Traffic is essentially "an engineering issue," says author Tom Vanderbilt. "But there's also a layer of culture." That layer of culture determines, to a large extent, how traffic can become a problem. This idea is explored in Vanderbilt's 2008 book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), a Planetizen Top Book of the year. He recently expanded on that idea for a discussion about traffic put on by Zocalo Public Square in (where better?) Los Angeles.
People in L.A. love these sorts of discussions. We've got a mess of a traffic problem in this city -- from intense congestion to freeway domination to a late-blooming public transit system. Something about events focused on transportation and traffic just seems to pull people together here, almost like a support group. "Hi, I'm Nate, and I have a problem with traffic congestion."
The human impact of traffic is easy to see, but less apparent is the human cause -- a point made crystal clear by Vanderbilt's work.
In an effort to reduce traffic, citizens in Santa Monica, California have proposed a yearly cap on commercial development. Though many in the congested city are behind it, opponents say it's not an effective way to reduce traffic -- and that its passage could set a dangerous example.
Popularity can have its downsides. Santa Monica, California knows this better than many other cities in the United States. The affluent and scenic beachside town has the climate and the amenities to attract tourists, families and businesses alike. But it is also a draw for some of the less desirable elements of city life, like homeless people, scarce parking, and traffic – probably the city's three most notorious issues. But while it can be easy for many residents to avert the eyes away from the homeless and to park in a private garage, the city's choking traffic is unavoidable.