Wed, Dec

The Secret to Navigating Los Angeles


AT LENGTH-We received a letter to the editor from one of our readers last week about the dangers crossing San Pedro’s Gaffey Street to pedestrians (see letters to editor next page),which  prompted me to go on a mission to discover just how much traffic there was on this main artery of transit in this part of the city. I thought it would be a simple quest. 


That I thought this simple question would have a simple answer shows my own lack of understanding of just how complex the City of Los Angeles truly is. From my years sitting on the Community Advisory Committee of the now defunct Community Redevelopment Agency, I recall some city employed technocrat saying that traffic volumes on Gaffey Street were in the range of 65,000 car trips per day. 

So I go sleuthing through the city’s Department of Transportation website and was directed to NavigateLA.lacity.org.  I thought the new and improved digital face of Los Angeles was going to make this quick, but of course the link to what I’m looking for doesn’t work, forcing me to call LADOT directly. 

After five frustrating calls and several hours later, I finally talk to one technocrat who is actually in charge of traffic counts, only to find that the simple answer to my question is lost in a series of fairly old reports and a list of data reports that you need to have a traffic engineer explain just to make sense out of it. 

What I did discovered during this quest was that in the entire city, there are only eight employees that count traffic–three who count it “manually,” and five who count it automatically via those boxes with a black hose strung across the street. The manual counts are done the old fashion way with some kind of clicker. I’m relieved that they weren’t using their fingers. 

So it comes as no surprise that with this few workers there is a backlog of calls for service of 3,200 and that the most recent traffic count is dated from 2008. They can hardly keep up with the demand. 

This all begs the question of why didn’t the previous administration figure out how to count traffic remotely when it installed the citywide ATCS (Adaptive Traffic Control System), the automated traffic light system? It would just be too 21st century to have a real time count of traffic flows anywhere in the city. 

Yes, I know I’m dreaming. Much of Los Angeles’ bureaucracy  seems stuck in a retro Raymond Chandler novel. Or as Tom Hayden once pronounced, “The problem of fighting City Hall in Los Angeles is finding city hall.” There are so many parts of the city bureaucracy squirreled away near and far that finding the right person with the right knowledge becomes a game of, “Where’s Waldo?”

Add to this the complication of proposing anything new like the remake of the San Pedro waterfront. 

The real challenge facing Mayor Eric Garcetti is how to get the entire city mechanism running in the same direction, sharing information and addressing the real-time problem. I’m thinking at this point of the current and forecasted traffic volumes leading into Ports O’Call where the L.A. Waterfront Alliance revealed their proposed development last week. If one can trust the Port of Los Angeles’ numbers, there currently are some 840,000 visitors per year coming to Ports O’ Call. 

Well let’s just say that the new Ports O’Call development is going to be half way more successful as it is currently, adding another 420,000 visitors a year. The total traffic would be fifty percent more congested, mostly on weekends, as that’s when everybody from out-of-town visits. Add to that the congestion of having a few cruise ships in on the same days and perhaps a special event occurring simultaneously and there’s a traffic jam all the way up the 110 freeway to Pacific Coast Highway or beyond. So much for living on a peninsula folks. 

Now, it doesn’t take a traffic engineer to predict this future calamity and it shouldn’t have to take seven years to study it either. What this does call for, what the council office should be asking for is a comprehensive traffic-transportation study to tell us how all of this is going to work without choking all of the streets in the Harbor Area. This presumably, and one shouldn’t assume, includes a traffic study and plan that includes the flow of truck traffic in and out of the port. 

To respond to Mr. Bartels original complaint about traffic being dangerous to pedestrians on Gaffey Street, I’d have to agree. The best number I can come up with for the corner of 4th and Gaffey is 68,845 car trips per day. 

My suggestion is don’t try to cross the street during rush hour. This number ranks Gaffey Street 45th on the list of most congested streets in all of Los Angeles. And it’s only going to get worse as businesses become more successful in attracting visitors and more residents have to commute to jobs out of town. 

The temporary partial fix is that Councilman Joe Buscaino got the LADOT and its engineers to fast track two new signals on11th and  8th streets. What one learns about doing business in Los Angeles is that when you are the chair of the Public Works Committee, you get to put your priorities at the top of the list without having someone stand there and count cars by hand.


(James Preston Allen is the publisher of Random Lengths where this article was first posted.)






Vol 11 Issue 98

Pub: Dec 6, 2013