POINT: Carpooling and not new freeways will solve LA traffic

Los Angeles County transportation officials recently voted to examine whether they should implement tolls on more carpool lanes and a higher number of required passengers in these lanes. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board of directors voted 11 to 1 in favor of studying those possibilities.

A combination of stricter carpool regulations, increased carpool lanes and improved public transit is the solution to Los Angeles’ traffic problem. Simply building more freeways is a temporary fix that will exacerbate current problems in the long term.

These types of regulatory tools should be implemented before the county takes more drastic measures, such as building new freeway systems. Los Angeles should not be encouraging more people to put their cars on the road by building more roads — it should be doing everything in its power to reduce the total amount of cars contributing to the city’s horrendous traffic and resulting pollution.

Increasing the number of passengers required to use the carpool lanes will hopefully motivate more people to carpool. Current two-person carpool groups can find a third member or join with another two-person carpool, which will ultimately get one more car off the roads.

On the other hand, implementing tolls on more carpool lanes simply punishes these same people who are opting to carpool instead of taking separate cars. Currently, L.A. drivers can use the toll lanes on State Route 110 south of Downtown, and on Interstate 10 from Downtown to El Monte, for free if they carpool. This method would need to be extended to any new toll lanes, in order to ensure that these lanes continue to reward people for carpooling. While they may decrease road use, toll roads reward people for having money, instead of lowering their environmental footprint the way carpooling does.

Obviously, new carpool lanes and carpool restrictions won’t help commuters who drive themselves to work. But that’s exactly the point. Hopefully, new lanes and restrictions will spur commuters to find a more efficient way to get to work than driving by themselves, in their own personal car, alongside countless other people driving in the exact same direction.

L.A. residents suffer from the worst traffic in the nation — the average driver spends 81 hours a year in traffic. However, the city also suffers from some of the worst air pollution. California alone emits more greenhouse gases per person than all of the world’s leading economies, except for the United States as a whole. And with transportation accounting for 37 percent of the state’s total emissions, reducing the number of cars on the road would therefore help reduce pollution.

So while building more roads might seem like an excellent short-term solution, it would have a devastating environmental impact in the long run. And at a more local level, 1.2 million Southern California residents already live in areas of high pollution due to freeway proximity. The negative health impacts of living within 500 feet of a freeway include higher rates of asthma, heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and pre-term births. Building more freeways would undoubtedly force more Southern California residents to suffer through all this just so commuters can stay in their comfy single-person car, instead of sucking it up and joining a carpool group or utilizing public transit.

Furthermore, even if you are a commuter who doesn’t care about the environment, you would not see the benefits of more freeways for very long. The population in Los Angeles continues to grow, and if the expectation continues to be that commuters drive their own cars to work versus carpooling, any new roads would quickly become just as gridlocked. Additionally, people who currently carpool or use public transit might find that the new freeways make it easier for them to drive their own car, thereby increasing the total number of drivers contributing to traffic and air pollution.

We could continue to build more and more freeways to ensure that no one ever needs to sit in traffic ever again, or we could simply address the root of the problem by pushing people to carpool or use public transit. Los Angeles definitely has a personal car-centric culture, but this needs to change. Transportation officials have a responsibility to encourage this culture shift through policy, instead of enabling single-car commuters by building more freeways.

Erin Rode is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism and political science. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Wednesdays.