Local highway construction doesn’t typically garner national attention. But there has been plenty of news for weeks about a key highway closing in Los Angeles:
Interstate 405, a freeway normally so clogged that locals like to joke that its name is shorthand for “traffic that moves no faster than 4 or 5 miles an hour,” is closing for 53 hours for a major construction project.
As crews worked feverishly to get the freeway open in time for Monday morning’s rush-hour, residents have been making plans for weeks to stay off local roads, lest they trigger what officials dubbed “Carmageddon.”
Such an event could back up vehicles from the 405 to surface streets and other freeways, causing a domino effect that could paralyze much of the city.
With warnings having been broadcast through television, radio, social media and flashing freeway signs as far away as San Francisco, much of the city’s nearly 4 million residents appear ready to stay off the roads.
As I have seen multiple stories about this, several thoughts came to mind:
1. It is a 53 hour closure, not the end of the world. This has been overhyped. People will survive.
2. Shouldn’t planners be lauded more for doing the work over a summer weekend? The preparation for the whole project actually sounds pretty good.
3. People don’t often think about roads until they are a problem. This is a good example of that.
4. Even though it may have been overhyped, this is still a legitimate social problem, particularly for emergency vehicles and other important highway users. This seems to be more common with highway construction: a long, well-publicized campaign to make sure that residents are made aware of what is to come. If people know what is coming, they are usually pretty good at making other plans. Like with many other social issues, public officials need to walk a fine line between overhyping this, like using the term “Carmageddon,” while also making sure that people are aware of the severity of the problem.
5. This would be a good opportunity to think about new transportation options in the Los Angeles region. As the map accompany the AP story shows, there are only a few routes across the Santa Monica mountains. The answer is simply not to construct additional highway lanes and more drivers will then use the highway.
6. This reminds me of some examples of cities that have eliminated highways, like the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco, and traffic has adapted. Closing the highway for a short time is a nuisance but if the highway was closed longer, I bet people would adapt.