Saturday, March 11, 2006

A little LA transportation history

Los Angeles actually began its development as a spread city before the automoblie gained popularity, before the region's famed freeways were built.

The growth of Los Angeles' suburbs in the early 1900's was made possible by the machinations of a private streetcar company, Henry Huntington's Pacific Electric Railway. Huntington's interest was in real estate, and the railway was simply his way of bringing buyers to his new suburban home sites. Perhaps the finest mass transit system of its day, Huntington's Red Cars (featured in the cartoon movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) traveled along at speeds of 45 to 55 miles per hour. Huntington's electric railway was over-built and operated at a loss, but the losses did not matter, as the mass transit system was essential to the success of his real estate investments:

The Pacific Electric lost millions of dollars extending lines far ahead of demands for service, but the loss was compensated many times over by the profits from land sales by the Huntington Land and Improvement Company. In fact, the system was built not to provide transportation but to sell real estate. (David L. Clark)

The dispersed settlement pattern on Los Angeles was established well before the arrival of the automobile; it was produced by the needs of real estate speculation.

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