As a fan of the Los Angeles Rams, I knew I had to go to the celebratory Rams parade after that amazing post-season and Super Bowl win (and also buy an exclusive $140 Cooper Kupp jersey).
The parade was announced with just a few days’ notice and was scheduled at 11AM on a Wednesday. It was clear that the organizers and local authorities wanted to reduce the crowd size as much as possible. Thanks to the pandemic, I had plenty of time on my hands and a girlfriend that just happened to live right next to where the parade was starting.
But as a 6-year-long SoCal (Southern California) resident, I was aware of the treacherous journey it would have been to travel from Huntington Beach to downtown Los Angeles during rush hours. Despite this, I decided to go. After all, it was still a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
In a laughable attempt to avoid at least some traffic, I got up at 6:45AM and left my home at around 7:15AM. A trafficless trip from my residence to the LA Coliseum usually takes around 35 minutes, but it took an hour and a half this time.
Right after I got off the freeway, the closed streets and influx of fans produced a war-like driving environment. There was so much street traffic that I had to wait until the 3rd or 4th green light to pass an intersection. However, after passing the area near the freeway exit, I was able to do everyone’s favorite thing: look for parking.
This proved to be by far my worst driving experience ever. It was around 9:10AM, and there was street sweeping that day, meaning half of almost all street parking was prohibited from 8 to 11AM. That combined with the street closures made driving a living hell. I spent over an hour before I just decided to park on the prohibited street sweeping side of the street and remain in the car until 11AM when it was legal to park there.
My seemingly simple journey to see the Rams parade cost me over 3 hours of my time, probably around $10 in gas money, and serious emotional anguish. That last one may sound silly, but road rage is a real and serious issue. I almost broke into tears twice and was even giving an attitude to my girlfriend who was trying to support me through it all (sorry Danielle, love you). Now I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to drive anywhere near someone in that mental state.
And those are just the immediate personal costs I had to pay. Cars, especially those in traffic, are one of the major emitters of greenhouse gasses. They also have devastating local impacts as well. Cars require wide streets that leave little room for pedestrians, are a major source of noise pollution, and establish colossal parking lots that remain almost completely empty throughout most of the day.
So being the person that I am, I spent that hour waiting in my car thinking about how broken SoCal’s public transportation system is while writing an angry Twitter thread about it. This proved to be not only therapeutic but inspiration for some ideas that I believe would help repair our public transportation system problem.
Just a disclaimer, I do not think of myself as an expert on public transportation and even debated on whether to write this article or not. But I think I am capable of noticing obvious shortcomings and providing at least some general ideas on how we can fix them.
Firstly, there is nothing that can take me from Huntington Beach to downtown LA except a car or taxi service. Nothing. SoCal has a dilemma of being so massive and spread apart yet it acts like it is the size of Manhattan. Like for many residents of Los Angeles, my father’s daily commute to work was a 40-mile round-trip — and it is much worse for many.
That’s not the only issue with SoCal’s stretched sprawl. Major venues and events are significantly distanced across the region. The Forum (and now the SoFi stadium) are in Inglewood, downtown LA is home to plenty of its own events such as the Rams parade, and the US Open of Surfing takes place in Huntington Beach. While some of these locations are not that far apart from each other, during peak hours or events, the traffic situation makes 5 miles feel like 50.
And that brings me to my next problem: local transit. There is so much low-hanging fruit for cities such as Los Angeles and Inglewood, both of which are only a few miles apart geographically, to establish safe, reliable, and frequent public transportation.
Finally, there are often overlooked issues with existing public transportation that I believe are necessary to address as we move forward with larger projects. Many people, especially women, do not feel safe riding the metro during later hours or even at all. Buses are still riding alongside cars instead of having their own dedicated lane, ruining the incentive for people to take them over sitting in traffic. Local bus stops are unreliable and far and few between — if we want people to use public transportation, we need to make it a lot better than the cars they paid thousands of dollars for.
I was actually surprised to find out that Los Angeles has an expansive Metro system that connects downtown LA to cities as far as Santa Monica or Long Beach in a short amount of time. How did I not know about this?! Cities such as New York have public transportation systems so popular that are essentially a cultural aspect of the city. Meanwhile, in LA, it seems to be a hidden gem.
But this gem is dirty and uncut. I went onto the Los Angeles Reddit page to find out why residents were not using this seemingly decent public transit system. For many, it was the fact that driving a car still seemed more convenient as their work was significantly distanced from metro stations. As I mentioned earlier, this is likely because there is little to no local transit that takes riders across the areas they get off on.
However, the most common complaint by far was safety. Residents, some of which who have ridden on the metro for a long time before they could afford a car, reported rampant fare evasion, robberies, and countless deeply uncomfortable situations. These reports were also coupled with allegations of carelessness from officers stationed at metro locations.
For many, the metro experience has been so negative that they saved up for a car instead. Imagine — a public transit system so unsafe and uncomfortable that residents rather drop thousands of dollars for a car instead. While there will still be times when I will need or just rather use my car, for a vast majority of situations, I rather take a bus or some other form of public transportation.
As I have mentioned before, I come from Belgrade, Serbia which always provides me with a unique perspective on the differences between the United States and Europe. Even in Belgrade, there is a robust public transportation system with entire lines of buses, trollies, and trains that spread across the entire city. Now while SoCal and Belgrade are a lot different in their geographic nature and design, a lot of countries like Serbia have already figured out solutions to these issues — such as frequent buses and stops, aggressive promotion, and adequate safety measures.
I believe local leaders are afraid to reinvest in public transportation because they either hear bad experiences from residents and see low ridership and conclude that nobody wants to ride on public transportation (or that it is only for poor people). But as someone who has the privilege of both driving and riding on transit, I would much rather take transit in almost every situation. And I believe most residents would prefer taking a fast bus or train over sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic every morning just to get to work.
The 2028 Olympics will bring waves of tourists who will come without cars. This gives Los Angeles a rare opportunity to improve, expand, and promote its public transportation. I believe that the rapid increase in ridership the Olympics will likely bring can establish a significant amount of credibility for LA’s public transportation on its own. On the other hand, if the system crumbles under the increased pressure, LA will struggle to repair the legitimacy of its multi-billion-dollar public transit investment.
So, to the progressive leaders and advocates of Southern California, let’s fight for decent public transportation so that nobody has a mental breakdown over parking again.
Title Image Credit: Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Meme credit: Me 😎