This entire publication is about being British, European and a Londoner in Los Angeles, and so my reference points are not other parts of America.
You mentioned Lincoln Blvd and the 405, so it was sounding like a Londoner’s experience in Santa Monica, to be honest.
If you stop comparing LA to other American cities (which are also pretty car-centric, like most of the USA) and start putting it alongside Copenhagen, London, or Amsterdam, both the differences in the design of the city and the transit issues become quite noticeable and certainly worthy of comment.
You are the one who chose to frame this in the context of LA as Autopia. If you want to say America is Autopia, that’s fine, and you’d probably be right. My point is that LA is not much different than the rest of the United States in terms of automobile usage. It’s simply that Los Angeles County has about 10.2 million people and 7 million total automobiles all in a dense urban sprawl, so it can seem overwhelming.
Likewise, the average commute time, your personal experience of how much you drive, and the number of walkable/Yelpable bars in your neighbourhood aren’t relevant — I drive 12 minutes to work, but that doesn’t mean I can claim that it isn’t a problem for the millions of people who live and work in other parts of LA to me. An average can conceal a vast disparity in terms of how most people experience traffic in LA.
My personal experience is quite relevant, because it is also the personal experience of millions of others who never find themselves on the 405, or the hundreds of thousands who ride trains or the millions who use public transportation. This notion that every Angeleno is in his or her car all the time is simply not accurate. Plenty of Angelenos don’t even own cars.
If my personal experiences weren’t those of millions of others, perhaps you’d be onto something; as it happens, I’m not the only person in my neighborhood of 100 walkable bars. I’m not the only person on the subway when I use it.
Regarding the averages I cited, those represent quantitative data. You have elected to qualitatively dismiss them with no real rationale of why, except to say averages can be misleading. Sure, they can be, but I think that media and opinion can also be misleading, and repeating the same story can make it seem true, even while people in other cities are having worse experiences in traffic than Angelenos are.
A minute that you’re stuck in traffic certainly isn’t worse than a minute on the London Underground stuck in someone’s armpit (as I stated at the beginning), but by the same assessment neither would a minute on a horse and cart: the way that humans get from A to B is generally an effective and widely-acknowledged indicator of progress, and in this case your comparison fails to account for the massive negative externalities of car-heavy metropolises — pollution, infrastructure, inability to do anything other than drive the vehicle without risking death or damage, etc — in comparison to cities with wide public transport provision (congratulations to LA on finally opening the Expo Line, but in comparison to Japanese or European cities, we’re a long way behind here). Self-driving cars will help, but some of the above issues will persist.
We should, again, turn to data, not perception, when we think about these issues. Consider, for instance, the per capita carbon footprint of cities around the world. We see from that list that Los Angeles compares favorably to other American cities, and actually beats out Portland and Seattle. It’s right on par with Boston. New York City is the only major US city markedly better than others. What’s most interesting is that the carbon footprint of a Los Angeleno is about half that of an average American.
But, how does it compare to the rest of the world, and Europe in particular? Los Angeles obliterates Rotterdam, beats Frankfurt, and beats Stuttgart. It is similar to Shanghai and Toronto, and way ahead of Sydney. It is not some anti-progressive outlier where people are recklessly torturing the environment. The $9 billion it recently invested in rail expansions is also nothing to sneeze at; it may be the largest municipal infrastructure project in the United States right now. Santa Monicans like to talk about the Expo Line, but that represents about 15% of the funds allotted to this ongoing expansion. And, perhaps this is a signifier of what is at the heart of the regurgitated misperceptions.
Los Angeles is more than just the Westside, yet a disproportionate amount of the discussion of the state of affairs in Los Angeles is from the perspective of Westsiders. This may have to do with the disproportionate wealth and whiteness of the Westside, and maybe how Westsiders own a disproportionate number of cars and drive a disproportionate number of miles on the 405, but, really, they represent less than 5% of the county and, for the portion who live in Los Angeles, about 10% of the city’s population. These people feel comfortable speaking for the whole city, but they are not the whole city.
The import and relevance of the Purple Line expansion down Wilshire is monumentally more significant than the Expo Line, as it cuts through some of the densest parts of the city and will serve a substantially larger number of people but, since it isn’t going to cross the 405, it isn’t even on the radars of the people whoses voices shape the public perception of the city.
As with all myths, the ones about traffic and cars in LA exist for a reason, and yes the weather in London is terrible — I look forward to any and all retaliation pieces from Californians moaning about the British climate.
As it happens, terrible weather in London is not a non-factor here. The less you spend on heating, air conditioning and lighting, the newer your wiring and insulation are, and the newer your infrastructure is in general, the better your carbon footprint. London probably lags behind New York because it is older and darker, with arguably worse weather and, unlike, say, the Scandinavians, have not prioritized updates that have kept the carbon footprints in Oslo, Stockholm, and Copenhagen low.
This is further proven out, at least in the context of the United States, by interactive maps such as this. Los Angeles, again, is looking way better than a lot of other American cities.