Dear County / City of Los Angeles,
My name is Jeremy Belmont. i have lived in this county for 20 years. I love it here, but you have some serious logistical problems. In this article, I will show that there are several principals that can be applied to traffic retrofitting that are easy, low in cost, and effective. Additionally, there are other techniques which might be more invasive and costly that also could prove optimal in certain specific situations. I will divide this article into sections and categories to make it easier to digest.
1. Earthquake preparedness
2. Bicycle & Scooter issues
3. Quick retrofitting for roads & intersections
4. Non-invasive large scale solutions
5. Invasive and costly solutions to serious traffic snags.
6. Downtown considerations
Category 1. Earthquake preparedness.
We live in a city that is prone to earthquakes. Yet since I have been here, we have not had anything more than a tremor. In the event of an unexpected earthquake (such as if mother nature forgets to send a memo), Los Angeles traffic could be crippled not for days, but for years. Highway bridges and overpasses on the 405 and other highways are the most vulnerable crux in our traffic system. Should there be a bad earthquake, and these bridges fall, it could take years to get them all fixed.
My solution is to start fixing the problem long before there is a problem. The worst issue is traffic going over the hill into the valley. East-West traffic from Los Angeles to Santa Monica is another huge issue. Having wide routes that go through the hills that are surface streets makes sense because those will be stable in an earthquake. Such an idea will be unpopular with the local residents as it will tear up their hills, however, for the general good of society it is necessary and it is also necessary to start the project as soon as possible as that may be our online lifeline to the valley. Without it it could take six hours on a good day to make it from Hollywood to Studio City — I kid you not!
Retrofitting bridges and overpasses is another idea. Having detailed plans and available resources and building materials to rebuild destroyed bridges is something to think about now and NOT after there is a problem.
Category 2. Bicycle & Scooter issues
Bicycles and scooters are very environmentally friendly modes of transportation. There are various problem associated with these modes of transportation.
1. Bicycles & Scooters are not subjected to laws regarding REAR LIGHTS.
I believe that all vehicles on any divided road (with divider or double yellow lines) should be required to obey the same laws of the road that a motorized vehicle does. The laws state that bicycles must obey the laws of the road, but these laws are not enforced much.
2. Bicycles & Scooters are not subjected to laws regarding FRONT LIGHTS
Front lights SHOULD NOT BE FLASHING as this is very disturbing. Yes it gets them noticed, but that is the only thing you notice which means that your attention is distracted which could cause death or bodily injury not to mention annoyance.
3. Bicycles & Scooters should NOT be allowed to be used on a sidewalk unless they are on a designated bike path. Bodily injury happens regularly when bikes & scooters use the sidewalk. It is also very disturbing to walk out of a building only to have a near miss with a scooter. There seems to be no law enforcement for these vehicles and this needs to change.
4. Bike Routes.
The city spends lots of money creating poorly thought out bike routes. The result is that the width of the road available for motor vehicles is restricted to allow for an occasional bike. I was on Figueroa and cars could not move. Yet there was a bike path and bikes coming on schedule every two minutes. This is an inefficient use of space. If you got a fixed fee per vehicle your aggregate revenue would go down as a result of this mis-allocation of resources.
Principals of Bike Routes
(a) Bike routes should be built in places where they will be heavily used. Usage could vary over time depending on how thoughtful the route is. A user-friendly route might experience regular increase in traffic while a dangerous and poorly thought out route might not get used much at all.
(b) Bike routes should NOT be built in places with heavy motor vehicle traffic as those roads are already congested enough. Bike routes can weave around the city and should ideally use roads that typically have light traffic. Or, if car traffic can be re-routed (which is not easy) then bikes might be more suited for streets like Figueroa.
(c) Bike highways are something that exists in Europe and might not be cost effective in America. However, bike riders who I spoke to said that a completely separated route would be attractive to them for safety reasons. A bike highway could be elevated, and only built in places with heavy bike traffic. Kiosks could be built for items that bicyclists might like. Locked parking areas for bikes would be good too.
(d) Share a bike system. These days, more and more cities are having shared vehicle systems. You can rent a scooter by the minute. You can rent a bike in Beverly Hills. These systems use apps and credit cards. It is popular, but not safe as it is not run by the city. My idea is to have the city run a simple system where you can rent a segway, bike or scooter, and use it on a separated road. You can pay a machine with cash, smart card, use an app, or use your iPhone to do the transaction. Payment flexibility is something I like. The system would be designed where you cannot run your vehicle off the established route and cannot steal the vehicles as it might be physically impossible to move them off the route (somehow… that is an engineering question… above my paygrade.)
(e) The slow vehicle route. Imagine a system where you see bikes, segways, scooters, and golf carts. These vehicles do not differ drastically in weight compared to bikes vs. cars or trucks. They go similar speeds as well. If they had their own routes that would be safe. But, to make sure you get enough traffic in the routes, having more options for payment, and vehicle choices would increase traffic. If you could pay a dollar and jump on a golf card with some other people to go two or three miles down the road, how convenient is that?
(f) If the idea of separate bike routes happens, buildings could be constructed near the bike paths where users of the system could live.
The below points are for bike routes integrated with regular roads.
(g) Cars need to turn right, but when they do, they might smash into a bicyclist.
(h) Going through intersections is dangerous as someone running a red light might hit you. For roads with bike routes that the city would like people to actually use, you need a safe way for bikes to go through intersections.
(i) Having fewer intersections on bike routes makes sense. Less intersections = less danger.
(j) Having a bike route temporarily go in the middle of the street separated by curbs would be good so that at intersections cars could be in the lane to the right and not pose a danger to the bikes. To get into that middle lane, bikes might need to cross a cross walk, or cross through heavy traffic which once again is dangerous. Streets that intersect with one way streets would pose less issues for bike traffic as bikes could travel on the left on intersections with right turn possibilities and then cross over and be on the right when the left turn avails. This way bikes would not have a conflict of interest with cars at the point of intersections. I would need to draw a diagram to clearly show this point.
The other way to do this is to have a bike route that is always in a middle lane, but have stop lights for the bikes so that the cars can turn into the right lane so that they can prepare for a turn. Using this approach the bikes would stop while the cars are going and vice versa which would cause a lot of delays. On long streets, having cross-overs only every two to three blocks would reduce time lost.
(k) Having bike fly-overs at major intersections would be safe. However, this is expensive. But, by sharing the cross over with pedestrians, scooters, etc., it might be more efficient or cost effective overall.
(l) Allowing bikes to swerve in and out of traffic, from roads to sidewalks and all over is very dangerous and a problem. Bikes need to follow rules and behave orderly.
(m) Bikes should ideally be registered and operators should need a license to operate on a divided road (i.e. with double yellow lines). This will increase the level of safety and education about the rules of the road. Right now we have anarchy which is annoying and dangerous.
Category 3. Quick Retrofitting for Roads to increase traffic.
Roads in Los Angeles are typically overused, and clogged most of the day, particularly during rush hour. There are various causes for this situation. Not having enough road space, clogged intersections, parking on major streets, valets, etc. I have a list of solutions to this type of problem.
1. Building more roads is a solution to the issue of road space. This involves knocking down large swaths of territory and destroying many homes. In the long run it would really help the city, but there would be many complaints in the short run.
2. Having multi-purpose roads is the main reason why traffic is so bad. Roads are used for driving, parking, bus stops, bikes, turning on short distance trips, and other purposes. By having certain roads focus on certain purposes, that might allow traffic to flow. If certain roads are optimized for driving straight for three or more miles, those roads would really move quickly, especially if the traffic lights were optimized. To achieve this goal, parking would need to happen on side streets or alleys and those who want to do lots of left turns should probably not use a long distance optimized road.
3. Unclogging intersections is an interesting problem. There are various ways to do this. Here are some ideas. Some of these ideas I learned about by reading about logistics and city planning on the internet.
(a) Move bus stops away from major intersections. They clog lanes so that only middle lanes can flow. Moving a bus stop a block and a quarter down the street will allow cars to get in and out of the bigger intersections and bus takers will only have to walk an extra block. I think they need the exercise, what do you think?
(b) Don’t allow parking within a block of a major intersection. Having side streets accommodate more parking is a good idea. It is common to have difficult parking restrictions on side streets to please the residents. The consequences is that that main arteries get clogged with parking and that causes traffic congestion, and causes heart attacks in humans if your arteries get blocked by plaque.
(c) Don’t allow parking on major streets in general. Traffic is safer and faster without parking.
(d) Having modified roads that can accommodate a smooth passage for utilizing the “three rights = a left” idea might be good.
(e) Additionally, right turns could be done by entering onto a ramp a block before a major intersection. You would have to knock down a few buildings for this, but it would eliminate the normal congestion at intersections caused by too many turns.
(f) Pedestrians typically cross while people are trying to turn right. this is dangerous and annoying. Having the pedestrians cross 200 feet down the road means more walking, but that reduces the amount of activity at the intersection itself which is good for safety.
(g) Pedestrians could also wait longer to cross, but then have crossing in all directions including diagonally. This would reduce the danger of cars hitting you or startling you by coming too close. This is by far the easiest of all of my suggestions.
(h) There are more complicated logistics solutions. If cards turning left turn left a block or two before the intersection onto a side street at an intersection where there is a lot less going on, and then make a right and then another left onto their main street, that is one way of reducing traffic at major intersections.
(i) Right/Left crossover sections of streets are a new method of traffic reduction that are growing in popularity. If right and left are reversed at an intersection on a cross street, then making a left turn becomes easy. Making a right turn would be more effectively done by turning off to the right a block early, going a block or two, and then making a left and then another right onto the main street which at that point would have reverted back to traffic on the right.
(j) Having rotaries at intersections or rotaries after intersections for those who want to turn around and then go a direction which would otherwise have involved a left turn… This is a way to achieve such a goal without a left turn signal, or a bridge.
(k) Having underground routes for people going through an intersection would free up road space for those doing a right or left turn.
Category 4. Non-invasive large scale solutions.
Going from downtown to Santa Monica during traffic can take forever. Just going two blocks downtown can be a nightmare due to the fact that traffic gets stuck and pedestrians are always blocking your turns which is an issue I addressed above. Building more highways is costly and there is no space. So, what is the solution? Having roads that are designed to move quickly, with optimized traffic lights makes sense. If certain roads are designed to go East quickly and other roads are designed to go West quickly, the city can move. South of the 10 freeway, there is less congestion on those roads.
My idea is to have certain streets downtown be optimized to just get cars out of the city as fast as possible with lights that keep turning green. Those roads could feed into streets South of the 10 such as Adams, etc., that could be optimized to go fast in a particular directions, again with lights that keep turning green. Whether those roads become one way or remain two way, they could focus on people going East on certain roads and West on others. Such a system would reduce load on the 10 freeway and get people where they are going in minutes instead of hours. It might also be an ideal way to get to Culver City or Torrance.
Category 5. Invasive and costly traffic solutions.
Building rotaries is expensive. Large rotaries that are bigger than what is conventional might be a real boon for fast moving traffic. This would involve tearing things down. But, would allow for a fast moving city.
One idea I had would be a rotary that is two miles in diameter with a completely rebuilt city in the middle, or the same old city in the middle. A controversial idea to be sure, but very interesting to think about.
Silver Lake near the 101 is such a place where a rotary or underground road would reduce the huge snags. There are too many intersections and roads going diagonal. The entire are is a mess that could be cleaned up with some expense. Regardless of the solution, the area’s logistics need to be simplified somehow. And there is more than one way to build a rotary. There are convoluted multi-rotaries that are connected to each other with different types of turnaround techniques too.
Hollywood & Highland and crossing over to Burbank have horrible traffic. Creating some underground routes and solutions to traffic snags that would make traffic move smoothly to Burbank would be wonderful. It would probably be possible to achieve this goal without any more bridges going over the 101
Tearing down huge swaths of buildings and creating routes that go straight through the city is controversial but would solve a lot of congestion. Bike routes could be built on these routes and maybe parking solutions as well. The city needs roads that are designed to get people across the city fast without too many intersections. Rebuilding allows for this. Additionally for bikes, long passages with no interruptions are safer and more convenient. This route could go underground near intersections as well. The problem comes when an uncongested new route interfaces with a highway that is badly congested. The uncongested route will become congested trying to take ramps onto the highway. So, what is the solution? Perhaps not connecting to the highways makes more sense. There is no sense in spending billions to create yet another traffic jam.
As a general rule, my strategy for invasive solutions would be to make a list of the city’s worst traffic snags and then to itemize them in order of how critical they are. Those areas should be worked on one by one finding the most sensible and cost effective solution on an individual basis. Cities across the United States are not known for their logistical skills, so it might be necessary to call in professionals from other areas to help with decision making skills.
Category 6. Downtown considerations.
There is too much going on downtown. Too many pedestrians clogging intersections. Too many buses, and too many cards. To simplify, if particular streets would cater to bikes, pedestrians and buses, and other streets would cater to cars, traffic might actually move. If certain streets allow pedestrians to cross without waiting long then pedestrians could move through the city with ease. You only need a few streets to be optimized for pedestrians, so they would not monopolize the whole city center. On streets optimized for cars. you might have pedestrian bridges, but pedestrians would have to wait a lot longer. This way cars could get in and out of the city.
I also like the idea of an elevated pedestrian and bike route. This way you could walk through the city without cars trying to run you down. Expensive, and the bike traffic does not merit this expense, but when you combine pedestrians which come by the thousand, it suddenly becomes a worthwhile investment.