CUT: The Highway Phenomena



On the last day of school as the pandemic went on, it took me 35-minutes to drive home to Pasadena during peak traffic hour. This 20-mile journey usually lasts a little bit shy of 2-hours and I have never experienced this before. What went wrong in the development of interstates?

When I first moved to the United States from South Korea, the dependency on driving was striking. All major cities and states were connected with gigantic highway systems and people drove everywhere. This obsession over cars is highly visible in Los Angeles, a city with one of the worst traffics in the nation. I still drive occasionally for essential needs and every time I drive, I just notice how big these highways are. For example, for every ten miles that’s at least 6.5 million square feet of space, which is enough to fit 2,437 average-sized homes. Even though the freeway seems to be getting larger, traffic seems to get worse every year.

Since when I was little, I was really into cars. I drew cars my entire life and even went to Art Center College of Design to take transportation design classes. This research journal aims to explore how automobiles have shaped our infrastructure and the American culture. And how major corporations have changed our perception of cars in today’s world.

Print Copywriting Art Direction Bookmaking

Los Angeles

The advent of the streetcar would transform Los Angeles. The first electric streetcar appeared on a stretch of Pico Street in 1887. These efficient people movers were a huge boon to developers since they enabled people to live farther and farther away from Downtown Los Angeles.

By the 1920s, Los Angeles had the best public streetcar system in the country.

7,800,000 vs. 1,270

Each vehicle represents 1,000 units. In the 1920s, Los Angeles had the best public transportation system in the nation with 1,270 streetcars covering all the commuters around the city. Currently, there are more than 7.8 million registered cars in LA. This number does not include a large number of vehicles entering the city during commute hours. LA is now ranked 6th as the most congested city in the nation.


In the book The High Cost of Free Parking, Donald Shoup explains how our cities actually have 8 parking spots for every car, covering an average of 30% of space in out cities. Collectively, we have enough parking spots to fill West Virginia.


Studies show that cars spend 95% of their time parked, which means that cars are only used for 5% of the time. This brings up the question of where these 7.8 million cars are parked on a daily basis.


With 7.8 million registered cars in LA and a population of 9.8 million, that equates to 0.8 cars per person. LA has one of the highest number of cars in the nation due to the fast adjustment of automobiles.


Visual representation of 200 people in different modes of transportation. Cars on average have 1.5 occupants during commute hours and streetcars and trolleys are able to fit about 70 passengers in a single car.


The 36-page accordion book was printed on a single sheet of newsprint that mimics the rough texture and expansive coverage of asphalt in LA. The black center line creates a road-like appearance with intersections on section dividing pages and represents the wasteful land use through the soaky wet ink applied onto the thin newsprint. Series of billboards were designed to deliver the narrative through striking imagery towards streets with high-density of commuters.

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©2024 Dong Hye Kim