Los Angeles Business Journal

Getting Los Angeles Moving

OP-ED: Clearing streets of congestion might include placing curbs on developers and trucking industry. By Richard J. Riordan & Tim Rutten Monday, December 16, 2013

anti-business measures, but allowing every developer to extract the maximum conceivable value from their land imposes increasingly onerous costs on all the rest of us. Such a ban also would put the brakes on the wholesale movement of jobs to the Westside, a change in the city’s economy planners never anticipated. It might even steer future development back toward downtown, which nowadays is relatively uncongested.

In the same vein, new lower-rise residential developments that are constructed on the Westside might be limited to one parking space per household and adjacent streets made permit-only parking zones. If people can’t park their cars, maybe there will be fewer of them. That would create conditions conducive to experiments with one of urban transit’s most promising developments – car sharing or “hoteling” as it’s sometimes called. Already in use throughout Europe and in cities like Seattle, people enrolled in such programs simply can use their credit cards to essentially “rent” Smart cars that are parked in convenient locations spread around the city. When they’re done, they can leave the vehicle parked in any legal public space for the next person to use.

One of our public transit system’s unheralded successes is the San Fernando Valley’s Orange Line, a dedicated bus way. Rail might be sexier, but dedicated bus ways are cheaper by far to build and move more people at a lower cost per mile than any other form of mass transit. They’re also more flexible by far and should be the focus of future mass transit expansion.

Finally, we ought to borrow a success from the past and limit trucks making commercial deliveries and pickups to nighttime hours. Doing that during the 1984 Olympics reduced rush-hour freeway congestion by as much as 17 percent, according to some estimates. Former Mayor Tom Bradley tried to make the arrangement permanent in the early 1990s, but abandoned his effort in the face of overwhelming opposition from the trucking industry and its unions.

Since then, we’ve had another success with similar policies at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which now charge trucks additional fees to use their container terminals during the day. As a result, more than 40 percent of the truck traffic coming out of the harbors has switched to off-peak hours and the costs of the container terminals’ additional staffing are covered by the daytime fees.

Adopting such a policy citywide would be denounced in some quarters as another of the city’s notorious anti-business measures, but the fact is congestion has dramatically – in fact, exponentially – worsened since the Bradley years and now imposes a kind of indirect tax on every commercial enterprise in the city. The trucking union’s inevitable objections could be overcome by pointing out that forcing pickups and deliveries into off-peak hours would be a major jobs program, since employers would have to add people for a nightshift. Drivers, meanwhile, could bargain for a night differential in their pay, which would push up participants’ incomes.

If the results were anything close to those obtained by the ports, then the impact on freeway congestion, particularly during rush hour, would be significant.

There is no one magic bullet when it comes to L.A.’s traffic congestion. Other ideas worth considering are staggered work hours, more telecommuting and greater use of one-way streets. Any one of these steps, however, can be nothing more than a partial solution and all of them come with some sacrifice or cost. The most expensive choice of all, though, is doing nothing.

In the end, it isn’t ideas we’re lacking, but courage and political will.

Richard J. Riordan is the former mayor of Los Angeles. Tim Rutten is a veteran L.A. journalist and commentator.

Page 2 of 2

Next