Sunday, January 7, 2007

LA Traffic = Gridlock

LA has the worst reputation for traffic, and it is well-deserved. I do find it somewhat comforting to find that other cities have similar problems, though involving lower levels of vehicles and people; these cities also have fewer freeways. When I first moved here from Denver, people said, "Oh, you don't know about bad traffic." Wrong. Denver had, and I'm sure still has, awful traffic rush hours, and winter weather just makes it worse.

There's a very good LA Times columnist, Steve Lopez, whose work I read every Sunday. Today his topic is the excruciatingly bad traffic situation on LA's Westside. This area is bordered by I-405 (the only north-south freeway and the only route most of the San Fernando Valley has to the area) on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west. Some 300,000 people commute to this area daily, since the housing prices are so high most people can't afford to live there.

As an example, Mr Lopez cites a nightmare trip one of LA's most influential County Supervisors had this last fall, but one that is completely "normal" for the time and the area. Mr Z needed to make an 11-mile trip from Santa Monica to the Beverly Hills area at 6:30pm, allowing an hour to cross all of West LA in the process. It took him 50 minutes to get to I-405, a distance of about 2 miles. The remaining 9 miles took him another 50 minutes.

I used to work in the area, and 7 years ago it took over an hour to get there from Burbank, a distance of about 13 miles, and I took a winding route through the various canyons. It's worse now. I know this because I have 2 very good friends who live in West LA, plus my dentist and optometrist are there, and I only go there between 10am and 2pm. It still takes an hour.

Over on the forum this week, a member of
The Sand & Sea Guild, the major LA knitting guild, reminded LA knitters that the guild has frequent open meetings. In Malibu. Mapquest told me that the distance is 40 miles, and, in complete disregard of reality, that it would take 49 minutes. I almost hurt myself laughing. Access to Malibu is on one 2-lane road, the famous Pacific Coast Highway. If I were to try the drive, I'd probably allow 2 hours, an hour and a half at the very least, and that would be midday.

Living in Burbank and driving most of the time only in the immediate area, I am becoming spoiled, since rush hour traffic here is so much less congested. My LYS is on a major 4-lane street, a very, very long block south of an even more major cross-town street, and at 5:30pm on a Friday, I may have to wait through 2 stop lights to get to the corner. Sometimes I can make a U-turn and go south. This always amazes me: that I can safely do a U-turn at the peak of Burbank rush hour.

I'd still rather drive the freeways, or even in West LA traffic, than in any large parking lot. At least there all the cars are going in the same direction. It's much safer.


Lisa W. said...

One of the things that always amazes me when I travel to CA is the LA traffic...and the multiple levels of highway highrises. I abhor driving there, finding the traffic almost unbearable and the drivers so aggressive....merging onto a highway literally makes me nauseous. Here, I live about 20 miles from Anchorage "city limit" and have access only by the Glenn Highway...which can close due to wrecks or severe weather, but usually the drive only takes 35 minutes max door to door in good weather. In winter, I allow myself an hour but usually arrive much earlier (or make latte' stops along the way if making really good time)...but the bonus have wonderful weather...and we...well today I have to shovel about a foot of snow and it may top out at 7 degrees. I guess it's all relative.

Anonymous said...

A little overstated, don't you think?

There are seven major roads into Malibu, the largest, PCH is seven lanes wide to within a few blocks of the Malibu-LA line, where it narrows to five lanes each way.

(Others: Topanga Canyon, Malibu Canyon, Kanan-Dume, Encinal Canyon, Westlake/Decker canyon, and PCH from Oxnard. Several windy backroads too.)

At midday, barring a traffic collision, downtown LA to downtown Malibu is a 40-minute drive: 13 miles on the Santa Monica Freeway at 65 MPH and 8 miles on PCH at 45 MPH. Of course, Lopez is right about evening rush hour traffic onthe Westside.

I commuted home every night from Glendale, through Burbank, at 6:30 pm weeknights for two years. My longest trip, during a storm, took 110 minutes. My shortest trips, and there were many, took 50 minutes. This is at the the tailing end of rush hour!

Really, the lady in Anchorage has about the same commute as had here.

And, we get to look at the Pacific Ocean every day.

Please, traffic may be bad, but let us not overstate things.

Anonymous said...

Five lanes each way? I must be dreaming. Two lanes each way, and a center left turn lane.

Sorry for my typo.

CatBookMom said...

Hi, Anonymous! I have not driven to the Malibu/PCH area in several years, so I do not have any sort of current picture of the roads. My comments were based on my recollection of the last time I was over there, a couple of years ago with visitors at off-peak hours, when it was badly slow-and-go on what seemed like a narrow road.

Regardless of the fuzziness or overstatement of my facts about Malibu, the point of my blog post was the terrible traffic on LA's Westside. It is bad. There seem to be no good solutions for improving the traffic overflow or providing effective public transportation to that area.

I love living in Burbank. I know parts of West LA very well and still go there relatively frequently. But I thank all the goddesses that I don't have to drive there daily to work.

Anonymous said...

Lisa forgot to say that a moose in your driveway means you can't leave the house any time soon.

What I don't understand about body concious LA is the lack of bike lanes. Honest, you could bike to most short distance places faster than you can drive. There's a billion reasons why it should be done.

Not saying much, tho, it should be done here too.



Vamanta said...

I can often drive 1/2 hour without encountering another car. Coming from the NYC area, it was downright Stephen King-esque!

Madge said...

Let's hear it for the Valleys! San Fernando, San Gabriel, they rock. Of course there's gridlock sometimes, but happiness is never having to drive the 405!

jayne said...

I've driven in LA. It can be pretty intimidating. American highways always make my eyes bug out though. Ours feel so puny by comparison.

One thing I do like about the Vancouver area is that it is very well set up for cyclists, and we have more people commuting by bike (as well as riding for pleasure) every year.

Anonymous said...

No, thank you! I do my best to stay away from heavy traffic areas, although my previous job had me on the road all the time. I had to keep track of mileage and billable time. Many times, I had to explain to my out of state clients why it took so long to go so short of a distance.