be too much to stomach in 2019.

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