California dreaming: LA imagines life without cars

Los Angeles is famous for its addiction to cars - whether cruising in their convertibles, or (more often) sitting in monster traffic jams on the freeway, the car is definitely king for Angelenos.

But a surprise public response to a "car-mageddon" warning this month has fueled questions over whether - shock, horror - LA motorists could wean themselves off of four wheels.

A new law bolstering cyclists' rights has also added to debate, in a state which enjoys year-round sunshine and spectacular scenery, but where smog haze regularly clouds views of the sparkling Pacific.

"You can suddenly hear people talking," said LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky after the closure of a key stretch of highway failed to produce the feared apocalyptic gridlock - quite the contrary, the roads were eerily empty.

"You hear kids playing. People discovered something about themselves and Los Angeles auto culture that shocked them. Why can't we take some chunk of LA and shut it down to traffic on certain days or weekends, as they do in Italy?"

Before the closure of a 10-mile (16-kilometer) stretch of the 405 freeway at the northern end of the LA basin earlier this month, officials had blitzed the airwaves with warnings of "car-mageddon".

But in fact motorists who did venture out during the 53-hour closure found roads eerily empty, as Angelenos heeded the warnings in massive numbers - producing what some called "carmaheaven."

The closure "demonstrated that Angelenos really can change their driving behavior if they're motivated to do so," said an opinion piece in the LA Times, noting that a similar thing happened during the 1984 Olympics in the city.

"It's not hard to get people out of their cars during extraordinary events; the tough thing is doing it on a daily basis," added the newspaper.

Critics say one reason that can't be done is LA' parlous public transport system: buses run even slower than cars, and the subway system is OK where it goes, but useless for most people simply due to the city's sprawl.

- 'As natural as Botox' -

And walking has never been a real option, except for the shortest of trips, partly because in the summer it's too hot, sometimes for safety reasons, especially after dark.

One group who did take heart are cyclists - who have long campaigned for more cycle paths, and who this week welcomed a new law passed this week by the the LA City Council to protect bicyclists from harassment by motorists.

The new law, which supporters say is tougher than anywhere else in the US, makes it a crime for drivers to threaten cyclists verbally or physically, and lets victims sue without waiting for the city to press criminal charges.

"It's a groundbreaking move," said Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, while City lawmaker Bill Rosendahl, who championed the plan, said: "It's about time cyclists have rights."

Paul Tullis, who writes a blog for the Huffington Post, said car-mageddon had provided a unique opportunity.

"How about seizing the opportunity, when the memory of a virtually car-free Los Angeles is still fresh, to enact weekend traffic restrictions to make the region infinitely more enjoyable on the weekends?" he said.

"The picture of a virtually car-free Los Angeles could inspire some big changes, and the benefits seem significant enough to be worth trying different fixes to overcome various obstacles," he added.

But while car-mageddon has triggered debate, skeptics note that it will take more than a marketing campaign to change decades of car culture in America's second biggest city.

"Visitors to LA often express astonishment that Angelenos can tolerate the traffic, but to us it's as natural as Botox," said the LA Times' editorial writer.

"There are other choices: carpooling, biking, scootering, walking. And it's no secret what cities and countries need to do to encourage people to choose them. In Europe and Asia, such incentives are commonplace, and they work.

"Will any of these ideas fly politically in car-crazy LA? Don't hold your breath," it added.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £32,000 Uncapped

    £22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £10,000 Uncapped - Part Time

    £7500 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness chai...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

    Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Sales / Customer Service Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The role is likely to be 4on 4 off, days and ...

    Day In a Page

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea