Lessons from Carmageddon


Photo courtesy jonathanhstrauss via Flickr

The dreaded closure of the 405 freeway in Los Angeles the weekend before last, which local officials had dubbed “Carmageddon,” turned out to be a non-event. Thousands of drivers stayed home and enjoyed time with friends and family. Those who did drive got to their destinations faster than usual. According to the LA Times, the 10-mile, 36-hour road closure, due to a planned bridge demolition, “came off without major traffic snarls, road rage or worker injury.”

Rather than hastening the apocalypse, the 405 closure has instead raised some heretical thinking about exactly how car-dependent Los Angeles really is. The city was built, to be sure, around the automobile. But thousands of Angelenos managed, at least for one weekend, to leave their cars at home. In a contest spawned on Twitter, a team of bikers, as well as a metro rider and possibly a roller-blader, made the trip from Burbank to Long Beach faster than a Jet Blue flight.

Even in Los Angeles, cars and highways are not the be-all end-all in mobility. Similar decisions to close highways (permanently, not temporarily) in Portland, San Francisco (see infrastructurist.com for good stories about those) and Milwaukee also failed to bring about death-by-gridlock.

Travelers are smart people and will exercise multiple travel options when they’re available. If it takes a major highway closure before people actually use those options, that could be a sign there’s room for improvement. A true multi-modal transit system with a variety of choices such as bike lanes, streetcars, buses, trains and safe walkways – is the only thing standing between us and Carmageddon.

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