This article by Eric Morris in today’s Freakonomics blog addresses some common myths and assumptions about Los Angeles that I often see brought up by writers who say they could never live here:

Exactly one of the following statements about transportation in Los Angeles is indisputably true. Two are (at best) half-truths, and the rest are flat-out myths. Can you figure out which of the following is accurate?

  1. Los Angeles’s air is choked with smog.

  2. Los Angeles has developed in a low-density, sprawling pattern.

  3. Angelenos spend more time stuck in traffic than any other drivers in the nation.

  4. Thanks to the great distances between far-flung destinations, and perhaps to Angelenos’ famed “love affair” with the car, Angelenos drive considerably more miles than most Americans.

  5. Los Angeles is dominated by an overbuilt freeway system that promotes autodependence.

  6. Los Angeles’s mass transit system is underdeveloped and inadequate.

He hasn’t provided the answers (yet), but here are my opinions and guesses, without any Googling or other fact-finding missions:

  1. False. Talking with friends who grew up here, the air quality was apparently horrible up through the mid-1980s, with “smog alert” days common. But thanks to nation-leading emissions standards, it’s improved dramatically. The air is cleaner than what I grew up with in Boulder, Colorado.

  2. Half-true. Los Angeles is huge — and that’s not counting all the smaller cities that cling to it. But you’re not required to go everywhere — most of what you want is quite close. I drive less than 5000 miles per year. And while the city is not as high-density as New York City, it’s a lot denser than most people realize. Most of the new construction you see in the city is now “urban in-fill,” which increases the density.

  3. Likely true, because it’s the only claim that could be “indisputable.”

  4. False. Commutes in Los Angeles aren’t particularly long; they can just take a long time. I predict Los Angelenos drive significantly less than motorists in, say, Denver.

  5. False. A lot of loaded words here — “dominated,” “overbuilt,” “autodependence” — none of which are defined.1 Los Angeles has a lot of freeways. At two in the morning, it’s amazing how quickly you can get from point A to point B. Most other times, I avoid them.

  6. Half-true. “Underdeveloped” and “inadequate” feel like subjective measurements, so you need something to compare them against. In my experience, New York, Washington D.C., London and Tokyo have better mass transit systems, making it much easier to get where you need to go. But compared to most U.S. cities, I suspect Los Angeles has significantly higher usage of public transportation.

  1. Though I like the term “autodependence,” which sounds like a reflexive psychological condition.