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'Carmageddon': Apocalyptic, or business as usual? [The conversation]

July 13, 2011 | 12:22 pm

Carmageddon1In case you recently left a cult, returned from the moon or have just been blissfully ignoring Los Angeles news, consider the following a public service especially for you.  The southern half of the Mulholland Drive Bridge is about to be destroyed. Crews will also build an additional carpool lane to the northbound side of the 405. 

Therefore, the 405 north will be closed between Interstate 10 and the 101 Freeway by midnight Friday.  The southbound lanes will be shut from the 101 to Getty Center Drive.  The freeway is not scheduled to reopen until 6 a.m. Monday, July 18.  That might even happen on schedule, since the contractors working on the demolition will be fined $6,000 for every 10 minutes they run over schedule. 

In anticipation of whatever transpires this weekend, we've rounded up various perspectives on the 405 closure. The insights range from lighthearted to serious. Read them now, or better yet, save them for Saturday and Sunday, which you won't be spending on the 405.    

Rob Long presents our unshakable faith in freeways as just one of the false hopes we nurture here in L.A.  He also fails to see how the 405 Freeway closure will make traffic any worse than usual in his Op-Ed.

So the morning line on "Carmageddon" is that it's going to be chaos.

I beg to differ.

Chaos on the 405 is anytime between 7 in the morning and 9 at night. Chaos on the 405 is weekday afternoons, summer evenings, rainy days and anytime a gallon of gas is slightly less than $4. Chaos on the 405 is a Type A guy in a BMW pounding furiously on his steering wheel as the traffic snakes slowly over the hill, a gigantic truck rumbling to his left and a Latino gardener in a rattling pickup truck on his right, with another guy in the back who stares at the raging BMW driver with expressionless eyes and an imperceptible smile.

Chaos, in other words, is situation normal for Los Angeles freeway traffic.

But Steve Lopez recognizes the inconvenience Angelenos may suffer this weekend.  To that end, he offers unlikely transportation alternatives ranging from human catapults to burro teams. Despite his lighthearted approach, he also makes a valid point about our traffic reality.

The new carpool lane will make for a series of connecting high-occupancy lanes across the region, and a Metro official says the new lane is expected to cut 10 to 12 minutes off the time it takes to get over the pass.

Surveys, statistics and past experience with readers suggest that fewer than 0.0013% of the people who just read that last paragraph believe that 10 to 12 minutes will be cut off of anything. When it comes to transportation, Los Angeles is unique in that everyone is a transportation expert who just happens to have the solution.

In his article, architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne sees the closure as a topic everyone can relate to and discuss.  Unfortunately, he also thinks we'll soon be back in our cars, each trying to occupy the same space in the new lane on the 405. 

After all, study after study has shown the ineffectiveness of this approach. As soon as you open up new lanes, drivers adjust: A few more decide to take the newly widened route each day, and before long the congestion is just as bad as before.

In this case, because an HOV lane is being added, some of the change in behavior will be virtuous, turning drivers into passengers. It's still tough to think of a less cost-efficient way to spend a billion dollars of public money.

On top of that — and here we begin to approach the real point — doesn't the general freakout over the shutdown suggest, in and of itself, its fundamental folly? It hurts to lose the 405 even for a weekend not because freeways are so valuable or because we love them so much but because we've painted ourselves in a corner in terms of mobility. We have left ourselves no escape hatches or viable alternatives. On that side of town, if you want to cover more than a few miles, particularly going north or south, the freeway is pretty much it.

Regardless of your opinion, this is a classic L.A. predicament, rife with deep-seated transportation paradoxes that don't make sense to the rest of the country.  We hate the 405; we need the 405.  Everything will run smoothly; disaster is imminent.  Of course we can stay local, walking around the neighborhood while the 405 is closed; what are my legs for?

All this flip-flopping is too much for me.  I’m flying to the East Coast before the demolition begins and returning days after it ends.  But I'll keep learning and be ready by next year, when they plan to tear down the other half of the Mulholland Drive Bridge.       


Critic's Notebook: Fast lane to gridlock

Gregory Rodriguez:L.A.'s way is the freeway

405 Freeway closure: Prepare for carmageddon

Lopez: Escaping the 405 mess on flights of fancy

405 Freeway shutdown: Two words of advice — surface streets

--Julia Gabrick

Photo: Traffic on the 405 Freeway is often heavy even during the best of times.  Credit: Reed Saxon / Associated Press

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