Monday, April 8, 2013

Los Angeles: Transportation Policies of the Past, Present and Future

Automobiles, traffic and congestion are synonymous with Los Angeles but that wasn’t always the case. Years of policy decisions have played significant roles in shaping a system that continues to grow and adapt to its dynamic transportation needs. Guided decisions to organize the City’s transportation infrastructure came as early as 1873 with single-track horse car driven lines. But by 1915, there were 55,000 cars on the streets of Los Angeles and the age of the automobile, the sprawl of the City, and demise of public transit was in full swing. The 1920’s saw significant transformation with "the first era of grand designs". (Sechler, Robert) This included policy pointed at mitigating traffic congestion that led to the first Major Traffic Plan and a simplified Traffic Code, also a national first in policy development. (LADOT).

The 1940’s brought forth the first freeways in the state and by the 1950’s, the railway systems began to shut down. Large-scale land acquisition and destruction of neighborhoods for new freeways were now being rapidly constructed with the help of the 9:1 match from the federal government. With streetcars vanishing and tracks paved over, busses were taking the place of rail and automobiles were flooding the roads as quickly as they could be built.
Highway construction, population and traffic volume continued to increase and by the mid-1970’s, it was apparent that the complex problems of mobility could not be resolved by traffic control measures alone. (LADOT) The Los Angeles County Transportation Commission was created to oversee public transit and highway policy. The group managed the transit systems and led decisions to achieve rational service based outcomes. Although decades of auto-centric planning plagued Los Angeles as it continued to suffer insurmountable vehicle congestion.
However, recent transportation policy in Los Angeles is taking the city in a bold new direction by aggressively implementing transit and active transportation projects. These projects are being funded and constructed largely in part to Measure R, a ballot measure passed in the November 2008 elections that would specifically fund transportation projects in Los Angeles County for the next 30 years. (Measure R)
Measure R is a five percent sales tax increase in Los Angeles County that is expected to commit upwards of $40 billion towards during the measure’s 30-year lifespan. The goal of Measure R is to get more Angelenos out of their cars in the City’s growing transit and active transportation system. The campaign to pass Measure R was heavily backed by the City’s leaders, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. (LA Times)
Today, Measure R is the driving force behind many of Los Angeles’ high-profile projects that are gaining national attention. Most evident is the numerous transit projects in the City including the planned Green Line rail to LAX, the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor, the “Subway to the Sea” Expo line from Downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica, and the extension of the bus-rapid transit Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley. (Measure R)
Measure R will continue to shape the future of transportation in Los Angeles. With new Metro stations opening every year, the growing rail system is gaining popularity. Likewise, the installation of bike lanes throughout Los Angeles and events such as car-free CicLAvia is increasing the City’s bicycle ridership numbers. As the transportation needs of Los Angeles continue to grow and evolve, the present becomes a departure from past mistakes and a transition to a multimodal future.


Los Angeles Times. “10 Reasons to Salute Los Angeles’s Promising Transportation Future.” 31 July 2008. 2013. Web. <>

“Metro.” Measure R. 2013. Web.<>

“History.” LADOT: Moving LA Forward. 2013. Web.

Sechler, Robert. April, 1983. “The Seven Eras of Rapid Transit Planning in Los Angeles.” In SCSRA Incorporated. April 8, 2013. Web. <>

1 comment:

  1. Another important factor in Los Angeles transportation was the passing of Proposition A in 1980. Not only did this give the seed money for the the first light rail line the Blue Line (which except in downtown Los Angeles) travels the same route as the last Pacific Electric line between Los Angeles and Long Beach, it also help fund the Red Line heavy rail system, plus allocated funds to every city in the area. Many cities used these funds to create transit that serves only their own city such as BEE Line in Glendale and ARTS in Pasadena, DASH in city of Los Angeles, and many others.


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