The Traffic Mess

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Here's a question for Friday rush hour. Can anything ever really fix the traffic mess in Los Angeles?

Everybody's talking about it these days, especially on the Westside, where it seems like a million cars and buses try to squeeze out of Santa Monica and West LA in about two hours every afternoon.

At the street level, it feels like an impossible situation. There are just six escape routes to funnel all those eastbound vehicles under the obstacle posed by the San Diego Freeway.

Make that seven routes if you count the complicated short cut through the VA hospital grounds in Brentwood.

That one is -- technically – illegal, and only advised for locals who know the way. But it is scenic.

The sights include a white-washed chapel that was visited –- back in the day -- by President William McKinley a few months before his assassination.

One wrong turn, though, and you end up in the mother of all Westside traffic jams.

Wilshire Boulevard -- heading east – is often backed up solid for two miles from the 405.

But let's say you make it past the freeway. Then you have to clear Westwood -– home of the busiest intersection in the entire city.

THEN there's the slow torture of navigating Beverly Hills.

It's no wonder that the cultural and social life of Los Angeles is shrinking under the hopelessness of getting around.

If you live in Venice or the Palisades, who wants to spend 90 minutes in the car to have cocktails in Hollywood or see a play Downtown?

UCLA Live has become such a tough ticket because it's the unofficial Music Center for Westsiders who have given up getting to downtown.

Luckily, there are smart people trying to do something about it.

Last week, a group of them met downtown at the Taj Mahony to explore ideas for repairing the damage inflicted by decades of bad decisions.

Professors, consultants and brains from some of our best think tanks offered encouragement. Mayor Villaraigosa stopped by to wish the group luck.

And they'll need it. Listening to the discussion, I was impressed by the number of creative ideas. But I wasn't reassured.

Take the subway to the sea along Wilshire, one of the hotter topics.

Developers probably can't wait for that one so they can concentrate more office workers along the grand boulevard – and make traffic even worse.

But extending the subway would provide an alternate way to get across an important swath of the city.

The problem, of course, is a subway under Wilshire would be terrifically expensive to build. A limited pot of available money needs to go for other rail lines too, like the Gold Line to East L.A. and the Expo Line from downtown to Culver City.

What I didn't hear -– because it doesn't exist -– is any real regional consensus on which projects should go first.

And I did hear warnings that have to be listened to for anything to get done.

First, Los Angeles is a city of people who love their cars. Any strategy that lets urbanism advocates pretend that L.A.'s wide streets and long blocks will ever function like New York or Paris will fail to win the hearts of the people.

Second, political leaders need to have the will to force some projects on neighborhoods that don't want them – for the greater good.

Turning Olympic and Pico boulevards into one-way streets was mentioned. Same with finishing the 710 freeway through the community of South Pasadena.

That would ripple -– in a good way — across the entire freeway system.

In the end, nothing was decided. But the conference closed on a glimmer of hope, if you can call it that.

Everyone agreed that traffic could get better later this year even if we do nothing. It happens every time there's a recession.

For KCRW, I'm Kevin Roderick and this has been LA Observed.