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L.A. Carmageddon one week later: Was all that really necessary?

July 25, 2011 |  5:32 am


One week after Southern California was gripped with the "Carmageddon" media drama of an actual freeway being closed to all vehicles for nearly two days, traffic on the 405 is back to its normal creep.405 Falling Debris carmageddon 7-16-11

There was much advance talk of a likely municipal paralysis because of the unthinkable thought that every Angeleno could not go on any freeway at any hour to get in front of everyone else.

This doomsday scenario even crept into the passing national culture with late-night jokes about the reason for the closure: the regular need to sweep up shell casings from the city's highway shootouts.

The real reason, of course, was authorities wanting to demolish part of one bridge, there apparently being a surplus of such structures, according to the new administration.

And this being Democratic California, the protective politicians, who have their own drivers, had this cockamamie idea that regular LA drivers might not be up to the challenge of driving under a crumbling bridge.

First, some background for commuters outside Southern California.405carmageddon Sparks 7-16-11

Expressways here are called "freeways." This has nothing to do with the Founding Fathers. It is to emphasize the lack of tolls.

Officials knew they'd be mocked mercilessly if any word implying speed or rapid movement was used to describe the area's multi-lane monstrosities, which usually appear designed to carry upwards of 25% of the 16 million residents.

Great Weather Plus Too Many People

Not having a freezing climate, Southern California highway czars can tear up and build new lanes year-round. Same for constructing bridges to merge stuff on the side opposite where they now merge stuff. So they do.

In fact, they do it around the clock as well. Some of the worst LA traffic jams not on record occur in the middle of the night when construction crews jam six lanes into two to avoid creating the same monstrous traffic jams in daylight when TV camera crews are on the prowl.

California authorities are really into protecting citizens what with smoking laws and seatbelt laws and helmet laws and kiddie meal bans and cellphone laws. Under court order about 46,000 felons are about to be released to protect them from prison overcrowding.

San Francisco lawmakers realized recently they had yet to ban male circumcision. So, they're working on that protection. So naturally Golden state lawmakers are working on a law to protect Californians from laws to protect local residents from male circumcision.

To protect themselves against futile driver backlash, highway authorities for months have been warning area drivers through the media and with flashing highway signs about the impending big one, closing one of the nation's busiest highways from Friday night until Monday morning.

The hope was to inconvenience as few high-speed racers, illegal immigrant vans, drug smugglers and drunk drivers as possible.

Be Alert for Falling Girders

The media really bought into the sales pitch, day-after-day presenting the most dire scenarios and awkward alternatives because, hey, it's summer, no fires yet and who could dispute them?

But was all the horrendous hoo-hah really necessary?

Sure, there might have been some shattered windshields, shredded tires and crushed Coopers. And a few third-degree burns from welding sparks catching careless convertibles below.

But to think that real California freeway drivers need government protection from ordinary Southern California road hazards is ludicrous and presumptuous. Also patronizing.405 Carmageddon over Open Sign

Thousands of LA drivers each day on the 605 successfully dodge queen-size beds and couches. The 710 is known for 40-foot extension ladders sprawling across lanes.

Someone tests driver alertness on the 210 with indoor plant-lighting fixtures along the way.

And HOV lanes almost anywhere can provide that sudden adrenalin rush of a darkened Prius carcass just sitting there, having reached the end of its cord or something.

But the truth is veteran SoCal drivers could probably make better time wending their way through a bridge destruction zone, even dodging tumbling ten-ton cement cassons, than they do during a normal rush hour with its overloaded rental truck stalls, overturned avocado carriers, fuel truck fires and drivers trying to fix flats by staring.

Having failed to paralyze the metropolitan area for even a few hours, transportation officials gave up this time and re-opened the 405 freeway on Sunday about 16 hours early, enabling the mayor to make the evening news.

The next day they fretted that having successfully cried "Wolf!" in July, the same "OMG Battle LA II" won't work in several months when the other half of the surplus bridge is scheduled to come down.

But here's an alternative: Don't tell anybody which weekend. Leave the road open. And just do it. Chances are with only tons of cement rubble in the way hardly anyone would notice.


Bryan Chan's time-lapse video of LA's carmageddon

What should we name the nation's 51st state?

A World War II mystery that offered lessons for handling Osama bin Laden


405ReOpenCHPAlle JSchabenLAT

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photos: Jeff Amlotte / Los Angeles Times; Reed Saxon / Reuters; Mario Anzuoni / Reuters; Jae C. Hong / Associated Press; Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images; Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times.