Cross-Town Traffic


I live in Los Angeles, a city renown for its terrible traffic. I work 10.3 miles / 16.6 km from where I live. On a typical day without accidents or freeway closures, it takes 35-40 minutes. I’m not good with math, but I think that works out to be something on the order of eleventy-fobben nautical oxen per hour / twelfty-nein per kilometer. It’s somewhere around the pre-industrial revolution commute speed.

To be fair, my commute is all surface streets because goats forbid they run a gall-durn freeway through the center of the San Fernando valley. “Naw, let’s build one way down south and another up in the foothills that hardly anyone will use except rich people and the poor people who service them, but will still get trafficky around the running joke on America that is the 405 freeway. Let’s build a freeway so bad that even people in Calcutta will have heard of Angelino traffic woes,” said the official nautical oxen who planned the valley.

I think part of the reason why LA’s traffic is so bad is because the powers-that-be arbitrarily close freeways and streets all the damn time like a real world game of Battleship. 4C? Miss. 8H? Close the 405 now!

Los Angeles County Traffic Management System - made by Hasbro
Los Angeles County Traffic Management System – made by Hasbro

In the four years I lived in Boston, the freeway was closed once when a tanker truck overturned and spilled its toxic payload all over the freeway.  I was on the freeway when it happened. Hundreds of cars had no choice but to put it in reverse to the nearest exit. Everyone was looking behind them (before the days of backup cameras), driving in reverse in not quite organized rows. At one point, I looked ahead of me, where you’re supposed to look when driving, and I saw hundreds of cars backing into me. I had a little panic attack and quickly looked behind me again. It was the most surreal driving experience I’ve ever had.

I don’t ever remember Detroit just straight-up closing a freeway. Occasionally, it would be down to one lane for an accident or during construction, but in a quarter century, I don’t remember a freeway ever being completely closed to all traffic.

In LA, they close thoroughfares all the damn time. Every once in a while, a freeway will be closed for construction. A few years ago, they planned what came to be called Carmageddon where they unequivocally closed the 405 freeway. Not for a few hours, but for the entire weekend. A few months later, there was Carmageddon II: The Revenge, another weekend freeway closure.

Sometimes, roads and freeways will be closed after a big rain due to rock or mud slides. Every time it snows in the mountains, they close the 5 freeway through the Grapevine, a canyon north of Los Angeles. Haven’t you people ever heard of road salt?

Even though the rest of the country manages to somehow keep their freeways open, even if at a crawl, because of snow and construction, those are all somewhat legitimate reasons for freeway closure.

The legitimate reasons make up less than half of LA’s road closures. The rest of the time, roads are closed for things like film shoots, car chases, searches for suspects, perhaps after they take to foot after a car chase, or a day that ends in Y.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I lived in a loft right next to the 4th Street bridge. You have seen the 4th Street bridge in everything even if you didn’t know that’s what it was. The other night, I was watching something set in Detroit that was filmed in front of my old building in Los Angeles. It seems to be required by law that the 4th St. bridge be used in every car commercial.


At first, it was neat seeing all these big productions filming right in front of my house. When they filmed one of the Fast And Furious movies behind my building, they even paved the street, so that was nice.

After five years of loud filming at all hours and no parking, I groaned every time I saw that notice of filming that was taped to my door. Even though I don’t live there anymore, I still groan when I see filming notices. In Los Angeles, you cannot escape film shoots no matter where you live.

Another phenomena that seems endemic and unique to Los Angeles is the car chase. They will interrupt broadcasts with “Breaking News” to show the police chasing some poor, simple slob who thinks he has a snowball’s chance in Los Angeles of escaping the police. Hello, dummy, they have helicopters. Not that I watch regular television anymore since I dropped cable a decade ago, but you can’t avoid knowing about them.

The most iconic idiocy is, of course, the low-speed chase of one Mr. OJ Simpson, which was broadcast nationally. I know this, because I remember seeing it when I still lived in Detroit.

A clearly innocent man running from the cops. (
A clearly innocent man running from the cops.

Then, there are the suspect searches. Sometimes, people flee after they dump their car in a chase. Sometimes, they just run in general, but running seems to be a thing that criminals in Los Angeles have in common, even if they’re “innocent.” Again, they have helicopters, dummy. Helicopters with big search lights at night that light up the whole damn block. We call them ghetto birds. It’s such a common occurrence that they don’t even make me nervous anymore, just annoyed.

Then there are the one-off closures like the LA Marathon, every damn awards show, the seemingly constant Presidential visits, and moving a space shuttle or an enormous boulder across the city.

A month or so ago, they closed my entire neighborhood for miles, because someone attempted to jump off a freeway bridge at rush hour on Friday night. Of course, he chose a bridge where three major freeways converge. They eventually got him down, but all of northern Los Angeles was stuck in traffic for hours because of it. It took me an hour and a half to make it home.

When I found out that they got him down, I actually muttered to myself, “Asshole.” This is what LA traffic turns you into–a person who would call someone in serious trouble an asshole because he chose a busy freeway during rush hour on a Friday night to cry for help. Couldn’t he have cried for help without inconveniencing half the city?

Occasionally, we never do find out the reason why a street or a freeway or an entire neighborhood was closed for an undetermined amount of time, but blocking our path is a daily part of uniformed police’s job description. With all this going on, it’s a wonder we can ever get anywhere.