By 1920, the streets of Los Angeles’s central core were some of the most congested in the United States. Pedestrians, streetcars, trains, and automobiles all competed for space on Los Angeles’s city streets, and its leaders had struggled with numerous proposed solutions to relieve traffic. How did the city of Los Angeles react to its crammed street? Why did the City ultimately decided to tie its future growth to the automobile? Los Angeles’s response to paralyzing traffic changed America’s streets because it served as a model for cities throughout the country. Instead of emphasizing mass transit and dense housing, other cities followed Los Angeles lead and promoted the automobile as the ultimate solution to congested urban cores.
Several scholars have questioned why Los Angeles rejected mass transit in favor of the automobile. In Bourgeois Utopias, Robert Fishman argues that Los Angeles deemphasized mass transit because land developers outside of the urban areas wanted to encourage growth away from transit lines. Peter Norton in “Street Walking, Jaywalking and the Invention of the Motor Age Street,” argues that automotive interests, not necessarily real estate developers, were the primary motivators for promoting the widespread adoption of cars. While Norton addresses Los Angeles specifically, his argument has much broader implications, because he believes that motorists and auto advocacy groups (motordom) fought nationally to transform America’s streets into car thoroughfares.
According to Norton, motordom sought to eliminate pedestrians, trains, and streetcars from city streets and create automobile-centric roads. In Scott L. Bottles’s Los Angeles and the Automobile, he claims that widespread dissatisfaction with the companies managing the city’s mass transit encouraged the city and citizens to turn to automobiles to solve Los Angeles’s gridlock problems. Angelinos favored cars because mass transit had failed to meet their needs. While there is some overlap in these arguments, these scholars fundamentally disagree over the spark that triggered the automotive age. While each of these arguments has merit on their own, Bottles argument is ultimately the most persuasive because he presents a compelling case that Angelinos had given up on mass transit.