Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Traffic Planners Crack Down on Pesky Cars

Above is a map of Los Angeles International Airport.  When you drive or are driven to meet a passenger or catch a flight, you enter the airport from the roads on the upper right and travel to the terminal (1- 8 in the outside yellow numbers) used by your particular airline.

Auto traffic always has been heavy at LAX, but now it is worse than ever.  An article this fall  quoted an airport official as saying this:  Peak  traffic in the summer of 2014 was 89,000 cars in one day at the airport. In 2015, the peak day was 95,000 cars. This summer, there were only 12 days when traffic didn’t exceed 95,000. The loop is handling far more traffic every year. 

(For some reason, Uber and Lyft are being blamed for some of this increase, but it doesn't make sense to me.  Before the ride-sharing companies came along, passengers had to get into and out of the airport somehow.  They certainly didn't walk.) 

There is a plan for some kind of "people mover" to get travelers from nearby parking lots to the terminals, which may replace some of the minibuses that troll the airport loop now.  Still, construction of the people mover won't begin until 2018.  

Meanwhile, travelers coming to and leaving the airport are proceeding very, very slowly.  

How LAX Is Managing the Situation

On Tuesday morning, we Ubered to LAX for our flight home.  Traffic was pretty darn slow.  I mentioned this as I checked my bag with a skycap outside the terminal.

"It should go faster," he said, "but the traffic people have been putting cones near the airport exit.  They have cut down the end of the loop by one lane.  The cars and buses get backed up all the way through the airport." 

Great, I thought.  Thanks, traffic planners.

The New Approach to Traffic Management

For many decades, the solution to traffic congestion was to build new roads or add extra lanes to overcrowded roads and highways.

A couple decades ago, planners started griping that the result was unsatisfactory. The general complaint was this:  Every time we build a new road, people just drive on it.

In a sprawling area like Southern California, traffic volume has increased and speeds have decreased every decade since at least the 1970s.  

The region is in the process of building a light rail network connecting many communities.  This certainly will be helpful, but the larger plan will not be completed for another 20 years, assuming (against experience) that the projects are completed on time.

So the planners have hit on another tactic:  Make the existing road structure more crowded than ever.  Force drivers to make different decisions.

Major LA arterials like Wilshire Boulevard are being retrofitted with fewer lanes and also taller, more densely populated apartment, condo and business towers.  

The idea appears to be to force people to walk, bicycle, carpool or travel by bus.  Maybe it will work, but housing on the Wilshire corridor is pretty darn expensive, and it's hard to envision its denizens standing at bus stops and transferring buses several times to get to business meetings or doctors' appointments.  We'll see. 

Meanwhile, if I knew of a company that manufactured traffic cones, I'd buy stock in it.

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