How Do We Make L.A. a Friendlier Place to Drive?

City and traffic officials and road rage experts weigh in

Photograph courtesy Flickr/PhillipC

Arnold P. Nerenberg, Ph.D.
The Nerenberg Institute, Whittier 

Some say I coined the term “road rage.” I didn’t. I popularized it. What is the real reason that people—often nice people—openly express hostility to other drivers? Part of the reason is self-expression and the need for respect. When someone is cut off by another driver, many people take it personally. They feel disrespected. People crave to express themselves, but can’t in the usual social situations. One the road, they are anonymous. They can curse, make obscene gestures, blow their horns, and think they will never see the other driver again. They got away with it.

This brings me to the topic of “Respectfully Real Communication.” At the Nerenberg Institute, we interviewed 1,800 people. Most were tired of superficial conversations. Most felt lonely because they wanted deeper, more meaningful dialogue. They wanted a “Social Revolution of Dialogue” in which they would not be trapped in trivia, where it would be socially appropriate to talk—even with strangers—about what really matters in life. Over half the population is already on board with the concept, no need to convince them. The New Social Contract would involve Respectfully Real Communication whereby all people have the right to be their “true selves,” as long as the expression of the real self is done with kindness, wisdom, and a healthy respect of boundaries. It is a matter of such people being able to identify themselves and their vehicles as subscribing to this New Social Contract. This would make the roads and the sidewalks a much friendlier place. People would not be driving around just looking for an excuse to explode.  Reducing loneliness and isolation will reduce substance abuse and the crimes and hostility associated with it; it will increase trust. “Respectfully Real” is not just Real, which can often be destructive; it is being real with respect, which would create bridges and connections as opposed to walls, barriers, and hostility. There is much more to be said about the Social Revolution of Dialogue, and this is hopefully the first discussion of many more to come.



Commander Chuck Street
Pilot/reporter, KIIS-FM and KTLA-TV 5

I have often thought that the old phrase “Courtesy is contagious, so pass it on!” should be resurrected in a regional billboard campaign.  Bumper stickers would be great too!

I frequently meet people who are visiting from other parts of the country and world.  Oftentimes they comment that so many Southern Californians are “laid back” and friendly, but I think that Angelenos need to be reminded that each of us has a responsibility to help make things work better in our community. So I hope that we can all remind ourselves that courtesy is contagious.  It will make the Los Angeles experience so much richer for all of us!



Hilary Norton
Executive Director, Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic (FAST) 

L.A.’s cars, buses, and bikes are pounded by potholed streets. We are stopped at green lights because our street signals are not yet fully synchronized. With L.A.’s major thoroughfares gridlocked, people race dangerously down residential streets looking for potential shortcuts that never materialize.

Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic (FAST) was created specifically to advocate for fast-term (three to five years) improvements to L.A. County’s mobility.  FAST is a coalition of major business, labor, education, transit, and neighborhood organizations and individuals who support fixing L.A.’s traffic comprehensively, and, in doing so, rebuilding L.A.’s economy.

Currently, Angelenos are stuck in traffic for more than 490 million hours, at an economic cost of $9 billion annually! Yet if just 5% of our single occupant vehicle (SOV) drivers choose other transit options daily, Los Angeles could see traffic reductions similar to the 1984 Olympics. 

We will only improve L.A.’s drive once we take the bold step to reclaim our major streets and thoroughfares to efficiently get people to and from their destinations.  FAST supports repaving L.A.’s roads, fully synchronizing street signals using energy efficient lighting, and removing parking lanes during peak travel periods to promote more rapid and orderly travel.  FAST supports creating a citywide network of “paired streets” north-south or east-west which allow two way travel on each street but favor a single direction, and FAST supports Metro’s ExpressLanes pilot program to expand the use of carpool lanes on the 1-110 and 10 freeways, which will increase speeds and improve the mobility of our freeways. 

FAST’s coalition is also advocating for L.A. to create a regional bike network that will encourage more commuting by bicycle while keeping cyclists safer on the roads. FAST encourages more participation in Traffic Demand Management (TDM) programs which incentivize car-sharing, carpools, buses, and rail for as many of our trips as possible. 

The solutions to our gridlock are attainable, and listed in detail on FAST’s Web site. Many are being implemented countywide by the Metro board and Metrolink, and in Los Angeles by Mayor Villaraigosa, the Los Angeles City Council, and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.  But L.A.’s current budget crises can bring this momentum to a grinding halt unless we get actively involved in funding a comprehensive plan of road improvements and increased transit options to solve L.A.’s traffic permanently.   

Within the next 10 years, L.A. will benefit greatly from implementing these fast-term solutions and building out L.A.’s rail system, with the Expo Line, Orange Line extension, Metrolink, the Regional Connector, and Mayor Villaraigosa’s and MoveLA’s “30/10” campaign to complete our subway system within 10 years rather than 30.  Completing these major projects will allow us to drive only when we must, and will finally put L.A. on par with the other major international cities of the world. 

In 2010, we all must be part of the effort to use local Measure R funds and garner the federal funds needed for Los Angeles to build a multi-modal transit system befitting our world-class region. With the Obama Administration and Congress contemplating investing billions of dollars in transportation over the next six years, FAST, MoveLA, and others in the Transportation For America campaign are calling on our leaders to direct funding towards the complete transportation system that L.A. so desperately needs. We must increase local, state, and federal support for roads, transit, bicycling, and walking.  Once that is accomplished, we will finally make LA’s drive friendlier, and make the alternatives to driving more ubiquitous. 



Los Angeles City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl
Chair of the Transportation Committee 

I always get disappointed when I witness or read about aggressive and rude driving behavior, but I don’t think it’s necessarily unique to our roadways.  In these fast-paced and economically uncertain times, people are too stressed out, and that stress turns into frustration.  Unfortunately, sometimes vehicles provide a level of anonymity that allows drivers to feel comfortable offending other drivers.

What the City can do to combat this aggression is to remove the stressors that trigger the aggressive behavior in the first place. I can speak from experience that the number one stressor for motorists is gridlock.  The Westside of Los Angeles, which I represent, is the most gridlocked area in the City.  In years past, we have developed more and widened our existing roadways, which has only made the problem worse. 

L.A. has to reinvent itself, thinking not just about the automobile as the primary means of mobility but also light rail, bus, bicycle and walking. We have to plan for healthier and environmentally friendly cities that will not only ease congestion but also offer people a true alternative.

The good news is that taxpayers approved a half-cent sales tax increase (Measure R) in 2008 which will provide nearly $40 billion over the next 30 years to fund transportation projects throughout Los Angeles County.

Now that the voters have put their money where their mouth is, the Federal government needs to listen to us.  I call on California’s congressional delegation to send their voters’ message to Washington D.C. and bring back the additional funding we deserve and desperately need to bolster our efforts in rebuilding our transportation infrastructure. It is also critical for Congress to approve the creation of a National Infrastructure Development Bank, which is currently under consideration and sorely needed to provide the resources to rebuild America’s failing transportation system as well as accelerate all transportation projects in L.A. over the next ten years.



Los Angeles City Councilmember Greig Smith
Chair of the Public Safety Committee 

In some ways, making Los Angeles a friendlier place to drive is as simple as being patient and courteous while behind the wheel. We are all in a rush to get where we need to go, and in Los Angeles, we have long distances to travel. Commuters in Los Angeles spend more time in their cars than most other people in the country, and all of us hold our time very precious. But our lives are far more precious.

I once experimented with different routes from my home in the West Valley to City Hall in Downtown L.A. and timed each trip. The one-way commute is normally one hour. I timed trips at the same time of day, under similar traffic conditions. No matter which route I took, or how defensively or aggressively I drove, all the trips varied by only about two minutes. Aggressively seeking out the open lanes, racing to make yellow lights, constantly passing and weaving—these are exactly the types of driving behavior that result in terrible accidents, moving violations, and road rage. Ultimately, you don’t really get there any faster.

L.A. would be a much friendlier place to drive if we simply extended each other the same courtesy we would like to have. It is also a good idea to avoid confrontations with drivers who appear to be very aggressive. If another driver appears determined to get to the intersection before you, or aggressively passes you on the road, just let him or her go ahead. Trying to compete with such aggressive drivers is a good way to get involved in road rage situations.



Arianna Ortiz
Traffic reporter, KRTH and KFWB

I’ve been a traffic reporter for many more years than I would like to advertise. I’ve been an L.A driver for just as long, so I suffer along with my listeners regularly. My years of experience as both have given me far more knowledge about Los Angeles streets than one person should have. Can I tell you which alternate route to take? You betcha. Can I predict a traffic pattern? Sure can. This information can be invaluable—and it certainly improves my attitude when I can avoid a big jam-up—but I don’t know anything about road engineering or the technology or city planning that it would take to really make L.A. a more friendly city to drive in. The freeway system works. It’s actually pretty great. But it needs more support from public transit, and we need a more extensive and efficient train system. Traffic sucks. I can’t tell you how I personally bemoan the hours I’ve lost because I decided to take the 405 and not Sepulveda. But many years ago, I came to peace with the realities of living in this city, and now I embrace the time I have in my car. With the right music or programming, I actually look forward to this time when I can clear my head a bit. The traffic itself, for now and the foreseeable future, is unavoidable, but we can make L.A. a friendlier place to drive in by making people happier. Invest in a radio—all kinds: Satellite, broadcast, Pandora—that makes the best programming available to commuters. Invest in companies providing the traffic information and invest in the talent that delivers that information. Those handy GPS devices with traffic info really do rock—I’ve got one myself. But the right talent will decipher and deliver information to you from a perspective you cannot see. Sure, that’s a lobby to keep jobs like mine from being eliminated, but it’s also true that there’s a reason to listen to your favorite DJ or station or show. It’s a wonderful reminder, when your impatience grows and that jerk just cut you off, that though you cannot change the realities of driving in L.A., you are absolutely not alone. We’re all in this together.