Sample Essay Topic -- We Need Tolls to Solve L.A.'s Traffic
We Need Tolls to Solve L.A.'s Traffic, by David Leenhardt
Los Angeles is fed up with its traffic. Despite billions spent in efforts to expand our roads, our freeways are as clogged as ever. We spent $1.6 billion to widen the 405 Freeway in 2014, and yet commute times through the Sepulveda Pass are the same. Perhaps even more frustrating, we’re spending billions more to get people out of their cars and onto Metro — and not only is our traffic problem unmoved, transit ridership is declining.
Things have gotten so bad that billionaire Elon Musk recently promised to “just start digging” tunnels underneath L.A. With enough layers of tunnels, says Musk, any amount of cars could be provided for.
With all due respect to Mr. Musk, this plan encapsulates everything that’s wrong with how we think about traffic. Instead of building our way out of the problem, there is a proven solution to fighting traffic, one that’s much easier, more effective and less costly than our current approach. It’s putting a price on the use of our roads.
The reason that electrical power and air travel don’t fail every time they get crowded is that we raise prices to manage demand. If things cost more, people use less of them. We all accept that airline tickets are more expensive during the holidays. And yet we miss that this very same, simple system of pricing could solve our congestion problem. Roads are the only piece of infrastructure we allow to consistently fail due to overuse.
Since 2003, cities across the country have been experimenting with something called “dynamic tolling” as a traffic solution. This entails adding what are called High-Occupancy/Toll (HOT) lanes on freeways. In a HOT lane, carpools drive for free, while solo drivers have to pay. Tolls are usually collected via a transponder, without ever having to slow down. Two of these experimental HOTs are right here in Los Angeles on the 110 and the 10 freeways.
In these HOT lanes, congestion is basically a thing of the past. On one highway in Miami, for example, average speeds went from 20 mph to 62 mph. On a Minneapolis road, speeds of 50-55 mph are maintained 95% of the time. Here in Los Angeles, average speeds on the 10 and 110 are 45 mph in the general purpose lanes and 65 mph in the HOT lanes. And the free flowing lanes are benefiting transit riders, too. Transit usage jumped 10% following the opening of the 10 and 110 Express Lanes. Despite a poor, under-publicized rollout by Metro, these facilities have created far more traffic relief than the 405 widening at a fraction of the cost.
Dynamic tolling works by varying the price of the toll lanes by time of day. It costs more when traffic is typically busy, and less when fewer people want to use it. Prices can range from $0.50 to around $8 per trip.
A free-flowing road also carries more cars than a congested road, so by keeping things moving, the price actually increases the capacity on the road. Minneapolis’ HOT lane, for instance, carried 33% more cars than it did when it was free.
The system works because when prices go up, it sends a signal to drivers that there are lots of other cars on the road. Just as with airfare, people respond to these signals.
People have more flexibility in their drive times than you might imagine. Roughly half of peak-hour trips are not commutes to work or school. With HOT lanes, when prices are high, people adjust accordingly. If it's worth it, they get in the lane and save time. If they don’t want to pay, they have that most American of options — choice: They could use the unpriced lanes, go at a different time, carpool, or take transit to avoid the cost.
Experts have pointed to tolls as a traffic solution for decades, yet building political support for road fees continues to be a challenge — the most common complaint being: "Oh, so only rich people can drive?"
This critique ignores the fact that working Americans often suffer the most severely from the impacts of poor mobility. Working-class parents who are late to pick up their kids from day care, for example, often pay severe financial penalties. Having the option to reach their destination quickly could actually save them money. In fact, experience with dynamic tolling in the United States has shown that people of all income levels use these lanes.
Is there another way besides tolls? Unfortunately, no. We’ve tried them all. We’ve tried keeping neighborhoods suburban. We’ve tried density. We’ve tried building billions of dollars’ worth of transit lines. We’ve tried widening roads at great expense.
Why are we so willing to try expensive, desperate policies, often with dire, unintended consequences, in order to solve traffic without pricing the roads? The bottom line is, when you give away something valuable for free, you create insatiable demand. Traffic is the result.
Write a well-developed essay in which you address the topic as it is raised in the reading.
In your first paragraph, briefly summarize the main points of the reading and then:
- Draw on your own knowledge, observations, and experiences to explore your thoughts on the topic. You may incorporate your own relevant points or offer an alternative interpretation of the reading by discussing any cultural and/or social issues that impact the topic;
- Question, challenge, defend and/or assess the overall quality and adequacy of the quantitative evidence the article uses in support of the claims and conclusions; and
- Discuss what research strategies you would use to find additional sources of information on this topic to evaluate the claims.
UDWPE Scoring Guide
Each essay is read and evaluated by at least two faculty members in a carefully planned and supervised reading. Each reader scores an essay on a scale of 1 to 6, and the two scores are combined. 12 is the highest possible total score. A score of 8 or above is passing. (See sample scoring guide and sample essays below.)
It is the intention of CSUN to report test results that accurately reflect each student's performance. Test administration and test security standards are designed to assure that all test takers are given the same opportunity to demonstrate their abilities and to prevent anyone from having an unfair advantage over others because of testing irregularities. With this in mind, in rare cases in which there is a question about the validity of a student's essay, the UDWPE Advisory Board reserves the right to request that a student take a retest at no cost to the student. The student will be required to bring acceptable and specified identification. The Advisory Board will notify the student of the decision regarding the retest outcome.
Written Expression - WPE
Superior (6) – Addresses the topic and remains highly-focused on the complexity of the issues raised in the reading passage; offers variety and sophistication in sentence structure, diction, and vocabulary, and exhibits an excellent command of written English.
Strong (5) – Addresses the topic and maintains its focus on many of the issues raised in the reading passage; offers variety in sentence structure, diction, and vocabulary, and exhibits a strong command of written English.
Meets Expectations (4) – Addresses the topic, and though it may waver in its focus, it has engaged the primary issue raised in the reading passage; exhibits proficiency in written English through the use of vocabulary as expressed in coherent sentences and paragraphs; while the essay may contain some grammatical flaws (including common ESL-related locutions), they do not detract from the overall effect or clarity of the writing.
Inadequate (3) – Fails to address the topic in a satisfactory way because it loses focus or only marginally addresses the issues in the reading passage; contains numerous sentences that are difficult to read and/or are inadequately organized into coherent paragraphs – due to frequent misuse of vocabulary and/or major grammatical errors – as to exhibit an inadequate proficiency in written English.
Incompetent (2) – Fails to address the topic; contains an excessive number of sentences that are difficult to read and/or are inadequately organized into coherent paragraphs—including misuse of vocabulary and/or major grammatical errors—as to exhibit a lack of proficiency in written English.
*Incomplete (1) – Presents too little writing for evaluation. May be a blank exam or one containing only a few sentences.
Sample UDWPE "6" Essay
The city of Los Angeles has only ever had one defining dilemma: traffic. This is the consequence of living in a city that becomes more and more populated with each passing year. The grandeur and endless possibilities of the city draws people from all over the globe like moths to a flame. David Leenhardt attempts to address the overwhelming issue of L.A. traffic, but what he seems to miss is the very topic of the city’s overpopulation. In his article, “We Need Tolls to Solve L.A.’s Traffic,” Leenhardt discusses how the city has exhausted every method of decreasing traffic on the roads and freeways. His solution to this issue is a very unpopular one to the public as he calls to put a price on freeways. Not only would this marginalize and penalize low-income families, but it would also feed into a capitalist system that threatens to monetize any infrastructure or service left in the country.
Leenhardt pleads that High-Occupancy/Toll (HOT) lanes on freeways are the only way to go forward and solve our traffic problem. As a driver and native L.A. resident myself, I acknowledge that traffic is an issue on everyone’s mind, but I disagree with the sentiment that traffic occurs at all times and locations, twenty-four hours a day. I commute to my school at least thirty minutes every morning. Yes, there is traffic on the 118 freeway when lanes begin to merge, but in fairness, 90% of the time the congestion is caused by slow drivers. One driver will be going 55 mph in a 65 mph zone and as a result, traffic backs up. Additionally, traffic only ever becomes a cumbersome factor during holidays and evenings when the work day is over. Holidays are mostly affected because of the influx of people swarming into the city. To monetize the freeways wouldn’t stop all of these people from entering the city to spend time with their families.
Leenhardt also targets the main concern of the public when discussing his solution: money. In Leenhardt’s mind, low-income families would benefit from a system where lanes are priced because then the “option to reach their destination quickly could actually save them money.” This is a confusing statement considering this could apply to all incomes and that low-income families would lose money to save money. L.A. is known for its rising housing prices and extreme cost of living. How would those who cannot afford to make ends meet save money by using money they need for food and basic needs to pay to drive? They already pay high prices for gas and car payments, so to add the price of the road to their lives would systematically move these people down the poverty line. It would also marginalize them as now the freeways would become the territory of those would could afford it.
Leenhardt’s off-handed solutions to people who don’t want to pay include using the untolled lanes, going at a different time, carpooling, or taking transit to avoid the cost. These seem wholly ineffective when work, school, and other important obligations are taken into account. It wouldn’t be possible for people to go to their responsibilities “at a different time.” Most people wouldn’t be able to carpool either since everyone has their own obligations and places to go. Furthermore, this would affect the youth of L.A., like myself. On average, college students barely have the means to support themselves financially because of the cost of tuition, student loans, housing and textbooks for classes that usually go for more than a hundred dollars. With all of this emptying their wallets and bank accounts, it seems unreasonable to ask them to donate any more money simply to get to class. They have to pay to park on campus, and now they have to pay to drive as well, possibly as much as $8 per trip?
Leenhardt believes that there is no other way than tolls – that we have “tried them all” – and yet, he never once takes into account the fact that even if freeways are tolled, major side streets such as Fountain, Sunset, Highland, Melrose, and other cross-town traffic will be affected. Then there is the issue of accidents, SIG alerts, and weather that any native driver knows will derail traffic no matter what plan is in place. It seems the only viable option, if Elon Musk wants to invest his billions, is to start by giving us all jet packs. Surely they have technology for that.
With regards to research strategies, tolling the freeways seems like a disastrous and dangerous alternative, and I would begin by searching via Google or our Oviatt Library to find if it has ever been successful in other countries where populations are dense and industries are not quite so unlike Los Angeles as is Minneapolis. Traffic is and will continue to be a problem for the unforeseeable future, but so is class disparity, poverty, homelessness, and over-population. To go forward with Leenhardt’s solution to monetize the freeway lanes would essentially bankrupt and marginalize groups such as poor and low-income families, college students, and those merely trying to get to work. This seems a poor choice for too many L.A. residents.
Sample UDWPE "5" Essay
David Leenhardt, the author of the article “We Need Tolls to Solve L.A. Traffic,” believes that California government has tried all the possible actions to solve L.A.’s traffic issue, from expanding the roads to making pricey transit lanes; however, none of those has really helped solve the traffic problem in L.A. According to him, Angelenos are really sick of the issue, and the billions of dollars of government and taxpayer money that has been spent to solve the issue has actually been wasted. He claims that the best way to solve L.A.’s traffic is to toll the roads. He believes that people use the roads for free and every time something valuable is given to people for free, peoples’ demand of that certain service or product increases. According to him, traffic is the unpleasant product of free roads and if L.A. officials make people pay for their commute, fewer people will be willing to drive. To support his claims, he brings up the nationwide experiment of “dynamic tolling” started in 2003 in cities across the country. He claims that in HOT lanes there is no congestion and the average speed on one highway in Miami went from 20 mph to 62 mph, and on a Minneapolis road, speeds of 50-55 mph are maintained 95% of the time. He believes these are all because of the tolling magic. I assume the author is so naïve to think that by tolling the L.A. roads, L.A.’s traffic issue will be solved. I don’t agree with the author for the following reasons: 1) tolling will just make more people pay and the government will get richer as a result; the same amount of people will still need the same daily commute; 2) tolling increases fraudulent activities.
I believe tolling L.A.’s roads will not really solve the traffic issue. L.A. County is the biggest county in the nation and also the most populated. People need their cars to go to work, to school, and to pick up their kids from school. Now, if our government tolls our roads, what will happen? Will people say, “Well, today I won’t go to work since I don’t want to pay $8 for my commute”? The answer is a big “no.” One possible outcome that I might think of is by tolling the roads, poor people will be forced to pay more money and people will become more frustrated with government. Every day, I take the 110 Freeway to go to work, and I really don’t notice a huge difference between the traffic on regular lanes and the HOT lanes. HOT lanes used to be faster a couple of years ago, but more and more people are buying transponders to get rid of regular lane congestion and as a result, I see the HOT lanes are as congested as the regular ones.
What’s more, by tolling our roads and making people buy transponders, I believe it will provide a great opportunity for frauds to make fake transponders and cheat the system. A friend of mine told me that his Uber driver had told him that his transponder is fake and it really works perfectly. So, even if we toll our roads, there are people who will come up with smarter ideas to cheat the system.
In terms of numbers and statistics, I don’t agree with the author since his examples talk about only one highway in Miami, only one road in Minneapolis, and two freeways in L.A. L.A. peoples’ culture, life style and work style are way different from peoples’ anywhere else, so we can’t say because the HOT experiment solved the traffic issue on those few roads that it will work best for L.A. You must research first about Angelenos’ culture, work and life styles, and then come up with a solution. The HOT experiment in L.A. should have been done on more lanes of those two freeways to give it more credibility.
To get more information on this topic, I would do a library search on causes of heavy traffic in large metropolitan areas through JSTOR. I think it’s important to compare L.A.’s problem with problems experienced by cities of the same size with similar demographics and industries. Ideally, I would like to also design a survey to ask Angelenos about their traffic problems and find out why they don’t use public transit because until we understand why people are so willing to put up with L.A. traffic, we won’t be able to solve it.
Sample UDWPE "4" Essay
Most every business, organization, and government agency relies on the road system. Traffic makes this system, and by extension the entities that rely on it, less efficient. David Leenhardt provides an effective solution in his article, “We Need Tolls to Solve L.A.’s Traffic” using a mix of evidence and common logic to back the idea of adding tolls to public roads. My own knowledge of the subject would have me agree.
As an aspiring student of Business Administration, economics is a required area of expertise. Though it is an intricate field, it can all be brought down to supply and demand. If you increase the price, you decrease the demand and raise the supply. Roads are no exception to this; if something has no cost, its demand is max. With an ever-growing population, this is plainly unsustainable. We have to look at reality and accept this principle as true.
Reality tells us that our current endeavors have been abysmal failures. Billions poured into infrastructure just so it can keep up with an ever-growing demand. Having lived in California my entire life, traffic is a daily occurrence. More than once have hours passed sitting with a seemingly endless sea of cars. Clearly a new strategy is needed, and the cost of it may be less than we fear.
An eight dollar toll seems an extra expense, but it’s an investment, not an expense. How much money is lost from arriving late to work or from paying more for gas as your car is left idling? Not to mention the hours of free time lost staring at a clogged highway. When one thinks of all that is lost from waste time, an $8 charge is a great deal. The evidence is clear on the benefits.
So far attempts at toll lanes have been a success. Average speeds on roads have increased from twenty to forty miles per hour. David Leenhardt’s article shows the evidence of this, but so far, the solution has only been implemented on a small scale. If the main highways of L.A. were to experiment with this, the results would be solid proof one way or the other. Certainly it is worth some consideration. With the problem at hand, we cannot afford to spurn possible solutions.
In order to find additional sources of information on this topic and to evaluate the claims, I would need to do some research on my own. I would use the Oviatt databases to look into traffic statistics such as how these HOT lanes have worked in other areas to validate Leenhardt’s claims and make my own conclusions. Also, I would look at statistics on how the HOT lanes have worked here in Los Angeles and see if it is feasible to install them on all freeways.