What Killed L.A.'s Streetcars?

Local lore, and Hollywood movies, have it that a conspiracy by car companies led to the dismantling of L.A.'s sprawling streetcar system to induce dependence on newly built freeways. Eric Molinsky tells the real, but no less dramatic, story.

Los Angeles's legendary streetcar system, Pacific Electric's "Red Cars", once stretched out along 1,100 miles of track - "about 25 percent more more track mileage than New York City has today, a century later." What could cause such an extensive system to be entirely dismantled just as the city was building an extensive network of freeways? It had to be a conspiracy right?

As Molinsky explains, "the Red Car wasn’t the victim of a conspiracy. The Red Car was the conspiracy." Built by Henry Huntington to draw buyers to the hundreds of new subdivisions he opened each year, the rail line itself never really made money as it expanded the city increasingly outward. 

"Over time, though, Huntington had built so many subdivisions that his Red Car couldn’t do a good enough job connecting the city’s disparate areas. The Red Car was never designed to be a comprehensive system like the New York City Subway; rather, it existed primarily to get people in and out of Huntington’s subdivisions. Angelenos who could afford cars found it was easier to get around by driving. The Red Car fell into disrepair, and was mocked as a 'slum on wheels.'"

Full Story: Episode 70- The Great Red Car Conspiracy


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