Can Subways Help Traffic in Los Angeles?

Los Angeles is a car culture city. It will continue to be for quite some time, but are people now overcompensating for having wheels in a city that has the worst traffic congestion in the world.

In a February article by LA Weekly, LA has taken the mantel for the worst traffic congestion in the world beating Mexico City, São Paulo, Shanghai, and Paris.

Besides the obvious, population density plays an important role in factoring time spent in traffic. Considering LA has fewer metropolitan residents than the cities listed above, why does LA have the world’s worst traffic?

I personally believe that the lack of reliable public transportation plays into LA’s traffic crown. Being a commuter my whole life, commuting on LA public transportation is more of a burden than a convenience.

The city’s bulk of ridership is via buses, that in the end just contribute more to LA’s traffic problems. They force riders to take multiple transfers producing longer ride and wait times. The perfect solution would be a subway.


But LA already has one and that is a huge problem. Most major cities in the US like New York City, Washington DC, Chicago, and even San Francisco have fast and reliable subway networks that get large ridership. LA’s is nonexistent.

With LA being the second largest city in America, the Metro Rail network is not fully established and recognized. With just two heavy-rail lines operating underground and four light-rail lines above and at grade, the network is not accessible across all LA neighborhoods.

Living on the westside, if I wanted to get to City Hall during rush hour I would need to take one bus and two metro lines. For commuters, Metro Rail becomes a third option at best.

That is a shame considering the geographic landscape of LA neighborhoods being spread out. LA is in need of a system like Chicago’s “L” Metro. One may wonder why a rail system was not created sooner?

To much surprise, LA could have had a better rail system online in the early 2000s that would have rivaled Washington DC’s Metro and San Francisco’s BART.

Back in 1980, LA County officials proposed Proposition A, a measure that would develop LA’s first rapid rail network. A vision was put in place persuading voters to pass the measure with intriguing maps of the future.


Construction began with Metro building four rail services, two subways and two light rails. The future was bright until a methane explosion tunneling the Hollywood line derailed LA’s potential for more subway lines.

City officials in 1985 placed a ban on all current and future subway extensions that recently in 2012 was ratified. With six projects in the works, band aids like rapid buses and the light rail lines that exist today served as replacements for missed opportunity.

Today, the narrative has changed. LA will officially host the 2028 Summer Olympic games, making public transportation a top priority.

Under Mayor Eric Garcetti’s 28 by 28 initiative, projects like the Wilshire extension, new LAX, and Sepulveda rail lines may be completed before the start of the Olympics. For now, LA residents and commuters will once again wait for progress.

The tale of the LA Subway is a paradox in solving the city’s traffic problem. Is it too late though? I believe traffic is here to stay and increasing the network of rails will alleviate congestion. But the damage is already done. We will see in 2028 if traffic dies down.


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