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Researchers on Carmageddon II: 'You can't scare people away'

September 12, 2012 |  8:20 am
405 Freeway construction Sept 2012

Scare tactics alone won't cut it when it comes to Carmageddon II, officials say. 

As public officials and business leaders ramp up for a redux of Carmageddon -- the shutdown of a heavily traveled stretch of the 405 Freeway for a full weekend -- later this month, they're announcing that scores of commercial discounts and a handful of special events will be available for those who leave their cars at home.

The incentives are part of a larger effort to dissuade Angelenos to stay off the road when authorities start closing ramps and shutting down lanes during the evening of Sept. 28 until early morning Oct. 1.

"Now we did this last year and Angelenos heeded our call to stay out of their cars. In fact, they did such a great job that afterward we called it Carmaheaven," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Tuesday. "So once again, we have an opportunity to have a car-free weekend."

In a way, officials may have been a victim of their own success, and their strategy to persuade motorists to stay off the road has shifted from the first Carmageddon, when 10 miles of the 405 Freeway were closed for 53 hours last year with little disruption. Planners fear that the memory of that refreshingly trouble-free weekend will tempt drivers to disregard warnings this time.

Over the last few months, officials have walked a fine line between proclaiming the potential for massive gridlock and trying to reason with residents by using common sense and offering alternatives.

Ten miles of the 405 Freeway will be closed between the 10 and 101 freeways while crews work to demolish half of the Mulholland Drive bridge, necessary as part of a $1-billion freeway improvement project that includes adding a northbound carpool lane.

Villaraigosa said that after the first Carmageddon, his office worked with researchers to see what lessons they could learn from the event.

"We realized that you couldn't do what we did the first time the second time quite the same way," Villaraigosa said. "They said this time around you can't scare people away from the area, it's better to encourage them to stay home .... That's why we're encouraging you to stay local, shop, eat, walk in your neighborhood."

Businesses offering discounts in conjunction with the shutdown include restaurants such as El Criollo on Van Nuys Boulevard, which is offering 20% off food and beverages, according to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Other discounts are for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the California Science Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Watts Village Theater Company, among others.

Many of the offers are dependent on customers arriving by any mode of transportation other than a car or by showing proof of a Metro ride.


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Photo: Traffic flowed along the 405 Freeway last week as work continued on the replacement of the Mullholland Bridge. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times