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Los Angeles, California is known around the world as a place where the car is king. It is a bellwether city when it comes to automobile culture and traffic management. And on August 11, 2015, the Los Angeles City Council approved a controversial plan to begin removing, rather than adding, traffic lanes to the city’s most important thoroughfares.
Los Angeles has led the way worldwide in creative traffic management engineering for more than half a century. It was the first major city to be geographically and structurally determined by the capabilities of automobiles. Los Angeles’ first automobiles were designed and built there as early as 1897. Detroit soon took over as the heart of automotive manufacturing, but Los Angeles remained the heart of automotive passion and expression from the Roaring Twenties to the present day.
Yet the automobile was never without its challengers. From streetcars and bicycles in the late 1800s to residential canals, monorail, elevated trains, subways, and regular commuter rail in all the decades since, other forms of transportation have competed passionately against the automobile, and have either been utterly defeated or won very limited successes.
Automobile enthusiasts among urban planners have often pointed to Los Angeles as their inspiration for how a modern megacity can competently handle heavy automobile traffic. If Los Angeles gives up that dream, will another world-class city take its place as the heartbeat of the automobile-centric lifestyle? Or might this signal the beginning of the end of automobile-centric urban planning?
“The Roaring Twenties… set Los Angeles on an irreversible path as a city dominated by the automobile. L.A.’s population of about 600,000 at the start of the 1920s more than doubled during the decade. The city’s cars would see an even greater increase, from 161,846 cars registered in L.A. County in 1920 to 806,264 registered in 1930. In 1920 Los Angeles had about 170 gas stations. By 1930 there were over 1,500.”
“The approved plan places a high priority on traffic safety, including making Vision Zero official citywide policy. L.A. is now committed to ‘decrease transportation-related fatality rate to zero by 2035.’ Public testimony was limited to 20 minutes, and was heavily in favor of plan approval.”
“We’ve been building for the car for about half a century now [in Los Angeles, a whole century!], so it’s understandable that old habits die hard. But the evidence is growing that traffic does indeed disappear and that reallocating road space will lead not to commuter chaos but rather to better conditions for those on foot and on bikes. Research has established the theory of disappearing traffic. Now leading cities around the world are beginning to test it.”
On Bicycles: 50 Ways the New Bike Culture Can Change Your Life. Edited by Amy Walker; quoted article by Bonnie Fenton. Published by New World Library, Novato California (2011) p.349-354.