Carmageddon Hype Causes Pre-Weekend Nightmare


There is plenty of journalistic malpractice going on with regard to the 53-hour closure of a stretch of Interstate 405 this weekend.

Closing the heavily traveled road connecting the west side of Los Angeles with the San Fernando Valley may well cause traffic problems around town — though based on apparently universal awareness of the impending closure, and observably lighter traffic on the 405 as this week has progressed, I'm guessing it will be a big nothing.

But I have not read a single word on this phenomenon that is in any way practical or geared toward minimizing the inconvenience. 

As it happens, Reason's office sits just off ground zero: Between the 405 and Sepulveda Blvd., south of the junction with Interstate 10, where the southern end of the closing will occur. (The 405 will be shut down north to the junction with U.S. Highway 101.) And I can tell you, the stuff being said about the 405 closing is multiple shades of stoopit: 


The 405 hosts about 500,000 vehicles over the course of a mid-July weekend, about 9,400 vehicles per hour. That's a lot, but it's not impossible to absorb over a 600-square-mile road network. Wilshire Blvd. alone [pdf] handles 2,896 vehicles per hour, and along some stretches as many as 4,292 vehicles ride Wilshire in an average hour. 

Wrong Directions 

But if the point of Carmageddon hype is to solve the impending problem, you would not be talking about Wilshire or any other surface street. The destination media, however, are talking about just that. In the Los Angeles Times, Rob Long advises diverting 405 traffic into the local streets. This makes no sense because the 405 is a freeway, a distance run, in this case from the airport to Sherman Oaks or vice versa. And for through traffic there are plenty of options. Just ten miles north of the closed zone the 405 links up with Interstate 5. Less than ten miles south it links up with Interstate 105 (which despite its high-sounding title is not even an Intercounty road, but is broad and so fast-moving that they filmed the original Speed on it). And there are all kinds of other numbers — 110, 710, 134, 210 — with incantatory powers if you just know how to use them. But even most of those nobody's going to have to use because…

Overhype 2: The Reoverhyping 

There are pretty clearly going to be fewer than 9,400 vehicles needing to redirect every hour this weekend. In fairness, huzzah to the panicking media and politicians on one tiny point: Awareness of Carmageddon has been raised locally and nationally. But the media and politicians still deserve to be skinned because of… 

Wrong Directions 2: U-Turn? No, You Turn

Long isn't alone in his surface street pontification, and he at least understands which surface streets will be affected. Not so ABC's Dave Lunz. In a how-to-survive-Carmageddon consumer piece, Lunz advises readers to take Olympic Blvd., because it moves fairly quickly when the 10 is jammed. Not only is this the wrong particular advice (Pico is generally a better option than Olympic), but it solves the non-problem of east-west traffic when it's a north-south route that's been closed. 

Wrong Directions 3: The Final Direction 

Here's a shuttle service that plans to pitch in by offering rides along Sepulveda, the street that parallels the 405 and is the most likely to get spillover from the closing.

Here's Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa offering up the same smorgasbord of Smart-Growther, Chamber-of-Commerce, Polycentric, New-Urbanist flapdoodle California politicians shovel out at all other times: "Stay home, Shop LA, Do NOT Drive, Walk or Bike, Free Public Transportation."

Here's a Department of Transportation official offering up some patchwork of freeways for a hypothetical commuter.

Here's somebody suggesting you hang out at home and enjoy the sunshine — which sounds appealing but doesn't address the question of cutting off normal traffic while the government takes more than two days to dismantle a damn bridge.

The most relevant approach is JetBlue's offer of $4 helicopter rides from Long Beach to Burbank, which at least lands pretty close to the general areas that are going to be affected. (Though even that doesn't really address the problem: The point isn't just to get from the Westside to the Valley. It's to get there in your own car, like a grownup.) 

So far, the most sensible piece of journalism I've found on this issue is this from Examiner.com:

As we prepare for this citywide cacophony, what comes to mind is how on a day no one can predict, people all over the world will unsuspectedly be going about daily life when Jesus Christ descends from Heaven in His Second Coming. That is when the true Armageddon will be ushered in. How long it takes to get to Home Depot, whether or not we make an early flight out of LAX, or the devastating drop in sales for retailers will make no difference at the moment the Lord of glory appears. In an instant, believers in Christ will be raptured out of this world, and the seven-year tribulation period will begin. This is not a theatrical sci-fi story or mythical fable – this is very real.

I'm not agreeing with Ci'Monique Green's position, just saying that among all the people talking about Carmageddon, she at least knows her subject. If Carmageddon occurs, it won't be because people ignored the experts but because they listened to them.