So there I was, caught in some serious stop-and-go congestion on the Hollywood Freeway — it was raining, rare in Southern California and thus confusing to drivers — and I had nothing to do except tap my fingers on the steering wheel. So I started thinking about how to improve traffic. Pretty soon I had a whole list going.
For instance, maybe officials can use high tech to warn us about the first storm of the season, before the showers scramble our brains and we skid off into oncoming traffic. When a sheet of rain comes down, they could shine a message on it with a laser: “Slippery roads! Slow down!” Then I wondered if there might be a technology where you paint the roads with an electrically sensitive coating that beams a printed storm warning into the eyes of oncoming drivers, the message moving along with traffic … like the shine of brake lights smeared out ahead of me on that damn slow freeway. Or perhaps they could send up a helicopter that trails an electronic sign that warns traffic of wet roads ahead. Or they rent space on buildings next to freeways and beam weather updates onto the walls.
Then I got to thinking about ways to improve traffic flow in general. Gazing about, I noticed how many flat surfaces there are along a freeway — walls, dividers, bridges, objects easy to study in depth at three miles an hour — and I wondered if they could be repurposed as signage, like those occasional Sig-Alert electronic billboards, except everywhere. Before long I had a list of ideas:
- Traffic-info signs emblazoned on the center dividers, messages that move forward at the speed of traffic, so you can read them without twisting around to look
- Electronic maps at freeway entrances that warn of congestion and show alternate routes
- Left-hand shoulders converted to traffic lanes (currently they’re wasted space: who in their right minds would stop in those narrow slots even in an emergency, with traffic whizzing past at 70?)
- More tax incentives for companies that schedule flex-time work hours
- Cheaper gas rates for drivers — especially truckers — who purchase fuel at night
And then the big one:
- Tolls for freeway use, while bus and commuter-rail passengers ride for free
Think about it. Freeways are used by people who own cars and could jolly-well afford to pay a fee, reducing everyone’s tax burden. Meanwhile buses, trolleys, and metro rails — which mainly are for those who can’t afford to drive — must charge for tickets. Why not simply reverse that rule? Make middle class drivers pay for freeways, and let the less fortunate travel for free. It’d be much more “fare” (sorry), comporting better with those who can and can’t afford things.
Of course it would never happen. Drivers — of whom there are vastly more, in Los Angeles at least, than bus riders — would overwhelm ballot boxes with “NO” votes. If you doubt me, suggest the idea to left-wing acquaintances who drive: the speed with which they come up with reasons against it will break your heart.
Still, if they did things my way, traffic would clear up in a day. Even if it rained.