Congestion pricing: LA traffic, kill me now

Los Angeles traffic, perhaps the only experience other than Real Analysis in Evans to force me to ponder the pros and cons of suicide, is the kind of phenomenon that causes you to give up friends and family altogether, provided they live in the godforsaken jungle and the only way to get to them is the 210E or 405 in any direction. 

After the relative success of congestion pricing –charging high fees to consumers for goods/services during times of heavy use– on roadways in places like London (20% fewer cars on the road) and Singapore (40% reduction in AM traffic),* some think implementing such fees on Southern California freeways may be a better alternative to the gasoline tax which, at pennies on the gallon goes virtually unnoticed by consumers and will consequently have little effect on their driving behaviors until our gasoline prices catch up with the rest of the world (Iran excluded).**As a consumer, I’d welcome congestion pricing with open arms, and expect that such fees would alter my own driving habits (I currently travel by way of a toll road twice daily –one that employs congestion pricing), and thus those of my commuting peers, in the following ways:

  1. Gives people somewhat objective means to make more efficient decisions regarding where to live –incentivizes moving closer to workplaces… maybe you’d have thought twice about moving to Temecula if you had to price in a $10 daily charge to use the 405 to get to your office in Marina Del Rey –don’t laugh, people do this.
  2. Encourages deviations from the typical workday schedule that have positive effects on the rest of the commuter’s life: for instance, I drive to work at 6am, and because the schedule is so ingrained in my psyche, even if I try, I can’t sleep past 7am on any day. Consequently, I’m always the first in line for bullshit errands that I can’t outsource.
  3. Encourages people to be more mindful when deciding whether/how to use the roads; paying for a good has that effect on people. I find that commuters on the toll road I use are more likely to adhere to the unique speeds unofficially ascribed to each lane –you find less jams caused by the schmucks driving at the exact same speed as the guy in the lane directly adjacent to them, the same men and women who refuse to speed up or slow down in order to let anyone pass unless one blinks their headlights profusely and, in cases of real dimwits, pulls out the horn for an unpleasant start to the day: activist driving –at some point you cease believing that the hurled insults of guys like Dan Loeb make them a$$ holes, and a newfound respect washes over their images in your mind
  4. Encourages car-pooling during peak hours, times at which it’s also much easier to find people with whom to carpool

I’ve spent hours –literally– in cars waiting to make left turns on Mulholland, and similarly with waiting to make RIGHT turns anywhere along Santa Monica Blvd between 5-7pm –and my experiences are all from a couple of years ago (I’ve stopped venturing into the beast); since then, it’s only gotten worse, as it does every year. 

Though applying congestion pricing to the freeways wouldn’t solve the surface street backlogs, downtown LA –where most people clogging the roads, both surface and freeways commute to/from– is prime POTENTIAL residential living space. Developers have noticed this, as there were originally 6,000 residential units expected to come online in the area this year alone. Downtown is also getting its first grocery store Ralph’s Fresh Fare (July 20) –and rumors are positioning a Whole Foods at the LA Live property– before which residents had to rely on Grand Central Market –more like the Tuesday farmer’s market at SF’s Ferry Building, great for novelty eateries and produce, but where are you supposed to buy milk? 

To turn downtown LA into a residential hub where people can feel safe enough to be the bi-pedal organisms they were meant to be is no easy task. There’s also no guarantee that a ‘trendy’ new residential renaissance in downtown wouldn’t attract people who work in Westwood who think that by moving east they could do a reverse commute (which is still horrid). I don’t have faith in Southern Californians –the region’s developers especially– but a glut in condo supply could make pricing attractive enough to turn a substantial amount of downtown commuters into downtown residents –and to get another chunk off of the roads, congestion pricing may be the order of the day. 

*Moore, Adrian. 20xx. “Funding Roads with Pricing: What Have We Learned From Practice?,” Reason Foundation
**Flamm, Bradley and Rosston, Gregory. 2005. “Traffic Congestion, Congestion Pricing, and the Price of Using California’s Freeways,” Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research


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