California's Most Important Traffic Jam
Perhaps the most important part of Barack Obama's Southern California trip, in my view, was not hearing the perspectives of a nervous public, or checking out battery technology in Pomona, or using the bully pulpit to speak to the nation on the Tonight Show. It's that he got stuck in traffic.
He got caught in traffic on the 110. He bantered with Jay Leno. And he sought to reassure people worried about the sagging economy and the spiraling national debt.
President Obama ended a two-day swing through Southern California on Thursday, a trip that exposed him to both celebrity and everyday struggles. Like many people navigating the freeways at midday, he was briefly tied up in traffic, his motorcade wheezing along at 10 mph as he made his way from west of downtown Los Angeles to Burbank. But he also got to trade quips on "The Tonight Show" with Leno, mixing a sober assessment of the AIG bonus scandal with details about his life inside the White House.
Traffic has actually improved in the LA area over the last six months, at least in peak hours with less workers traveling. But it remains incredibly difficult to move for large chunks of the daytime, which decreases productivity and causes harmful and unnecessary carbon emissions. Los Angeles' transit infrastructure has been abysmal for so long that few remember how it was built, along streetcar lines. Increased revenue from Measure R can spark a transit revival, with a subway to the sea, a Green Line to LAX, and increased light rail and bus service throughout the region, but that will take years if not decades, especially without federal aid. And this goes back to the need for smart growth solutions to reduce the need for highway travel for work.
Clearly, the status quo is unsustainable. Just ask the guy in the motorcade stuck on the 110 last Thursday.