Politics & Policy

Op-Ed:  In lieu of practical public transit, Los Angeles resorts to flying during Carmageddon

The city of Los Angeles is bracing for disaster. More paralyzing than an earthquake, more immobilizing than a hurricane, the city is preparing for the worst transportation calamity imaginable: construction on the 405.

Route 405 links the northern and southern parts of the greater Los Angeles metro region, and this weekend’s construction on the road is predicted to be so disastrous that news outlets have dubbed it “Carmageddon.” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Police Lieutenant Andrew Neiman and even California Department of Transportation regional director Mike Miles (Most appropriate name ever – Ed.) have all said essentially the same thing to L.A. drivers tempted to get on the road this weekend: “Just stay home.”

While L.A. residents were panicking over the idea of not being able to drive for three days, JetBlue saw an opening in the market and went for it. The low-cost air carrier is offering flights from Burbank (just north of L.A.) to Long Beach (just south of L.A.) for only $4. Not a bad deal – especially considering that the rest of the city is predicted to be a post-apocalyptic nightmare of gridlock by Saturday afternoon.

Even though JetBlue’s offer is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the fact that it exists at all points out the startling dearth of transportation alternatives in Los Angeles. If the Queens Midtown Expressway in New York City shut down, would people fly from La Guardia to Newark? Or if the 495 Beltway outside Washington D.C. closed, would people fly from National Airport to Dulles? In both cases, the answer is almost certainly no. Not because people drive less in either of those places but simply because there are other ways to get around.

This is part of what makes having transportation choices so desirable for so many people. Americans are increasingly choosing to live in areas with access to trains, subways and bike lanes – or in neighborhoods where jobs, homes, schools and shopping are within walking distance of one another. Being dependent on only one form of transportation – as Los Angeles residents are finding out – can be limiting.

In its defense, Los Angeles is already working to create better transportation options for its residents. The city’s bold 30/10 Initiative aims to build 30 years’ worth of mass transit in just 10. The Initiative will improve public transportation options in the city – a strategy proven to reduce congestion better than expanding roads – and in doing so will create thousands of jobs in the city and give Angelenos ways to get around other than in a car.

The vast majority of Americans still drive, every day, to where they need to go and for many, driving is their only option. But in an era of rising gas prices, deteriorating roads and global competitors who are using new transportation systems to gain an economic edge, America should be looking to build transportation systems that better connect neighborhoods and entire regions. Something to think about while sitting in Carmageddon traffic.

Learn more about Smart Growth America at www.smartgrowthamerica.org/

Tags: infrastructure, built environment, governance, transportation, los angeles, west coast, transit, california, smart growth america