USA: Why Americans need such wide streets

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Why Americans need such wide streets

USA: Why Americans need such wide streets-need

Typical American freeway junction, but not somewhere far out, but in the middle of the city of Los Angeles

Source: picture-alliance / dpa

In the US, they love their conspiracy theories. But what a police officer from Los Angeles says about the causes of the many traffic jams in his metropolis sounds plausible. And still it’s crazy.

I.I just got back from Los Angeles, where I watched the LA Auto Show looked at and did a few other things.

Without the shuttle service, I would hardly have managed my program, because Los Angeles not only has 13 or 18 million inhabitants (depending on the calculation basis), but also extends over an enormous area.

A cop and his part-time job

So I got driven around a lot and one of my drivers was David, an American of Argentinian descent, very communicative, very snappy, and strictly conservative.

David’s main job is a police officer, and he also earns some money with a driver service. Some LA police officers do that, he says, because the salary could use an increase, and police officers are popular shuttle drivers, even with the celebrities who are always present here.

David showed me his brand, maybe he suspected that his story sounded strange to European ears. Then he told me something even more incredible, which I found completely plausible after the experiences on the freeways (better: unfreeways) of this city.

Only six train lines in LA

David reported why there is practically no public transport in Los Angeles, at least no noteworthy rail service.

Two underground and four S-Bahn lines are available, the total length of the route at around 140 kilometers is more than three times shorter than in the much smaller Berlin.

David said he had a retired manager of a large oil company among his clientele. And he told him about an idea from the 1960s: At that time, Los Angeles wanted to lay the S-Bahn tracks on a larger scale, always along the freeways.

With money against the rail network

The oil companies would then have given money to every single member of the city council until the plan was dropped. No train means more cars, and they need fuel again – the investment in bribery paid off quickly.

Can it really be? Yes, it can, because it sounds like a variation on the “Great American Streetcar Scandal”: From the 1930s to the 1950s, National City Lines bought up a lot of tram networks and their operators – to close them down.

General Motors got involved

National City Lines, as it later turned out, was backed by General Motors and a couple of oil companies. There were judgments against the consortium, and the Supreme Court also prohibited the shutdown of the networks.

But the interest group had already done a great job, and the triumph of the automobile, as well as the development of large cities suitable for cars, could no longer be stopped.

Better to avoid the freeways

David said more (that America is "too soft and too slow" today, or that Beverly Hills women drive cars with puppies on their laps, which sometimes causes problems), and he has beyond all the stories and anecdotes brought me safely to my destination, even relatively quickly.

We were on the road for almost an hour, for around 35 kilometers, largely avoiding the freeways. With a personal police officer, you can get by quite well in Los Angeles, too. And you still learn something.

"world"-Reporter Stefan Anker regularly sends short car news and observations from everyday testing on Twitter. Follow him at http://twitter.com/StefanAnker.

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