Back to the future: crowded freeways and tight budgets lead some to call for a return to policies from 1984

By Bill Holloway

With the Los Angeles area already infamous for its gridlocked freeways, and thousands of people heading to the city for the 1984 Olympics, local and state officials scrambled to devise a way to accommodate the visitors, journalists, and athletes who would be traveling between events and activities across the region, as well as the normal resident Angelinos’ commuting and daily activities. As reported in Ryan Holeywell’s recent article in Governing, the city hatched a plan to combat congestion by operating shuttle buses for Olympics attendees, increasing carpooling and transit use, putting major incident response teams on full alert, making some major thoroughfares temporarily one-way, and operating hotlines to get information to the public. In addition, they reduced the number of trucks on the roads during the most congested periods by implementing a voluntary ban on peak-period truck traffic and temporarily suspending ordinances prohibiting the pickup and delivery of goods before 7:00 a.m. Together, these measures reduced congestion by 60 percent and peak period truck traffic by 16 percent during the two weeks of the Olympics.

Today, the LA area is even more congested than it was in 1984, and some lawmakers are looking back to that time for ways to improve the situation. The strategies that have gotten the most attention are those that shift truck traffic to off-peak hours. This is not the first time that lawmakers have looked back at the Olympics’ success and sought to resurrect a peak-period ban on truck traffic. In the early 1990s there were efforts, led by L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley, to implement a rush hour truck ban. But it failed to gain traction due to intense opposition from the trucking industry and speculation that such a law would violate the Constitution’s Interstate Commerce Clause.

One of the proponents of the most recent effort to implement a restriction on peak-period truck traffic is Riverside County Council member, Steve Adams, who is seeking to ban long-haul trucks from freeways during daytime hours and sell permits for short-haul delivery vehicles that make their rounds during the day. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach currently have an incentive system in place to promote off peak container pickups, which has been very successful. However, efforts to implement a legally binding ban on peak hour truck traffic today would likely face the same hurdles as they did 20 years ago.

See the Governing article for more and be sure to check the SSTI website next month for our upcoming report, Getting the Goods without the Bads: Freight Transportation Demand Management Strategies to Reduce Urban Impacts.

Bill Holloway is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.