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Sam Lubell

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Fail Harder: Lessons From L.A.'s Best Unrealized Transit Ideas

Only one thing that can alleviate congestion in a place as sprawling, peopled, and densifying as Los Angeles: Mass transit.


All it takes is traffic.

For years Los Angeles has been known as a world capital for one thing more than any other. The motion picture industry, you say? Not quite...That’s been moving out of town for years. Nope, it’s traffic.

Yes, once again L.A. has been declared by several surveys as the most trafficky city in the country, and it’s clear to most who study these things that widening freeways, syncing traffic lights, and adding new toll lanes aren’t going to do a thing to stop it.

Since you can’t force people out of their cars, only one thing that can alleviate congestion in a place as sprawling, peopled, and densifying as Los Angeles: Mass transit.

The bizarre thing is that the city was once known for its streetcar suburbs and its Pacific Electric trolley, which boasted one of the world’s most extensive systems of tracks. Then the car came along and, after World War II, completely took over. The massive expansion of the city coincided with our country’s new highway boom, and the rest, as they say, is history.

But in the midst of all this car craziness, Angelenos, their various government agencies, and several visionary designers have been proposing mass transit schemes for more than a century. Some of them are incredibly innovative, some of them, well, just crazy. Now that we’re becoming more and more used to driving 0 miles per hour on the 405 freeway, and running into rush hour traffic on the 10 freeway at 2 p.m., we’re getting more and more willing to take a look at something—anything—other than the car.

So here are some of the most innovative schemes that my co-curator Greg Goldin and I compiled as part of our upcoming exhibition, Never Built: Los Angeles, which opens at the A+D Architecture and Design Museum on July 27. We’re not advocating that we install these plans, but we are advocating for Angelenos to push for a solution that’s just as innovative for today’s time. Do us a favor. Let’s not let the next round of great ideas to solve the car crush become “Never Built.”

1.) Kelker and De Leuw Subway Plan, 1925

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