xHgGrtG-show-poster2x3-aXpIxNN.png

Artbound

Start watching
Tending Nature show poster

Tending Nature

Start watching
IYhnPQZ-show-poster2x3-Ytk6YwX.png

Southland Sessions

Start watching
RYQ2PZQ-show-poster2x3-OGargou.jpg

Earth Focus

Start watching
5LQmQJY-show-poster2x3-MRWBpAK.jpg

Reporter Roundup

Start watching
E5VnHdZ-show-poster2x3-PrXshoo.png

City Rising

Start watching
QraE2nW-show-poster2x3-uY3aHve.jpg

Lost LA

Start watching
Member
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Learn about the many ways to support KCET.
Support Icon
Contact our Leadership, Advancement and Special Events teams.

When the Wheels Slow

Momentum - that's the meaning of this city. Forward movement is what defines the Angeleño experience. We're not who we wish to be unless we're in control of some vehicle - skateboard or Maserati - and the thing with wheels is in motion. (Watch the bicyclist making slow figure-eights while waiting at a red light. He doesn't want to lose momentum, doesn't want to be stopped.)

This is a city where wheels must turn. And when wheels begin to turn more slowly, when momentum is lost, Angeleños begin to experience an existential dead. What are we, if we're not drivers? If the wheels cease turning altogether, and momentum drains away, it's an intimation of our own mortality.

Westside drivers feel entropy daily on the 405 through the Sepulveda Pass. And this month - from Friday evening, July 15 to Monday morning, July 18 - they've been told to expect final entropic chaos. For 53 hours, the 11-mile stretch of the northbound 405 from the 10 freeway to the 101 will be shut down to demolish half of a bridge that must be replaced to widen the freeway for a new "high occupancy vehicle" lane. (A four-mile length of the southbound 405 also will be closed. And since only half the bridge will be taken down in July, another week-end closure will be needed to remove the other half.)

Angeleños, tutored by years of dystopian commentary, have a sick fondness for local apocalypses. (Or is it carpocalypses?) We like to watch as things we value are taken from us (perhaps because we don't believe we deserve them). To our wheeled imaginations, the last humiliation is to be pedestrian.

Closure of the 405 is the sum of those fears. But we've overcome them before.

In 1984, even worse nightmares were predicted for the two weeks of the Los Angeles Olympic Games. Then - with competition sites spread over the county - we were made afraid that the entire freeway system would fail. It didn't. Some Angeleños left town. Some drove less. Some became better drivers temporarily. Some big employers staggered work hours or flexed their employees' time. Something worked, through good planning and good luck, to keep the momentum going. For drivers who remember those weeks, the experience of traffic-free freeways was almost exhilarating.

The scale is far smaller for July's 405 closure, but the impact point is more concentrated. An estimated 500,000 cars travel through the Sepulveda Pass on a typical summer weekend. And because Los Angeles is, geographically, a cluster of "islands on the land" fragmented by mountains and foothills, there are few alternatives. The fear has been building for weeks.

The reality is going to be bearable, just as it was in 1984. The warnings from city and county officials and Caltrans may be over the top, but the degree of planning is reassuring. According to the Los Angeles Times:

Officials have been working for months to develop emergency procedures during the closure, which is expected to jam freeways and many streets around the affected stretch. Los Angeles Police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said officials plan to set up mini police and emergency service stations in several areas around the closed freeway, provide airlift sites for paramedic helicopters and deploy hundreds of extra public safety personnel. . . . Authorities said they are also preparing a small army of motorcycle officers who can cut through traffic and respond to emergency calls. And they are stationing tow trucks throughout the area to remove cars that may be blocking traffic. . . . Los Angeles International Airport is going to increase the number of airport police and traffic officers, and the California Highway Patrol and area police are coordinating a local traffic management plan for major intersections leading to the airport.

As in 1984, some businesses are planning to close. Some are changing their operating hours. Some - like the area's hospitals - plan to house their staff members on site or nearby. And some drivers will stay home to watch news helicopters hover over the 405 and "carmageddon."

What they are likely to see is nothing much at all.

The images on this page were taken by flickr users drburtoni (top) and biofriendly (bottom). They are used under a Creative Commons License.

Support Provided By
Support Provided By
Read More
People pull up in their vehicles for Covid-19 vaccines in the parking lot of The Forum in Inglewood, California on January 19, 2021. | FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

L.A. County Expands COVID Vaccines to Residents 65 And Older

L.A. County began scheduling COVID-19 vaccination appointments for those aged 65 and older today, but limited supplies and uncertainty about future allocations has left the inoculation effort shrouded in doubt.
Bill Kobin - hero image

Public Media and KCET Legend Bill Kobin Dies at 91

William H. “Bill” Kobin, a public media icon who helped build PBS flagship station KCET into a Los Angeles powerhouse, airing news programs like the acclaimed “Life & Times” and helping to launch Huell Howser’s career, has died.
Pupils listen to school lessons broadcast over a solar radio in Dalu village, Tana River County, Kenya, November 28, 2020. | Thomson Reuters Foundation/Benson Rioba

With Schools Shut by Pandemic, Solar Radios Keep Kenyan Children Learning

Solar-powered radios have been distributed to the poorest homes that lack electricity access, with lessons broadcast daily during the COVID-19 crisis — and perhaps beyond.