YouTube offers a taste of other cities’ traffic

Times Staff Writer

‘I’m forwarding this to everyone I know.”

So began a video made this year by Rich Allen. A motorcyclist, Allen no longer could tolerate the potholes, crevices and lunar landscape he encountered on his daily commute on the 60 Freeway near his Moreno Valley job.

With a tiny video camera wedged between his face and helmet visor, Allen drove the route one day while talking into a microphone. He posted the video on YouTube, the popular video-sharing website, so viewers could see the choppy pavement Allen is talking about.

One of his best lines on the video: “When you see what I’m about to show you, you’re going to fall off your chair, and hopefully I won’t fall off the motorcycle.”


The Riverside Press-Enterprise subsequently ran a story about the video, attracting the attention of two television stations that did stories on Allen’s novel campaign. Within two weeks of the video hitting the Internet, Caltrans -- one of the agencies Allen had been badgering -- repaved that part of the freeway.

“That’s how you get things done in the 21st century,” Allen now says.

Allen’s video concerning traffic is one of many of its type on YouTube. Most are not nearly as ambitious. Many seem pointless. Allen, in fact, has more than 200, including one in which he rides his motorcycle at 70 mph while explaining Christianity in less than 10 minutes.

Yet there are gems.


If, for example, you’re the type who gets frustrated when stuck behind slow-moving traffic, I highly recommend a video that shows how a military Humvee in Baghdad handles such a situation: a love tap on the bumper of the vehicle just ahead.

It works like a charm.

Or, if you believe that traffic stinks at the intersection of Wilshire and Westwood, then spend a few cringe-worthy moments absorbing a video of a Ho Chi Minh City intersection, in which buses, bikes, motor-scooters, pedestrians and cars cross paths -- and somehow nothing bad happens.

In another video, Japanese researchers put 30 cars on a circular test track and asked them each to drive 30 kilometers per hour. When speeds start varying, we see the origins of a traffic jam, and you learn why someone hitting the brakes in traffic one minute leaves an echo that motorists feel many minutes later.


Things have gotten to the point that it’s possible to type in the name of virtually any major city and the word “traffic,” and it’s likely that someone has posted a video showing traffic in that city. Take a bow, Winnipeg -- and boy does it look cold and miserable.

The obvious question such videos pose is: What’s going on here? Is it technology run amok? Proof that mankind is doomed? Or is it humanity’s way of coping with sitting in traffic?

“Ninety-nine-point-nine of what’s on YouTube doesn’t need to be explained,” said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “It’s like going to a garage sale; most of what you encounter is trash.”

Yet even Thompson said watching traffic patterns can be intriguing. And, he said, YouTube makes it possible to find a city with traffic worse than the one where you live. Or traffic so amazingly complex that it can’t be described -- only shown.


Jeff Burbick, a computer programmer for Siemens, traveled to Bangalore, India, last year for a business trip. He looked out his hotel window at the road below and saw something that gave new meaning to the word “traffic” -- and he had worked previously in the Inland Empire for a time before settling in West Virginia.

“There will be three lanes, but you’ll have traffic six cars wide,” he said. “I thought I was going to die on the way to work” -- he had hired a driver -- “but I never saw a single wreck.”

The video, he said, was made to show his family at home. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a video of the time when his driver cut off another vehicle and a mob swarmed their car and rocked it back and forth until a police officer broke things up.

And then there are people such as Edward Martin of Seattle.


A Denver native, Martin moved to the Emerald City four years ago to work for Microsoft in a job he said is too bureaucratic to aptly describe. And then there was the Seattle traffic.

“I thought I was moving to a place with the best and the brightest,” Martin said. “I’m thinking this place would move like the Jetsons.”

Instead, it turned out his 25-mile drive to work in Denver took far less time than his 12-mile commute in Seattle.

One chronic obstacle was Seattle’s badly timed traffic light system. Martin said it nearly drove him berserk, but what really angered him was how few people were similarly exercised.


“I don’t get mad at traffic,” Martin said. “I get mad at people who don’t get mad about it . . . and this is a city that talks a lot about [preventing] global warming.”

The resulting trilogy of videos are not exactly “Star Wars” material.

The first shows Martin driving down a Denver Street to show how signal timing should work. Episode II and Episode III are of drives taken in Seattle, featuring Martin ruefully muttering whenever he misses a green light, which is often.

“Of course we’re waiting for nothing,” he says at one point while idling at a light that had turned red even though there was no cross-traffic. To prove it, the camera shakily pans back and forth.


Scintillating? Maybe not. But it’s hard not to appreciate the sentiment.


In Pasadena on Wednesday during the evening rush, part of the Arroyo Parkway was coned off because of an ongoing $9.4-million street-scaping and repaving project.

Two signs warned of an “Open Trench,” so three lanes of northbound traffic had to squeeze into one lane -- the right lane.


And where was the open trench?

In the right lane.

Cones immediately diverted vehicles back to the left lane, where there was no open trench. Nor was there an open trench in the middle lane, but it also remained closed. There were no construction crews present.

Raise your hand right now if you can guess why the lanes were closed. I was stumped and decided I clearly wasn’t smart enough to understand -- much less appreciate -- such a sophisticated traffic management system.


The answer: The lanes were closed to allow concrete to properly dry for three days, said city engineer Dan Rix, explaining that mystery.

Work on the parkway should be completed in August, he added, and motorists can expect more lane closures in the meantime.


Send traffic and transit gripes to Previous columns can be found at