Transportation, commuting and travel — a few thoughts

Transportation back when

While I was growing up in the southern California city of Arcadia, we got around by walking, cycling, bus or my dad’s car (mom didn’t drive until after I got my driver’s license as a teenager). Transportation, to me at least, wasn’t a problem. It was a mile to school, a mile to the market, two miles to the doctor and half a mile to the bus stop. My high school (Bosco Tech) was in Rosemead/South San Gabriel and I took the bus until my friends got licenses and cars.

Note: We lived a five-minute walk from Arcadia High School, but dad said that my brother and I could go to any Catholic high school in the area we wanted–Arcadia High was not on the list.

Transportation becomes commuting

After high school, I attended Cal State Los Angeles and was introduced to the joys and choices of commuting. Buses with their schedules and necessary transfers were not a viable option. Neither were cycling or walking. A used Ford Galaxy provided the answer.

But other questions remained: what route to take and where to park? Route was determined by class times–the I-10 (the San Bernardino Freeway) and/or surface streets. It was at least a half-hour trip either way. Free on-street parking or pay to use the on-campus lots; pay money or hike and climb a lot of stairs? The answer was usually a free hike and stair climb–assuming there was any street parking left.

My first year and a half working in Orange I lived with mom to help her after dad passed away and to save a bit from my beginning teacher’s salary (about $8,400/yr). Forty miles to Orange and forty miles back every day with night classes at Cal State a couple of nights a week thrown in–twenty-two years old and commuting eighty to a hundred miles a day.

I moved to Anaheim and for several years enjoyed a four-mile commute. I could drive, cycle or jog depending on mood and weather–bliss.

I lived in Riverside for about a year and a half in the late seventies and carpooled with two other teachers at my school–twenty-nine minutes from Riverside to Orange. Today that’s impossible; it’s at least an hour and a half drive.

Then I moved to Huntington Beach. For most of the next 30+ years I carpooled with other teachers who lived nearby, but even when I went in to work alone the drive was never more than thirty minutes. Orange County traffic patterns were the opposite of our commute: south in the morning while we went north and the reverse in the evening.

That’s better than a quarter million commuting miles by car, motorcycle, bicycle and foot over a forty-year teaching career.

Thoughts on transportation in Orange County today

I no longer have to worry about my commuting but tens of millions of other Americans and tens of millions more people throughout the world do.

Instead of engaging in commuting these days, I drink coffee, read the morning papers, work on puzzles and watch the morning news shows. Are you a commuter? These news shows are scary.

Each of them, at least here in SoCal, has traffic reporters and graphics showing the state of traffic on freeways and some major surface streets. Green roads are moving freely, yellow are moving slowly and red are creeping along or completely stopped. Most mornings and late afternoons have the majority of the roads shown in RED. And, almost never, it seems is there ever a time when at least some of them aren’t red–even on weekends and at night.

Our population is increasing and we are approaching the point where in places like SoCal it is becoming nigh on impossible, both physically and fiscally, to expand our road and freeway systems.

Adams Avenue, which runs east-west through Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach, is already a six-lane arterial highway with half-mile back-ups at major intersections during the prime commute times, especially in the evening at Brookhurst Street heading west. It cannot be widened any more, yet as our population increases and Huntington Beach adds more high-density housing, its traffic load will increase. The same is true for Beach Blvd and Edinger Avenue.

I’ve been stuck in commuter traffic in San Francisco/Oakland, Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington–Their problems parallel ours and in some ways are actually worse.

If this continues, life is going to turn into a Doctor Who episode with everyone living in their vehicles and constantly on the “move” and stuck in traffic.

I do not believe that more cars and more and wider roads with signal syncing are going to be the answer to our commuting problems.

Population is not going to stay static or decrease in these areas. No, it will only grow. The Orange County I moved to in 1974 had a population of about one and a half million–today it is over three million, and growing.

People who can’t afford to live here move to Riverside and the ex-urbs and commute, most via car.

We are building, and being pressured to build, more high-density housing–more people in a small area, each with his own car on roads which are already saturated.

Multi-billion dollar subway lines are not the answer–they’ll be out of date before their environmental impact reports are finalized, much less have their financing in place.

How about double-decker freeways and roads? Hmmm . . . like I want to be on the lower level of the San Diego (I-405) or Santa Ana (I-5) Freeway when we finally get a 7+ earthquake? Thank you . . . but NO!

As much as most of us are loath to give up our cars and the freedom to move at will through our lives, we may have to do so in order to be able to move at all–at least, part of the time.

How about we take our arterial roads and run “free” buses and shuttles on them eighteen hours a day–from 5 in the morning to eleven at night–every day. If we do this throughout the county on north-south roads such as Beach, Magnolia, Brookhurst, Euclid, Harbor, Fairview, Bristol, etc. and do the same with those running east-west, there are few areas where anyone is more than a half mile from a stop.

Some of these routes will cross the entire county and some will only run a few miles. Run them often enough that people don’t have to worry about schedules or being stranded for half an hour if they miss their usual. Make transfers free. Make the service grid complete enough and you should be able to get anywhere in the county with no more than two transfers.

How many cars does your family own? Does everyone over fifteen really need a vehicle of their own? Does your daughter really need her own car to get to high school? Does your son really need his own car for that after school job at Target? Do you really need a car to get from your home in Fullerton to your worksite in Irvine, especially when ninety percent of the time you just go back and forth to work?

Such a system is expensive and the government will raise taxes, you say. Yes, it is and it must be paid for. But how much would you save if you had one or two fewer cars along with their attendant payments, insurance, maintenance and fuel costs?

It’s not as convenient as driving. Really? Buses running continuously and often; you don’t have to remember a schedule. You have no more than a half-mile to walk at either end of your journey. You don’t have to worry about parking or getting a ticket. You can sleep, read, do puzzles, look out the window, talk on the phone, text, play games, etc. to your heart’s content and not bother with traffic on the 57, 55, 91 or the I-5–less stress and no ulcer. And, on the days you do have to take your car, there’ll be less traffic because others will be using the buses and leaving the roads free of their cars.

We have enough roads. Let’s not build new ones; let’s maintain the ones we have.

Smoke and Mist assist the transportation blogger
Smoke and Mist assist the blogger.

Want to attract people to public transportation? How about an elevated monorail (yes, like the one Disney had a half century ago) running over the medians of Beach, Harbor, Lincoln and Katella? It is not going to cost as much as adding new lanes to the I-5, the I-405 or the 91.

Have you tried going to the beach on a hot weekend? Isn’t it fun driving south on Beach or Harbor or the 55? Take a monorail instead and enjoy the view. You’ll also avoid the $15 parking fee or the mile walk if the lots are full.

Do you really enjoy fighting end of rush hour traffic to see an Angel game and then trying to get out of the parking lot at the same time as 15,000 other cars? This’ll fix that too.

If Los Angeles County had the same kind of system (or it was a true regional system), a multi-county commute would be a lot easier than today. You might even be able to enjoy your trip to Dodger Stadium or to see the “new” L.A. Rams or even play the horses at Santa Anita.

Enough ranting for today it’s time for some Jack-on-the-rocks and then to bed. (And can you believe the Lakers actually beat the Warriors this afternoon?) To be continued . . .