Driving in Los Angeles County
This article is a travel topic
Driving in Los Angeles, California
Welcome to Los Angeles, second biggest city in the United States and world capital of entertainment. Home of Hollywood, the workplace of the rich and famous and yes, home of the automobile, too.
Dealing with Traffic
Residents of Los Angeles County spend an estimated 4 days of each year stuck in traffic. However, since there is no real effective alternative for getting around, driving, and dealing with traffic, for the vast majority of trips outside the downtown core, traffic is an inescapable part of the Los Angeles lifestyle, and something visitors will not be able to avoid.
When traveling on a Los Angeles freeway it's important to remember slower traffic keeps the right. Many Angelenos do well over 20 mph of the posted speed limit and cutting them off or remaining in the fast lane at a slow pace, will cause frustration with native drivers.
Despite the infamy of Los Angeles' traffic situation, people from other major cities may not be surprised. The real issues are the sheer length of the rush hour period, and the volume of traffic therein. The assertions of driving difficulty and danger will most likely seem unfounded to residents of large cities, especially comparatively frantic northeastern locations such as New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, who often see Los Angeles traffic as relatively easy-going. Indeed, the New Jersey Turnpike, the Beltway, and the Schuylkill Expressway offer easily comparable volume and far less forgiving conditions.
It is actually very easy to drive around Los Angeles for about six hours every day - from around 11 PM to 5 AM. Driving times in these morning hours can easily be less than a third of what they are during peak hours. Don't think for a second that CalTrans hasn't figured this out too. A lot of construction is scheduled during these off peak times; be ready to plan alternative routes. Anyone planning on visiting by car may wish to seriously consider scheduling the trip so as to arrive or depart in the early morning - this can prevent a great deal of frustration. This is also an excellent time of day to find your way around, memorize your traffic routes, and explore.
Los Angeles Car Culture
While nearly every big city in the world has to deal with traffic congestion, what makes L.A. unique is that Los Angeles has not only one of the largest high-speed road networks in the world, but also the highest per-capita car population in the world.
How did this come to happen? A short lesson in history: along with the great boost of technological advancements of the 20th century came the automobile. Due to its economic prosperity and automobile-centric development, the United States has become the country with the most registered vehicles, estimated at some 232 million. California, being the country’s most populous state with the biggest passion for cars, planned its cities such as Los Angeles around the automobile in favor of other modes to an extent greater than perhaps than any other city and now holds the greatest concentration of them all with more than 26 million. This makes the Los Angeles metropolitan area, with roughly 1.8 cars per household, the world’s most car-populated urban sprawl in the world.
The Los Angeles freeway system handles over twelve million cars on a daily basis. While L.A. holds the number one spot as America’s most congested and polluted roadways, surprisingly enough, it does not hold the title of most chaotic car city due to its enormous freeway infrastructure that allows the residents of the Los Angeles area to carry on their daily migration of over 300 million miles.
No one should drive around Los Angeles without a Thomas Guide. If you don't want to purchase a full Thomas Guide (about $20-$30 at bookstores), you can purchase Rand McNally maps which incorporate the Thomas Guide at most gas stations, supermarkets, and convenience stores (Costco and Walmart usually have the cheapest prices). The maps cover a given geographical area and cost about $4-$6. Use of an online mapping tool, such as Mapquest, is also recommended. As a general rule, time estimates given by Mapquest should be at least doubled during rush hours.
In his parody traffic reports, Tonight Show host Johnny Carson used to refer to the "Slauson Cutoff". While driving around LA you often have the option of taking freeways or surface streets. Some locals rely on surface streets to avoid rush hour traffic on the freeways. For example, many people driving to the San Fernando Valley during rush hour will opt to take Sepulveda Blvd, which runs parallel to the 405 Freeway, since the 405 often takes longer at this time of day. In nearby Culver City, La Cienega is used as a cutoff from I-10 to LAX. The effectiveness of such strategies is debatable, and it may be difficult for inexperienced drivers to accurately guess which way will be faster. Outside of rush hour, the freeways will almost always be faster for longer trips around LA.
One particularly annoying aspect of freeways in Los Angeles County is finding an onramp. The onramps are marked with signs marked "Freeway Entrance" but these can be frustratingly difficult to find.
Driving with a GPS unit is highly recommended.
Each freeway is identified by a number, and usually one or two names.
When giving directions, most locals refer to a freeway by its number, "the 405 freeway" or "the 101 freeway", or just "the 101". In some parts of the country, the indefinite article is dropped, whereas it is kept in most of the west coast: "Take the 405 to the 101" rather than just "Take 405 to 101." Although both are acceptable, you may encounter momentary confusion when using the latter with locals.
Local radio station traffic reports, on the other hand, often refer to freeways by name, leading to confusion.
Names usually identify where the freeway goes; but since they go in two different directions, the freeway may have two names. For example, the 110 runs from Pasadena in the north to the LA harbor in the south, and is therefore called both the Pasadena Freeway and the Harbor Freeway. On the other hand, the 405 is known as the San Diego Freeway despite the fact that it doesn't go to San Diego. The Hollywood Freeway is unusual in that it consists of both the 101 Freeway in the south, and the 170 Freeway in the north, and runs through Hollywood rather than to it.
You can get traffic reports 24 hours a day from several radio stations. Radio stations don't play traffic reports during sports events or special news events. Traffic reports will often substitute the verbal name for a freeway "Westbound Santa Monica Freeway" for the number; be aware that for example, the congestion may be nowhere near Santa Monica.
KFWB 980 AM has traffic reports on the ones (:01, :11, :21, :31, :41, and :51) when they aren't playing Dodger games or running Larry King Live. KNX 1070 AM "News Radio" - Los Angeles' 24-hour news station - has traffic reports "on the 5's" when they aren't running the simucast of 60 Minutes (7 pm on Sunday) or 60 Minutes II, or "Weekly Roundup". KFI 640 AM "More Stimulating Talk Radio" and KABC 790 AM run traffic reports four times an hour, usually during commercial breaks of their talk shows. The radio station web sites have links to graphics showing traffic speeds and the accident logs of the highway patrol.
City of Los Angeles street speed information is available though the City's website