“To a man with a hammer, all problems look like nails.” (Japanese proverb)

There is still a widespread view in politics and society that urban transport problems are the result of insufficient transport availability, and that the primary solution lies in ex-panding capacity, particularly in expanding roads and motorways or, if necessary, in expanding local rail transport. The study clears up this fundamental misunderstanding and shows what long-term consequences such supply-oriented transport policy strate-gies have. Los Angeles is a prime example of how the expansion of streets and highways induces new traffic and increasing traffic volumes in the short term, which do not solve traffic problems but exacerbate them in the medium and long term. This is how dis-tance-intensive mobility structures and lifestyles emerge and solidify, which in turn produce a traffic behavior pattern that focuses on the car with almost no alternative. In such structures, the availability and use of one’s own car are individually rational and hardly socially reversible. Then, even billion-dollar-investments in public transport will literally have no effect to solve transport problems.

As a prime example, the book examines the history of Los Angeles’ development and identi-fies the key drivers that have shaped the metropolis’ extreme transport policies. With other cities facing similar — albeit less extreme — transportation issues, they can learn from how Los Angeles had responded and continues to adapt to its considerable transport policy prob-lems, especially in order to avoid the mobility experiences faced by the American city.

Learning from the extreme case of transportation policy in Los Angeles
The development of transportation policy in Los Angeles is a story of extremes: The me-tropolis in Southern California today stands for mobility focused on cars and has one of the highest motorization rates in the world. What is little known, however, is that in the 1920s the city had the largest regional rail network in the world, which was completely abolished in the early 1960s. Instead, an extensive network of streets and highways was built in the metropolis, which has made Los Angeles a symbol of car-oriented mobility with all its nega-tive ecological and social side effects. Despite the construction and constant expansion of the huge freeway system, Los Angeles is one of the cities with the greatest traffic problems. In a further twist in transport policy, the reconstruction of a large local rail transport system was initiated in the early 1990s – with only limited success, as the analysis shows. A further chap-ter in transport policy is currently being introduced with electromobility and autonomous driving.

The study traces the history of the development of transportation policy in Los Angeles up to the present day. The extreme case offers the opportunity to see the causes and interactions of mobility and transport policy more clearly, precisely because it was often not fundamen-tally different compared to other metropolises, but just more extreme. Other cities can learn from the patterns in which Los Angeles has responded and is responding to its trans-portation policy problems, particularly to avoid Los Angeles‘ mobility experiences.

Which questions are addressed in the book using Los Angeles as an example?

  • How does car-centric mobility develop in a metropolis and what role does transport policy play in this?
  • To what extent does the development of a large local rail transport network contribute to a car-friendly mobility structure in a region?
  • How is it that the largest local rail transport network in the world is being completely abol-ished again? Which actors and interest groups are behind it?
  • Why does the expansion of highways lead to more traffic problems? What are the interac-tions of the transport infrastructure on transport demand and mobility structures?
  • What self-reinforcing effects does a supply-oriented transport policy produce? How does infrastructure development promote urban sprawl thereby creating greater demand for transport?
  • What are the effects of a car-loving mobility culture on traffic and the environment? Why is it difficult to change a car-loving lifestyle?
  • Why does a billion-dollar reconstruction of public rail transport fail in a car-centric me-tropolis?
  • How promising is autonomous driving in distance-intensive mobility structures?

What are important findings from the analysis?
The model of a supply- and infrastructure-oriented transport policy creates a self-reinforcing system of constantly increasing transport demand and increasing traffic problems. Los Ange-les is a prime example for that. Once such a distance-intensive and car-related mobility structure has become apparent, programs to promote public transport will also fall flat. The multi-billion-dollar investments in a local public transport system in Los Angeles since the 1990s have had little success: the density of cars is increasing and traffic behavior has not changed significantly in favor of public transport. Due to the sharp decline in passenger numbers in the last 10 years, a “transit blues” is also noticeable among politicians and advo-cates of local rail transport. The reasons for this lie primarily in the established car-related mobility structures, which do not make the use of public transport attractive. The main users of public transport are predominantly socially disadvantaged, low-income groups. The im-proved economic situation in the 2010s meant that many low-income earners were able to afford a car and from then on turned away from public transport for their mobility needs.

Los Angeles shows that the supply-oriented expansion of expressways and motorways in a region does not reduce traffic congestion, but rather creates more traffic: by spatially shift-ing car traffic from other routes, by shifting the time of car trips, by shifting trips from other means of transport on the car, through new journeys that were not undertaken before and – in the long term – through the spatial drifting apart of places of residence, work and leisure. Due to this ecologically questionable control cycle, the newly created road traffic capacity is quickly overcompensated by higher traffic volumes, which leads to further, usually even larger, traffic jams.

Los Angeles is an extreme case, but not an isolated case when comparing the transportation policies of cities around the world. In Germany, too, the spatial separation of living and working is progressing, which means that the number of commuters and commuter routes is constantly increasing. In 2022, a new high of 20.3 million commuters was reached in Ger-many. In 2011 there were still 16.5 million people crossing municipal borders on the way to work. The number of commuters is increasing at an above-average rate compared to the number of employees with social insurance. The average commuting distance increased from 16.5 to 17.2 km during this period. The situation is particularly explosive in large cities such as Munich, Hamburg and Frankfurt, whose labor markets are extremely attractive. Many people are moving their place of residence to the surrounding area, where rents are significantly lower. Munich is the commuter stronghold with more than half a million com-muters who travel an average distance of 38.6 km (Bavarian State Office for Statistics 2023). In the “Inrix Traffic Score”, Munich will be the most congested metropolis in Germany in 2022 with a time loss of 74 hours (global rank 38). In Los Angeles, the average time lost is 95 hours (ranking 14th globally). (https://inrix.com/scorecard/#form-download-the-full-report).

Overall, the extreme case of Los Angeles shows that a sustainable solution to the problems of the metropolitan regions will only be possible if the origins of transport with its spatial, social and economic interdependencies are understood and integrated into (transport) policy action. Political programs and instruments, such as the expansion of motorway infrastruc-ture or commuter allowances, which promote distances between living and working as well as other places of activity, have negative ecological and social consequences that are diffi-cult to reverse.
Key Features

• Derives lessons and best practices on transport policy and regional planning/development from the Los Angeles case that can be adopted for other cities
• Offers fresh perspectives on transport policy, urban planning, the politics of mobility, and the development conditions of traffic with economic, ecological and socio-cultural implica-tions

Keywords: Mobility, Transport, Los Angeles, Automobile, Rail Networks, Mobility Structure, Mobility Behaviour, Mobility Opportunities, Autonomous Driving, Modal Split

Link to the book https://www.worldscientific.com/worldscibooks/10.1142/13474#t=aboutBook

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