(Scroll to the end of this post for the funny thing I actually intended to post without my own musings getting in the way…) It has certainly been a huge story, with national and maybe even international attention been given to it. Carmageddon is the name given to the event of the 405 highway being closed for a 10 mile stretch for most of this weekend, for maintenance purposes. People are warning of disaster, complaining, predicting calamities for business, stocking up on food supplies, and so on and so forth. Some people are angry, some are amused, some are confused. For the most part however, people are quietly making sensible plans to adjust their routines or plans to take account of the event. (Er, I’m not sure I’d include flying from Burbank to Long Beach among the sensible plans!*)
I’m sort of struck by the huge impact this is having in people’s minds, and it has raised all sorts of discussions, reflections, and arguments about the reliance on cars that people have, public transport, and so on and so forth. All subjects you’ve maybe read being discussed here over the years. (Search the archives and/or use the search bar to the right.) The clichés about there being “no public transport” in LA is a convenient one for all to use at times (or all the time) when we want to stay in our nice cosy cars and ignore the alternatives and the possibility of making adjustments to include even occasional use of them, but I readily admit that the West side is a lot closer to the standard image of Los Angeles in this regard than points further East (still staying decidedly North-leaning in the discussion of course – the South LA conversation is an interesting one for another time). The density of shops, cafes, and long, desirably walkable stretches with other pedestrians (yes, they do exist in LA) does indeed seem lower over there, and while there is some bus coverage, the lower density makes the flaws of that part of the transport system hurt more, and of course the subway/metro train system has yet to get out there. (Although part of my argument for making sure to be using the existing parts of the system has always been, over the years, to put pressure on the system and thus let the powers that be know that we like it and want more….) It often feels like a very different city when you move from places like Hollywood, Silver Lake, Korea Town, Downtown, West Adams, and so forth, to points West. Most of the car-free people I know in the city (and yes, they exist, quite happily) are indeed more East than West (although certainly not all)…
Ultimately, though it is amazing what one stretch of highway is expected to do to things. In principle, places like the Getty need not have declared that they are closing the whole weekend, and people in Beverly HIlls or Westwood needn’t have cancelled their weddings and so forth. People needn’t have cancelled flights (or avoided booking them) to and from LAX. There are ways of getting to those places that don’t use cars and/or don’t use the 405 (I’ve never driven to the Getty -in its current location- and always take the bus there… I wish more people would so as to help improve the frequency of the buses that go there, and to stop them gouging people for parking…) but that’s not really the issue. The reality is of course that there are tons of knock-on effects on everyone (whether you use car, bus, bike, or foot) due to people trying alternative routes on surface streets and other highways to connect those bits of the city they’d normally use the 405 for, not to mention the people who are just passing by Los Angeles on a more coastal trajectory trying to go between destinations North and South of our fair city… So this is why it is going to be potentially a mess for everyone. (But I wonder if it will end up being like Y2K in the end? Remember that?) And of course, this highlights how ridiculous it is that there is no reasonably straightforward and routine non-car way of getting to and from a major airport like LAX. (Look up the old matter of the green line never quite making it to the airport…)
So, yes, roll on improvements to the Metro. That’s what all this highlights to me… a concerted effort to increase the variety of ways we can improve the transport infrastructure so as to get away from cars and roads. This includes more light rail, and perhaps more looking with scrutiny at some of the many long thoroughfares that cross the city and turning some of them into (or in many cases, back into!) light rail lines. (I think that arguing about the hugely expensive underground tunneling for the Purple line is a complete red herring.) I know I’m a dreamer, but we know it can happen (hurrah Expo line!), and so I welcome issues like Carmageddon as at least a means of reminding everyone that we need to grow up, collectively, as a city and work on this together. Expo line? Yes, let’s not forget it. (Recent post with links here.) I’m looking forward to the opening of the line (part one) this year, the first of what I hope will be many excursions West by the (already very useful for many) subway/light-rail system, offering an entirely road-free (well, kind of) alternative to getting around. See also my post on the East LA branch of the Gold line. (Image above of Atlantic Station is taken from that post.)
Side note: Overall, on the Carmageddon thing I suppose I wish there’d be a bit less whining, although I wonder if most of it is driven by the press… the number of “whatever shall LA do?” fluff pieces on the radio alone has been simply annoying. (Y2K springs to mind again…)
I’ll end with this excellent new example of the old “Hitler finds out about….” meme*. There have been many good ones (and far too many terrible ones) over the years and this one is excellent**. This one is about him finding out about Carmaggeddon. For non-residents, the great thing about this for me is that this is not at all an over-the-top representation of a type of not-unfamiliar Westsider response to the whole thing. I also love the friendly (?) digs at public transport users/supporters such as myself (right down to the mention of art walks and speakeasys!). They are not without foundation!
**For the academics among you, the one about referee reports is utterly brilliant.