I drove in Los Angeles traffic for 10 years, and Elon Musk's Boring Company tunnel plan is the most depressing thing I've ever seen

The Boring CompanyMusk get boring.

On Friday, Elon Musk offered more detail on The Boring Company’s plan to dig tunnels for high-speed transportation beneath numerous major freeway arteries in Los Angeles.

Let’s cut to the chase: The Boring Company’s master plan is to “solve” the freeways by connecting all the cool places in town where relatively affluent Angelenos live and travel to, while also serving travellers who use the LAX and Long Beach airports. The idea is create a “Loop” system that could carry passengers and possibly cars.

The longest tunnel, as conceptualized, would connect Sherman Oaks to Long Beach, essentially creating a private thoroughfare that follows the path of the 405 freeway (coincidentally, Musk’s commuting route takes him from his Los Angeles home in Bel Air to the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, which is a small municipality south of downtown Los Angeles and east of LAX, off the 105 freeway).

I lived and drove in Los Angeles for a decade, and, like Musk, I was often trapped in the circle of hell that the 405 can become during rush hour. But I also breezed along the freeways at times when traffic was limited.

LA Boring Company MapThe Boring CompanyCool — if you live in Bel Air (between Sherman Oaks and The Getty) and need to get to Hawthorne.

The wrong solution to the problem

It’s worth noting that the Loop plan mirrors what Angelenos already have on the mass-transit front with the Metro rail system. But Metro trains can’t go 150 mph and aren’t routinely ridden, I’m assuming, by Musk.

LA Metro MapMetro

The Los Angeles traffic problem is really one of 20th-century economic and business priorities colliding with population growth and geography.

Los Angeles isn’t really a traditional city – it’s a cluster of towns linked by a freeway system. None of this was planned; it just developed over a century. So Dodger Stadium, which should be someplace over by the beach, is instead tucked into a hard-to-access ravine north of downtown. Hollywood is blocked from the San Fernando Valley by a mountain. Downtown itself has to share “downtown” credentials with parallel downtowns on the Westside (Century City) and in the Valley. And don’t get me started on how this sprawling, extemporaneously assembled “city” is now also linked to nearby urbanizing regions, such as the San Gabriel Valley to the east and to Orange County to the south.

The freeways addressed this geographical challenge – until they didn’t. The big issue now is that the places where people work in Los Angeles are often not near where they live. This is especially true for poorer Angelenos, but it’s also true for rich people such as Musk. The billionaire’s rocket factory is just 18 miles from his house, but when the 405 gets gnarly, the drive can consume hours.

The solution isn’t a multibillion-dollar tunnel system, even if high-speed rides cost just $US1(as Musk said they would). The solution is to abandon the 20th-century scheduling preoccupation that clogs Los Angeles’ freeways from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Workplace flextime and telecommuting for those who are able (which, for Los Angeles’ creative-class workforce, is a lot) would spread traffic volumes out over the entire day.

There’s some research indicating that more telecommuting may reduce congestion only marginally (and bring some unintended consequences), but anything Los Angeles can do to get people off the roads and keep them staying closer to home would be a low-cost undertaking worthy of pursuing. In many cases, it may liberate the freeways for workers whose financial situation compels them to drive and alleviate some of the infamous “negative externality” problems related to public roads that are free for all to use.

As proposed, The Boring Company’s plan looks like what we’re seeing more and more of these days when it comes to transportation: a pay-into-it system for those who can afford these extra costs to avoid hassles, and a broken or stressed-out existing system for everybody else.

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