By Raymond Klein
Many of us are experiencing afternoon commute times of over an hour to go a short distance. The Los Angeles Times recently quoted the Chief Operating Officer of a growing business with 200 employees. They are excited about moving from Santa Monica’s Colorado Center to new offices in Westwood: “We can’t wait to move. Just driving from Santa Monica to the 405 Freeway right now is sometimes taking some employees from 45 minutes to one hour and 15 minutes to go three miles. It’s a waste of time.”
In Brentwood, we often have similar drive times of one hour on Sunset Blvd at 3:30 pm to 6:30 pm between Kenter Ave. and the 405 Freeway, a distance of less than 1.5 miles. Quality of life is severely degraded by the City approving more density without the supporting infrastructure. It’s not only the frustration of sitting in traffic – our lives and property are at an undue risk due to paramedics, fire and police unable to timely reach an emergency.
Added to the tsunami of cars, Los Angeles also suffers from the methodology that the LA Department of Transportation (LADOT) uses to analyze traffic. LADOT needs to furnish decision makers with a simulation of impacts on travel time on a discrete corridor instead of using the current intersection rating system.
LADOT doesn’t look at the impact of a development project on the time it takes to drive a given distance. Instead, they look only at each separate signalized intersection, and give the intersection a rating of “A” – “F” based upon the volume of cars compared to “capacity.”
But rating an intersection by considering all approaches to an intersection provides little value when there is one direction (such as traveling to the 405) that is more congested with long queues and only a few cars able to go through the intersection during each green light cycle.
A rating of “E” is defined as “the most vehicles intersection approaches can accommodate.” Yet maximum capacity can still be exceeded, because an overcapacity of cars can then result in a rating of “F”. When even more cars are added to an overcapacity “F” intersection, LADOT may nevertheless conclude that these additional cars would have no “significant” impact.
In real life, once a glass is filled to the top with water, you know what a mess you have if you try to add more water.
Our City decision makers are not getting an accurate representation of the impacts necessary to make important land use decisions about proposed discretionary Projects. What would be more meaningful to a City Councilperson – that a Project’s impacts will turn several intersections from “E” to “F”, or that the impacts will result in an extra 45 minutes to go 1.5 miles? We should measure what matters – commute times.
LADOT hides its deficient analysis with this mumbo-jumbo rating methodology instead of providing the City Planning Department, City Council, and the public with useful information that matters to all of us – how much more time will it take me to drive a given distance at rush hour.
Traffic simulation software exists, but LADOT refuses to use it. Are we afraid to admit that many of our roads simply can’t handle more cars? Information about excessive additional travel time would make it clear that certain projects should be severely downsized, or not built at all.
Raymond Klein has been involved with land use and transportation issues for 10 years on the Boards of the Brentwood Community Council and Brentwood Homeowners Association. Views expressed are his own.