“Carmageddon”: A False Alarm

Los Angeles - I-405
This past weekend was the widely-feared and highly-publicized “Carmageddon” that was forecasted to leave West LA (and possibly other parts of Los Angeles) in total gridlock and utter chaos.  Delays would have been due to redirected traffic of a normal July weekend (roughly 500,000 cars) around a 10-mile stretch of a major arterial in West LA, the Interstate-405.  Los Angeles had to close the I-405 this weekend for 53 hours to demolish the Mulholland Drive bridge as part of an improvement project for the busy and frequently-congested freeway that would incorporate many improvements, including a new northbound carpool lane. Being located right next to the I-405, UCLA made its own special preparations. The event was such a big deal that it not only made national news, but also had its own website, radio station, and section on countless local news websites like the LATimes.  Maps with traffic monitoring and live webcams tracked every 15 seconds of the progress of the demolition project taking place during the closure.

The term “Carmageddon” was evidently coined in anticipation of so much congestion that LA would be left sitting in traffic standstill and smog-ridden chaos.  Yet, despite everyone warning LA to “brace for” or “escape” it, Carmageddon was actually quieter and much less eventful than expected, with motorists reporting the best drive they’ve had in years.  Bloggers noticed that most Angelenos stayed home or stayed local and chose other forms of transit to get around.  My Transportation Geography professor told us that it was reminiscent of the 1984 Olympic games held in LA when Angelenos feared traffic would be so horrendous that most people stayed home, and the streets were instead emptier than usual.  An amusing tweet I read hoped that “all the media reports of Carmageddon not happening doesn’t cause Carmageddon.”  Celebrity tweets also made it to the news: “Traffic is nonexistent.  Carmageddon is the best!  I’m gonna Carma-get-in my car and run some errands” -Neil Patrick Harris (Barney, How I Met Your Mother).

Fortunately for us, local businesses took advantage of the closure and held sales events to encourage people to stay local and avoid automobile commuting this weekend (but still come out of their homes and consume, of course).  Bars and restaurants had Carmageddon parties and happy hour specials to attract local diners.  JetBlue offered $4 flights between Burbank and Long Beach, normally a 40-minute drive on light traffic, that sold out (all 600 tickets) by Wednesday morning.  When does anyone ever get the chance to take a $5 First Class flight?

Surprisingly, the contractors of the project finished their work 16 hours ahead of schedule, and the 405 was reopened Sunday afternoon at 3pm, as opposed to Monday 5am as planned.  If I faced a $6000 fine per 10 minutes delayed, I would work quickly too.

While the rest of the state (and possibly the country) were silently laughing at all the commotion caused by a simple freeway closure in West LA, we were smiling back at them because we got tons of great deals and sales this weekend.  An article I read titled, “Carmageddon? Please! Four of the world’s worst traffic jams” deemed Carmageddon trivial (and having spent four years in the worst traffic jams of Asia in Bangkok, I agree), but in the end Carmageddon was less about chaos and congestion than it was about discovering other ways to get around and spending more time in your local neighborhood (and perhaps getting to know your neighbors more, as suggested by David Eisenman, an associate professor of Medicine at UCLA Geffen School of Medicine).  Although I spent the weekend tucked away in the Inland Empire, I envy my roommates who stayed behind and took advantage of Carmageddon specials at the restaurants downstairs of our apartment.  Perhaps in 11 months when the I-405 is scheduled to close again, I may get a taste of the community unity as we make the best of what we’re dealt and have more fun than we expected to.