The recent death of Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash wasn’t just a tragedy for his family and for basketball fans. It was also “a sign of the times”: that even the rich and famous now can’t avoid “the traffic hellscape that American cities have created for their residents”.
Like everyone else in southern California, Bryant was sick of the permanent motorway gridlock that degrades the quality of life there. The average Los Angeles commuter spends 119 hours – about three full work weeks – stuck in traffic each year. And it’s not just LA; the problem is getting worse everywhere. Across the US, the average commuter wastes 54 hours a year in traffic, up from 20 hours in 1982.
Funding for mass transit just hasn’t kept up with population growth. This is why the wealthy, and even the not so wealthy, are increasingly turning to small planes or shelling out $200 for a seat on a chopper to get around. This in turn is leading to dangerously congested airspace over cities – a factor that led air traffic controllers to put Bryant’s helicopter in a holding pattern just before it crashed.
Last year, LA police recorded 236 deaths as a result of traffic accidents on the city’s overcrowded roads; both they and Bryant are “victims of failing public infrastructure”. (Nicole Gelinas, New York Post, 15 Feb 2020)
Many years ago the motor car industry, in league with the oil companies ( Henry Ford, Standard Oil and others) poured large sums into pockets of local politicians in order to kill any idea of investment in mass public transport. Their campaign was successful; nowadays bus and train are the cinderella’s of transport, and most available money goes to easing the path of car commuters.
When you observe lobbyists today think on the rich people and organizations whose money and political clout prevented a sensible balance of cars, buses and trains all those years ago. What similar people are doing now will impact future generations quite as much as Henry Ford has impacted it.