Peckish for Mom’s turkey and stuffing, but can’t stomach another helping of holiday airport traffic?
Not to worry.
Even on Thanksgiving Eve, the busiest day of the year at most airports and the beginning of a 675,000-passenger tidal wave at Los Angeles International Airport, there are several options for driving from work to window seat without having to stop for a traffic jam on the way.
“L. A. is a big city,” said SuperShuttle van driver Andrea Harris, waiting for a passenger behind the Westin Bonaventure Hotel downtown. “Wherever you’re coming from, there’s always an easier way of getting there.”
There is, for example, the cab driver’s favorite city-recommended, not-so-secret route from downtown, West Hollywood and even the San Gabriel Valley to LAX, aptly known as the La Cienega Freeway. Parallel to that, and often speedier, is its cousin, the La Brea Bank Shot.
Westsiders headed for LAX can try the “Lincoln Loop” and Eastsiders can shoot the “T-V-S Express,” while South Bay travelers can sneak up the “El Segundo Steps.”
For Burbank Airport, the task is somewhat easier because the airport sits at the edge of the San Fernando Valley’s orderly grid of wide, parallel arterial streets. However, getting to the Valley without getting jammed on a freeway or crunched in a canyon requires some thought.
The key in each case, cab drivers and others say, is to stay off the freeways and stick to wide, straight, obscure streets with as few stoplights--and shops and restaurants and people--as possible.
“Getting to the airport doesn’t have to be awful, as long as you avoid some of the worst, killer streets,” said David Rizzo, a Long Beach podiatrist who has come to be known as “Dr. Roadmap” because he wrote “Freeway Alternates,” a book of surface-street shortcuts.
“Under no circumstances should anyone ever be on Century Boulevard. No way,” said Rizzo, whose prescription is confirmed by second opinions from cabbies and shuttle drivers citywide. “And, of course, when I approach the airport I’m never on any freeway--certainly not the San Diego (Freeway). Not even on a Sunday afternoon.”
“The biggest problem is that you never know what the freeways are like at any particular time,” said Richard Schwadel, co-author with Brian Roberts of “L. A. Shortcuts,” another book of jam-busting side streets. “They can be packed or empty for no rhyme or reason.”
Avoidance, then, is important. Avoid the atherosclerotic San Diego Freeway, sluggish at the best of times and deadly on deadline. Avoid Century Boulevard, where befuddled out-of-towners dart in and out of hotels and car rental lots. Avoid “shortcuts” through narrow residential streets with stop signs, dips, driveways and children every few feet.
Frankly, Rizzo and others advise, the smartest idea is to avoid airport traffic altogether, by hailing a cab, hopping a bus or reserving a seat on a door-to-door van.
“Personally, I have done everything I can for years to avoid driving to LAX,” said Robert D. Saunders, a travel writer for the Automobile Club of Southern California. “If I have to go to LAX from where I live in the (San Fernando) Valley, I take the Flyaway bus. . . . For $3 or $3.50 each way, you can’t beat it.”
“Thanksgiving is the worst time of year, the worst,” said L. A. Taxi driver Carlos Sosa as he waited at a cab stand near the Sheraton Grande Hotel. “Traffic is terrible, but (the taxi) business is great.”
For those determined to drive, and eager not to be grounded in traffic as their plane takes wing, there are smart--or at least smarter --ways to get to the gate without risking delay on what Roberts and Schwadel deride as the Santa Monica, San Diego and Hollywood “plagueways.”
The classic cabdrivers’ shortcut to LAX relies on what is only half-jokingly referred to as the La Cienega Freeway. Once that heavily trafficked city street breaks free of the commercial clutter immediately south of the Santa Monica Freeway, it races through Baldwin Hills with an uncongested ease that real freeways haven’t offered in years.
(The parallel La Brea Bank Shot follows La Brea Avenue south to westbound Stocker Street, which runs into La Cienega Boulevard.)
Near LAX, La Cienega intersects smoothly with La Tijera Boulevard, which although heavily used, is mostly crowded with single-minded travelers who are as eager to get to the airport as everyone else on the road. Airport Boulevard splits off La Tijera and leads past the massive Parking Lot C to 96th Street, the airport’s under-used “back-door” entrance.
The Westside and Valley pose a stickier problem. The San Diego Freeway seems so close, so direct, so tempting. So what? Those who know say the traffic knots in the Sepulveda Pass, at the Santa Monica interchange and within five exits of the airport make the freeway a loser.
As an alternative, Rizzo recommends Inglewood Boulevard, which runs off National Boulevard west of Centinela Avenue. Inglewood bends into Centinela Avenue, which soon crosses Sepulveda Boulevard. Follow Sepulveda south to 96th Street.
Harris, the SuperShuttle driver, said that despite heavy traffic in Venice, she favors the Lincoln Loop, scooting down Lincoln Boulevard and merging onto Sepulveda in Westchester.
“During the holidays it gets busy, yeah, but it still beats the freeway,” she explained. “A little stop-and-go on Lincoln is always better than stop-and-stop on the 405.”
Schwadel said Venice traffic can be sidestepped in a rather roundabout fashion by risking the freeway, but only as far as Slauson Avenue. Get off there, he suggested, and take Slauson west to Jefferson Boulevard. Continue west on that lonely stretch of road to an equally empty part of Lincoln and head south.
From the Eastside, Rizzo recommends in his book a route that might be nicknamed the T-V-S (Thirty-seventh-Vernon-Slauson) Express. Bandini Boulevard leads into 37th Street. After a jog south on Alameda Street, this route forges west on Vernon Avenue. After another jog on Western Avenue, it continues west on Slauson, which runs into La Tijera.
South Bay residents can avoid the San Diego Freeway by cruising up Highland Avenue to Vista del Mar, then turning right on Imperial Highway to Sepulveda, Schwadel said.
Rizzo prefers going up Prospect Avenue to Aviation Boulevard, the start of a zig-zag known as the El Segundo Steps. Long Beach travelers can climb the steps by exiting the San Diego Freeway at Inglewood Boulevard, driving north to Marine Avenue and west on Marine to Aviation.
From Aviation, the zigs zag in this way: left onto Utah Avenue, right onto Douglas Street, left onto Imperial Highway and right at Sepulveda. Follow the signs to your seat.
If uncrowded Burbank Airport is the departure point, Schwadel suggested skirting Griffith Park on the way north out of Los Angeles rather than risk a freeway, particularly during the Wednesday afternoon after-work dash.
Going up Western Avenue, he said to turn right on Los Feliz Boulevard and left on Crystal Springs Drive just before the Golden State Freeway. Continue on Zoo Drive to Riverside Drive, then on to Victory Boulevard before turning right on Hollywood Way to the airport entrance.
Regardless of the chosen path to the plane, Schwadel and others urge drivers to decide in advance where they will try to park.
Short-term lots in the central terminal area are convenient but cost $16 a day and fill up fast. Long-term airport lots--Lot C on 96th Street at Sepulveda and Lot B on 111th Street at Aviation--are $7 and $5 a day, respectively, but require a long shuttle ride to the terminals. Private lots, usually charging about $10 to $11 a day, offer special services as indoor parking or personal shuttles.
It is important to know which lot you want, how to get there and whether there will be any room once you arrive.
“You can have everything planned, and find the perfect shortcut to the airport,” Schwadel warned, “but if, when you get there, the parking lots are filled, you’re screwed.”
The routine route to Los Angeles International Airport is the San Diego Freeway to Century Boulevard. But even infrequent fliers know that path is packed in holiday periods, and besides it won’t take you anywhere near the two big long-term parking lots on 96th and 111th streets. Cab drivers, shuttle operators and other savvy veterans rely on these roads less traveled:
1. From the North (West L.A.): Go south on Overland Avenue past the Santa Monica Freeway. Turn right on Palms Boulevard. Left at Inglewood Boulevard. Left onto Centinela Avenue. Right on Sepulveda Boulevard. Left at 76th Street. Right at 96th Street. Left on Sky Way to World Way.
2. From the Northeast (Downtown L.A.): Go west on Olympic. Turn left at Fairfax Avenue. Left on La Cienega Boulevard. Right on La Tijera. Left at Airport Boulevard. Right at 96th Street. Left at Sky Way to World Way.
3. From the East (City of Commerce): Go west on Bandini, which becomes 37th Street. Turn left at Alemeda Street. Right at Vernon Avenue. Left at Western Avenue. Right at Slauson Avenue. Left at La Tijera Boulevard. Left at Airport Boulevard. Right at 96th Street. Left at Sky Way to World Way.
4. From the South (Redondo Beach): Head north on Prospect Avenue. Turn right onto Aviation Boulevard. Left on Utah Avenue. Right at Douglas Street. Left at Imperial Highway. Right on Sepulveda Boulevard into the airport.
Sources: “L.A. Shortcuts,” by Brian Roberts and Richard Schwadel (Red Car Press, 1989); “Freeway Alternates” by David Rizzo (Gem Guides, 1990).
Parking lots full? Rates too high? Need a shuttle van or bus? Local airports offer plenty of information by phone -- before you hop in your car, when it can still do some good.
Los Angeles International / (310) 646-5252 or (818) 247-7678 Parking information: Ext. 2 Van and bus companies: Ext. 3
Van Nuys Flyaway LAX bus: (818) 994-5554
Burbank Airport parking: (818) 840-8837
Long Beach Airport parking: (310) 425-9665
Ontario Airport parking: (714) 988-2737