Carmageddon: Coming to a Theater Near You

Photo by Jessica Levinson
Photo by Jessica Levinson

Few things unite Angelenos. We are old, young, Caucasian, African American, Asian, Latino, male, female, gay, straight--in a word, diverse.

However, there is one word that is familiar to all residents of the City of Angels: traffic. There are few other places in the world where it is perfectly reasonable to allot forty-five minutes for 3 mile drive in the middle of a workday. One of my Facebook friends recently posted that she spent 10 hours in the car over one weekend, and never left the city limits. That is sadly familiar news to too many of us.

But now comes news of something far more apocryphal.

On July 15th and 16th one of the busiest stretches of one of the most congested freeways will close. Specifically, the ten mile stretch between the 10 and the 101 freeways on the famed 405 freeway--carrying approximately 281,000 cars per day--will be shut down. Angelenos, fifty-three hours of horror is coming to a theater near you.

But why? What cruel twist of fate could cause our impending doom? Metro and Caltrans has explained that the closure is necessary to add a 10-mile HOV lane and perform other improvements like widening lanes. Sounds great, but will we survive it?

In Los Angeles this is nothing short of a planned human-made disaster. Many people I know are planning on "hunkering down." I have heard tales of stocking up on food and essential supplies.

Are these individuals in an unrealistic frenzy? Maybe not. One of Los Angeles' main attractions, the Getty Museum, is closing for the weekend. Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a well-know fixture of local politics, has essentially advised people to stay home.

As readers may know, my posts typically include a political, public policy angle. So here it is. Carmageddon is a good reminder that it is time to get real about transportation infrastructure. So many needless hours are spent in the car rather than working, with family or friends, or simply just not "fighting traffic." This helps neither productivity nor happiness.

One promising project is already in the works. The Expo Line, which will connect downtown L.A. to Santa Monica, is now under construction. The light rail will include 19 stations, and will be the first Metro Rail line on the westside. The entire project will not be completed for years, but the first phase which connects downtown to Culver City could be up and running within a year.

If the Expo Line proves to be a safe, speedy way to travel around town, it could serve as an environmentally and consumer friendly model to the rest of the city, and even the state.