Intuition Is a Lousy Guide to Policy


We all know that LA’s city Council members are both timid and intellectually lazy. When it comes to the progressive transportation infrastructure the city so desperately needs to free it from the tentacles of ever-more-jammed streets and freeways—jammed with cars, of course—they almost invariably opt for doing nothing that could reduce space for driving and parking cars, even if it would increase the capacity of the street.

Not even if it would, as road diets generally do, reduce point-to-point travel time for cars as well as boost safety, speed, and convenience for biking, walking, and transit. This has been proven so many times by real-world observations in actual American cities that only a fool or a pawn of automotive interests could think otherwise.

But in LA we do things by “gut feelings,” and so spend, for example, nearly two billion dollars adding a couple of lanes to the 405 over Sepulveda Pass—only to find that, for our expense and efforts, we’ve actually increased congestion on that stretch; and on the roads that feed into it.

“Induced demand”: it’s not a theory; it’s an observation. We’ve been building more lanes for seventy years, and congestion has gotten progressively worse, not better—while congestion-inducing sprawl has grown far faster than the populations it (dis)serves.

The council and its cohorts in the Bureau of Engineering can’t even be bothered to read the literature showing that Americans (including Angelenos) have been driving fewer miles per person, and fewer miles in total, every year for over ten years.

This flat-earth mindset persists to this day, with neanderthal council members such as Koretz, La Bonge, Cedillo, and, to our surprise, fresh face O’Farrell, fighting to give cars primacy, even as cars batter both the city’s residents and its economy.

But motorheads aren’t the only ones to suffer from gut feelings that are nothing more than gas: so can cyclists.

I remember the worries that filled blogs and comments pages over the rush-hour bus & bike lanes on Wilshire: how on earth could it be safe to share a lane with a gigantic articulated bus? It had been done with great success in other countries, including safety-conscious Germany. But, just as LA’s council won’t condescend even to look at the experiences of other cities, so many of our cyclists fretted endlessly about the bus & bike lanes.

Like the one the fellow in the photo is riding. Like the ones I ride whenever I have to head east or west during rush hour. Like the ones my wife uses to get to her hair salon on occasion.

Forget intuition, and just see what really works. It’s easy—especially when the rest of the world has done your homework for you.

Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

2 Comments

  1. Posted July 24, 2015 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Beverly Hills gives Los Angeles a run for its money in this regard. This past Tuesday we were treated to our councilmember Nancy Krasne yet again performing her own version of a Creskin-the-Magician act: staring blankly into space while pulling from the air in ad-hoc fashion her own preposterous prescriptions for how to cross Beverly Hills safely. For the elected offical who has humorously referred to riders as “organ donors,” that does NOT include bicycle lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard, as we recap here: http://betterbike.org/2015/07/say-goodbye-to-santa-monica-boulevard-bike-lanes/

  2. Posted September 22, 2015 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I can already tell that’s gonna be super helpful.