Carmageddon success has some hoping L.A. will ditch cars more often
The success of "Carmageddon" has given way to a political and lifestyle question: If L.A. residents can cut their driving for one weekend, why can't they drive less the rest of the time?
The closure of the 405 Freeway over the Sepulveda Pass came with the threat of epic gridlock -- but the exact opposite happened. Streets and freeways were clear. Caltrans statistics show there were significantly fewer cars on some freeways and significantly less traffic, even in areas far from the 405.
The outcome has Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other politicians suggesting the city try to build on the success and encourage people to stick close to home and stay out of their cars more often.
“You can suddenly hear people talking. You hear kids playing,” said county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. “People discovered something about themselves and Los Angeles auto culture that shocked them. Why can’t we take some chunk of L.A. and shut it down to traffic on certain days or weekends, as they do in Italy?”
Some mass-transportation advocates went further, saying Carmageddon showed the need for less freeway expansion –- like the $1 billion project that closed the 405 –- and more investment in rail and bus service.
But turning Carmageddon into a movement is likely to prove difficult. Some of those who stayed out of their cars this weekend said they doubt it will become a habit. Not in a city that was planned around the car with limited mass transit and a DNA of venturing out rather than staying in.
“I find it hard to imagine that ordinary middle-class Angelenos will be satisfied with living and working and shopping and spending their time in the space of the area encompassed by their ability to walk or even ride a bike,” said L.A. historian D.J. Waldie.
Waldie said he was impressed with how much traffic eased over the weekend, but he also noticed another thing: “Most of what I hear about car-free weekends comes from people who wish that you weren’t driving around in your car, but they’re happy to be driving around in their car.”
Because weekend traffic is so much less congested than weekday traffic, having a modest percentage of drivers staying off the road ended up making a big difference.
“Appeals for car-free weekends may sound appealing, but from a somewhat cynical perspective, or a skeptical perspective, is that ultimately we hope that other people don’t drive as much,” Waldie added.
Caltrans statistics seemed to back up that point. On the 5 Freeway in Santa Clarita, roughly 74,000 vehicles were recorded Saturday, compared with 84,000 the Saturday before. On the 101 Freeway in Moorpark, the vehicle totals dropped from 75,000 to 55,000.
Carmageddon turned out to be a boon for those who decided to stay on the road. Along the 101, the drive from Calabasas to Van Nuys took 11 minutes this week, compared with 20 minutes the weekend before. The 10 Freeway saw similar improvements in drive time between the Westside and downtown L.A.
Still, mass-transit backers hope that Carmageddon showed people they can survive without a weekend of driving around.
“One of the great things that we can learn is that in Los Angeles we have so many dynamic neighborhoods and there’s so much stuff to discover and enjoy in every part of the city,” said Alexis Lantz, planning and policy director at the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. “We can really enjoy the city by walking, bicycling, using public transit.”
Added Denny Zane, executive director of Move LA, a nonprofit group that advocates public transit: “It is Good Karmageddon.”
--Kate Mather, Ari Bloomekatz and Catherine Saillant
Photo: A 405 Freeway sign thanks northbound motorists for helping to avoid the feared "Carmageddon" traffic jam scenario. The freeway reopened 17 hours early after crews demolished half of the Mulholland Drive bridge. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times