Why Streetsblog Doesn’t Write More About Carmageddon

Given the hysteria surrounding this minor event, it's hard to tell when people are being tongue in cheek. I think ##http://www.facebook.com/pages/Carmageddon-Los-Angeles-405-closed-716-DONT-Drive/231534140193036##this Facebook group##, which is encouraging people to give up their cars for the weekend, is doing that. Photo:Don't Drive Carmageddon/Facebook

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, a rock that doesn’t have Internet service, radio, television, print publications, carrier pigeons, bike message service or regular mail, you’ve been bombarded with messages about how awful next weekend is going to be. You see, to expand the already gargantuan 405 Freeway another lane in each direction, Metro and Caltrans are going to have to close 10.5 miles of said freeway between the I-10 and I-110 from Friday night until Monday morning. The press has dubbed it “Carmageddon.” I have dubbed it “this weekend.”

Why aren’t I concerned? Why isn’t Streetsblog concerned?  Because I have faith that Angelenos aren’t idiots. There are 527 miles of freeway and 382 miles of conventional highway in Los Angeles County. I believe that given the hysteria from the media and politicians in the past months, that everyone pretty much knows what’s going to happen and will avoid traveling the area unless they have to for work or a major event that can’t be moved such as a wedding. Those faced with traveling to those events are smart enough to leave early.

Speaking of the coverage, the entire over-the-top nature of the panic-inducing media assault is revealing about what the elites in this city think of Angelenos. They really believe that a weekend a fraction of a percentage of the local freeway system is closed is going to create a panic. If you contrast their coverage of just over fifty hours of 10 miles of the 405 to their run-of-the mill coverage whenever bus riders lose hundreds of thousands of yearly service hours permanently, it really paints a picture.

Inconvenience drivers of a certain section of road for one weekend. Panic. Cut hundreds of thousands of hours of bus service permanently. Yawn.

Nobody should take our boredom with Carmageddon to mean that we don’t believe that attempts to capitalize on the media-created hysteria to make a point aren’t a good idea. GOOD Magazine’s Alissa Walker is proposing that the City and State commemorate Carmageddon by holding a yearly car-free day. At The Source, Fred Camino argues that Carmageddon should be a symbol that L.A. needs to get serious about true multi-modalism. Last week in an L.A. Weekly article by Gene Maddaus, I made the case that the costs of freeway widenings are much higher than the benefits.

Whatever happens this weekend will paint a picture.  Will the City of Angels and the surrounding county rise up and meet this pretty minor challenge, or has Car Culture gripped the heart of this city so tightly that even the media is right and the most minor of inconveniences is a call for a local apocalypse.

  • Janna

    I kind of have to disagree. When I’ve got coworkers still staying “I live in Los Feliz so it doesn’t matter”, there is still some campaigning to be done. Too many people don’t get that the 405 is unique in that alternative methods to take the same route are extremely limited, and that its closure will cause a ripple effect of traffic congestion eastward throughout the county. If the 10 were to close, I could come up with 20 different ways to get where I need to. If the 405 closes, there are really only a couple of ways, and they will be so clogged that traffic delays are really going to be felt everywhere, not just the Westside, and that’s the message that is failing to be heard.

  • Anonymous

    It’s nice that all this Carmaggeon nonsense actually seems to have prompted a rational discussion in the mainstream media about how adding capacity doesn’t reduce congestion. Now we just gotta get politicos to stop claiming otherwise.

  • i’d agree with janna that the closure is pretty massive, and its effects are multiple, but the point the author is making is still valid. the media is way overhyping a weekend closure of a highway — and meanwhile, the scraps of public transit that LA does have are being decimated, and the media glosses over this without any fanfare. i guess the poor people who can’t afford to not ride public transit can’t be counted on for tv ratings…

  • Francesca

    I agree with Janna.  I think if you make this drive on a daily basis you know that the people in this city don’t paying attention.  The same people drive between the valley and the west side every single day and they still don’t get that the traffic lanes change daily and/or are reduced due to the construction.  They still don’t get that when CalTrans paints solid white lines in certain sections they shouldn’t cross over them until there are little white broken lines again.  I think the writer has too much faith in the people who drive the freeways.  Yes, the mainstream media is over the top but so are a good majority of the drivers out there and I hate to say it but unless they make a huge deal out of this nobody will pay attention.  But then again, if people are so ignorant not to pay attention to the hundreds of lit up signs from Santa Barbara all the way to Pasadena then they sort of deserve to sit in traffic all weekend.

  • Bob Davis

    Driving out to Perris (home of Orange Empire Railway Museum) yesterday, I noticed that even in Riverside and San Bernadino Counties, the freeway message signs were saying “Expect Big Delays”.  Just as long as the signs don’t read “Abandon hope all ye who enter here…..”   And the point is well taken that most of the folks who run the media in Southern California don’t know and don’t care about transit in general and bus service in particular.  Consider their ad revenue from the motor vehicle industry and compare that with what they get from Metro or the bicycle industry. 

  • Garcia90241

    We should all celebrate and remember this weekend with a fun Car-Mageddon T-shirt at:  http://isurvivedcar-mageddon.c​om/.

  • Zeepfilms

    Streetsblog doesn’t seem to realize that thousands vehicles flood into LA every hour from other parts of the state on the 101 or 405.  All of these vehicles will go where? They will be backed up to Ventura and Kern county with no restrooms in sight. This isn’t just about drivers in LA.

  • jon

    I live almost a thousand miles away from LA and all I have heard the last few weeks is Carmageddon (that and the Washington turmoil). I honestly thought it already occurred based on all the dramatic doomsday coverage only to very recently find out that we are still a week away. Yikes.

  • I think that part of the issue is that they’re not covering it because the event will affect people’s lives, but because they hope that covering it in a suitably scary fashion will make it less bad – sort of like Y2K.  Unfortunately, when people who are dependent on buses lose their bus line, they don’t really have any alternatives, and thus they’re not going to cause even more problem for other people, so encouraging them to take alternatives won’t help, the way the press hopes that coverage of Carmageddon will help mitigate it.

    Maybe we can come up with some public service the media can think they can serve by pointing out how awful cutting bus lines is for some people?

    (Also, you can put me in the “I live in Los Feliz so it doesn’t matter” camp – I mainly just rely on the bike lane on Sunset and the sharrow on Fountain, and I hope those won’t get too affected by a highway closure.)

  • If closing 10 miles of a single freeway ends up gridlocking the entire city, I would think that the problems of relying on a car-centric transportation system would become blindingly obvious. Then again, I’m an idealist.

  • Anonymous

    I heard they have those signs up from Bakersfield to San Diego!

  • I just shot a somewhat lengthy interview with Fox 11 about this that will air tomorrow and they tried to press the same point that Kenny and some other people did.

    I think that the overall coverage, and tone of it, assumes that people are so tied to their cars that they can’t think of what to do when it’s super inconvenient to do anything else.  I have to believe that people are smarter than they’re being given credit for.  When you have business owners complaining that the coverage is going to hurt their business, you’re going overboard.  When you’re urging people to”fight Carmageddon” by driving around it through a crowd sourcing application, you’re being counterproductive.

    And I do know 405 traffic all to well.  I live a mile from an entrance ramp (not one of the ones that is closed.)  I live in West L.A., and my brother lives in Woodland Hills.  I know the traffic.  I know there are people that use the road on the weekend to go to work.  I know this is going to really suck for some people, but I also think that as a whole this is being overplayed and we’re going to be fine.

  • Carlton, I was in SF this weekend and they had the signs up in Dublin and Oakland.  

  • Because of the fractured nature of media you almost have to bombard people, in order for them to catch it – which then looks like information overload to those of us who watch the news or read the paper every day. In a big city like this, everyone doesn’t watch the news, but they might see an ad on Facebook or a mention on Twitter, or glance at a sign. I think that Saturday will be a lot less traffic than usual, but then people will figure out that nothing bad happened and so Sunday could be an issue. It’s the same to how people adjusted to the May 1 protests. When all the illegal immigrants stayed home traffic was free flowing, but the next year a similar amount of people protested and traffic was more normal. 

  • Anonymous
  • Mig

    Calwatch:  So is your contention that illegal immigrants make up such a large part of the driving public as to contribute significantly to the daily auto congestion in the Los Angeles area or are you saying that by getting some amount of vehicles off the road (illegal immigrants in this case, who I don’t believe can be licensed), we can help relieve congestion considerably?  Or are you saying something else?

  • Bob Davis

    Regarding business owners complaining: My first wife was a small-business owner, and it seemed like kvetching was part of the job description.  If they don’t complain, others with think it’s a good field to get into; that will increase competition and hurt existing shopkeepers.

  • El Barto

    take the 5 fwy doofus.

  • Assuming all illegal immigrants stayed home. Assuming that no legal immigrants also stayed home in solidarity. Assuming that no commuters decided to avoid the city that day to avoid the protest.

  • I plan to clog up the transit situation this weekend because I want to see how it performs and how many people actually use it.

  • The point is that people adapt – on the first May Day, a lot of traffic was cleared as people stayed home. The next year, a similar number of people protested, but traffic was closer to normal because of induced demand, since other people figured that all the people protesting made their freeway commute lighter. (Surface street traffic was dependent on protests.)

  • Porter

    I’m with you.  This is all so wussy.