Carmageddon: We Won

Hosted by

This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

As I see it, there are two ways to look at what happened during this weekend's threatened run-in with Carmageddon.

Both versions will be written into the cultural history of LA and become the conventional wisdom of the future.

Which one you tell at dinner parties a decade from now will depend on who you are, and how you see the same set of facts that everyone has.

One version of the story will be that nothing happened on Carmageddon weekend. That it was all hype. There never was any reason to fear crippling traffic jams.

The other narrative -- the one I believe -- is that A LOT happened this weekend. And that's what makes the outcome so intriguing.

It's first, and most of all, a basic question of arithmetic. Something like 500,000 drivers typically use the 405 freeway on the weekend. This weekend, they didn't.

So where did they go? It's clear they didn't just take the 101 around the mountains and go through downtown. Or take Sepulveda Boulevard through the pass.

Traffic was light all weekend in those spots, and everywhere else. Freeways. Canyons. East-west streets like Wilshire and Sunset. North-south shortcuts like Crenshaw and Motor.

What happened is that people drove less. Employers altered work schedules. Some weekend drivers took public transit or rode a bike, but not enough to account for such widespread disappearance of traffic from the streets.

There had to be hundreds of thousands of drivers who just opted out, or at least curtailed their driving. They took one trip instead of three or four. Or they stayed home.

The city's transformation into a quieter, calmer village was astounding. Credit for that has to go to the sales job by Metro, by Mayor Villaraigosa and by the LAPD.

They all said that things could be bad – unprecedented levels of bad – unless drivers adjusted.

The word went out across the country to travelers and truckers, and especially to all the people in Orange County and Ventura and elsewhere who drive into or through LA on weekends.

The strategy was to re-create the 1984 Olympics effect and scare people with the truth. And it worked.

Because it worked so well, it changes the conversation about traffic in LA.

Now that we know traffic can be fixed, the excuse that there's nothing to be done goes away.

Just because politicians and planners have messed up by concentrating development in areas without the infrastructure to handle the traffic -- like on the Westside -- doesn't mean those cars have to line up on Pico and Santa Monica forever.

This weekend's proof that behavioral changes can have a dramatic effect has to raise the attractiveness of tactics like toll lanes, congestion zones and giving employers incentives to let workers stay home or commute at off-peak hours.

A lot of people enjoyed the slower, calmer city they saw this weekend. I was one of them.

More might be willing to give up a little to see it happen again.

Until then, the 405 is already back to its normal unfriendly self. The entire southbound freeway will shut down tonight in Sepulveda Pass. More road work.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.