You might be surprised to hear me say it (read me write it), but LA has some of the smartest thinking and political leadership in the country right now regarding how they’re changing courses to build a leading 21st city. You can’t see it now, but when thinking about urban planning, you have to think long-term. What strategies and underlying systems are getting put into place and how will the city evolve to them over time.
One could argue that they’re smart because of their mistakes. They learned from them. Or more accurately, new generations have learned from the past generations. They’ve learned that spending $1 billion and five years widening the busiest highway only made things worse. Their big picture strategic documents are reversing course and focusing on the safety and convenience of short trips to occur by means other than the car. Congestion is economic activity. Bad congestion is created by car trips. If short trips occur by transit/bike/foot, congestion issues can be relieved (but likely not for the driver – but for everyone else. Meaning, since auto trips have negative externalities the other forms do not, they are advantaging the other trips.).
Like all cities, the reasoning isn’t flower power, but because it is sane, empirically driven fiscal policy. Building bigger roads is 1) very expensive (both short- and long-term) and 2) only alleviates traffic if it kills the city (oh hai Detroit). The LA region is the densest metro in the country which is significant because that means short trips are convenient. Or, would be convenient if they were designed to be accommodated by non-auto travel. Half of all trips are under 3 miles, but nearly all are by car. Move those trips out of cars and the economy and roads get more efficient.
Remember what I said about new generations replacing old generations? Well, the old way of thinking doesn’t go easily into the night (and is often well funded by the 20th century economy — as I’ll get to). The Reason Foundation has provided their counter proposal like a zombie rising from the grave. It’s everything you might imagine it to be with every iteration of antiquated limited access logic like adding grade separated bypasses to arterial intersections, multi-level tunnels, etc. All of which will be tolled. All of which will also be new, which is where the old way always dies a slow intellectually-deficient death. The dinosaurs think tolls can be used to finance and fully fund new infrastructure.
The playbook is to over-estimate (willfully or otherwise) the amount of traffic, apply a toll, and voila! future revenue that pays back the construction loan. However, tolls are terrible at financing new construction for the same reason they are great at demand management strategies. They reduce demand (duh), which is why they are only really useful on existing facilities rather than new construction (except tolling existing lanes is unpalatable politically and often illegal). How much does their plan cost? $700 billion. Why? Because I don’t believe they actually care about their ‘libertarian’ approach beyond the potential marketing bump of that label. In reality, they’re being duplicitous. They know exactly what they’re doing in trying to fleece the public into more gigantic infrastructural boondoggles and greater car dependence.
Why do I think that? Because Reason Foundations biggest donors are the Koch Brothers, Richard Mellon Scaife, and Harry Bradley, who was boys with the Koch’s father. Dead men are rarely ahead of the times.
The best part though? The old way is called A New Approach. It might as well be A New Hope [for saving a dying beast].