Los Angeles traffic jam at sunset

RAND Solution

Creating Policies to Get Los Angeles Moving

Challenge

The Los Angeles area has the most severe traffic congestion in the United States, and trends suggest that it will continue to worsen in the coming years, absent significant policy intervention. Excessive traffic congestion detracts from quality of life, is economically wasteful and environmentally damaging, and exacerbates social-justice concerns. Are there any efficient and equitable strategies for mitigating congestion?

Context

Highway interchange

Ask a cross-section of L.A. residents about their main sources of daily frustration and you will likely find that traffic congestion appears high on their lists. For better or worse, traffic congestion has become an increasingly prevalent by-product of urban living, one that besets almost all major cities in the United States and abroad, and by many measures, the Los Angeles metropolitan area leads the nation in urban traffic congestion. It ranks number one for total annual hours of delay and total annual gallons of wasted fuel for all travelers.

The region already had adopted most of the “easy” ways to reduce congestion — those that are effective, affordable and uncontroversial — such as freeway on-ramp meters, traffic signal timing, and ridesharing programs. Attempts to implement strategies that require coordination among different jurisdictions are more challenging, as the County of Los Angeles has 88 cities.

“I'm glad we are taking another step forward in congestion management. The results we will see will bode well for other long-term efforts to do the same.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas

Project Description

RAND sought to recommend strategies for reducing congestion in L.A. County that could be implemented and produce significant improvements in a short time, defined as roughly five years or less.

The researchers studied successful efforts in cities around the world, then analyzed 28 possible strategies for easing congestion in the urban Los Angeles region, under the categories of: managing demand for peak-hour automotive travel; reducing the cost and/or improving the attractiveness of alternatives to car travel; and making more efficient use of existing roadway capacity.

Major transit infrastructure and other land use related options were not evaluated, only measures that could feasibly be implemented and produce results within five years. The study also focused primarily on passenger travel, not the transport of goods.

Research Questions

  1. What is the range of available congestion-reduction strategies that could be implemented and produce effects in the near term?
  2. Of these strategies, which would be the most effective?
  3. How can political consensus be built to tackle some of the more challenging problems?

Key Findings & Recommendations

  • RAND determined that 10 primary strategies could help to manage peak-hour auto travel, raise transportation revenue, improve alternative transportation options, and use existing capacity more efficiently:
    1. Develop a network of high occupancy/toll (HOT) lanes
    2. Implement variable curb parking rates in commercial centers
    3. Enforce the state's existing parking cash-out law
    4. Promote ride-sharing, telecommuting, and flexible work hours
    5. Implement deep-discount transit passes
    6. Expand bus rapid transit (BRT) with bus-only lanes
    7. Develop a regionally connected bicycle network
    8. Improve signal timing and control where deficient
    9. Restrict curb parking on busy thoroughfares
    10. Create a network of paired one-way streets
  • Three additional recommendations may help:
    1. Evaluate a system to use arterial streets to reduce traffic accident congestion.
    2. Consider implementing tolls in major activity centers, like those that exist in London and Singapore, and
    3. Levy local fuel taxes to raise transit revenue.

“[Congestion-based pricing on the 110 and 10 freeways, one of RAND's recommendations] should go a long way to relieving congestion in the region and on two of our more congested freeways,”

Caltrans District Director Douglas Failing

Impact

The Los Angeles City Council voted to direct the Department of Transportation to examine Moving Los Angeles, the 2008 RAND report on traffic congestion in Los Angeles, and implement its findings. The RAND research team extended the reach of its analysis through journal articles and commentary, and as of early 2011 several of RAND's recommendations were being pursued, including the development of high-occupancy toll lanes on the I-10 and I-110 freeways, bus-only lanes on Wilshire Boulevard, and the test trial of variable parking prices in downtown Los Angeles.

A Metro Rapid bus leaving the transit plaza