This blog is about the story of my family here in America. We arrived in the 1630s as Puritans, and became the common folk of the New World.

How freeways became evil in Los Angeles

By the time I moved to Los Angeles, in 1983, freeways were already evil. My great-grandparents, who lived in North Hollywood until their deaths in the mid-1960s, would never have seen them as evil. In fact, they would have seen them as the only way to rescue the congestion that had been plaguing Los Angeles for decades.

If, like most people, you imagine a "golden era" before the freeways in Los Angeles, think again. Pretty much from the invention of cars, the streets of Los Angeles were gridlocked. There were just too many cars on too few, and too small, roads. And the solution was in the hands of the engineers.

Remember that this was a time of fantastic engineering marvels like The Hoover Dam. Millions of tons of poured concrete had performed the miracle of damming the Colorado River. Things were being designed and built at the time on a scale that the world hadn't seen since the pyramids of ancient Egypt. It was a time of optimism. And this American "can do" spirit helped win the Second World War. So using this attitude of engineering to solve the traffic problem in as progressive-minded a place as Los Angeles only made sense.

By the 1950s, the California Transportation Department had designed the grid to cover the greater Los Angeles area (pictured above). And by the 1960s, they had really started pouring concrete. It must have been incredible to see. No more waiting at traffic lights - just flowing smoothly at speeds up to 70 miles per hour. And it must have been a real pleasure to be able to go from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica without having to stop every few blocks, and inch along with traffic. And in spite of what people who never saw it say, it worked, and it worked well.

Then in the 1970s the backlash happened. The freeways suddenly seemed like some out-of-control monster, gobbling up neighborhoods. The optimism faded. And suddenly people were less interested in the luxury of driving at high speeds and more interested in not seeing their neighborhoods destroyed. Mountains were no longer just things to pour more concrete on. And the great dream of engineering a solution to the traffic problem in Los Angeles ended.

There has been some patch-work done on the freeways of Los Angeles, but really very little. And always against the strongest resistance from people who lived in the path of this "progress". And the freeways of Los Angeles will never get better, because the price is too high.
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