Development and Construction Are Slowly Improving L.A.’s Traffic

Even if they make it worse in the short run

Back by popular desperation, a recession-halted program from the Los Angeles Department of Transportation will soon resume installing speed humps on neighborhood streets. Residents on more than 800 city blocks have petitioned for the traffic-calming asphalt lumps over the last three years. They want to slow traffic and make their streets safer, dissuading all those drivers straying into residential areas—directed by navigation apps and sheer frustration—as they try to avoid the horrendous traffic elsewhere.

Because, as ever, traffic is getting worse. Part of the problem is that L.A. is, increasingly, a construction site. Downtown street closures permitted by the Department of Public Works are up about 180 percent from two years ago, according to a recent analysis by the Los Angeles Times. The Department of Water and Power has an average of 22 major water infrastructure replacement jobs in process in the city at any given time. And Metro’s ongoing projects—like laying track for downtown’s Regional Connector, the Purple Line extension below Wilshire Boulevard, and the new Crenshaw Line—have resulted in lost lanes and a web of daily closures.

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There’s also the congestion caused by so many workers and trucks traveling to these sites—something Mayor Tom Bradley tried to address in 1990. He instituted an ordinance requiring major construction to start an hour earlier, at 6 a.m., and end by 3 p.m. to avoid rush hour. Then, in 2005, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa shifted the ban, forcing roadwork to be done between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. or overnight. This year the city council’s Public Works Committee is looking into establishing an Office of Construction Coordination, aimed at synchronizing projects by public agencies to reduce street closures. City council member David Ryu says this effort would “increase efficiency, reduce traffic, cut costs, and minimize disruptions to our residents.”

In a growing, changing city, no policy will dramatically reduce the hours you spend each year stewing in traffic, but without Xanax or meditation, your best option may be to take the long view: New urban development is creating the kind of density that puts people closer to the places they need to go. New infrastructure will cut down the disastrous water main breaks that turn streets into rivers. And new transit is making the prospects of bypassing all of those speed humps somewhat more realistic, too. Los Angeles Department of Transportation head Seleta Reynolds puts it this way: “These big-time investments, whether it’s the build-out of the subway system or the dramatic growth of downtown and the number of people living in downtown, I think are going to have those same kinds of net positive outcomes, but only if we’re getting the small stuff right on the street. So that’s where trade-offs are difficult, and there can be congestion caused by that momentary construction. But that’s what we’re driving towards.”

Let’s hope.