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L.A.’s annual Thanksgiving traffic jam might look a little different this year

2017 photo shows traffic streaming past the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX on Thanksgiving eve.
In 2017, traffic streams past the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX on Thanksgiving eve. This year traffic is expected to be reduced due to coronavirus restrictions.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

In L.A., nothing signifies the start of the holiday season like those twinkling red and white lights.

No, not the Christmas tree kind: the freeway kind.

Every year, the 405 Freeway’s bumper-to-bumper traffic on Thanksgiving eve becomes a symbol of America’s holiday travel mayhem. Headlights and taillights snake across the asphalt and disappear beyond the horizon. News helicopters hover overhead and photographers perch on overpasses to capture the familiar glow of city folks en route to Grandma’s house, or returning from whence they came.

This year, the freeway may look a little different: State officials are pleading with people to stay home and avoid holiday travel amid an alarming surge of cases of COVID-19.

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Los Angeles County is also set to tighten restrictions Wednesday with a new ban on outdoor dining, and may soon implement additional “safer-at-home” measures.

All of that adds up to a predicted 13.5% drop in Thanksgiving trips across the region, according to the Auto Club of Southern California, the largest year-over-year drop since 2008.

But after decades of bemoaning that infernal traffic jam — of news outlets across the country pointing to it as an insane, hellish nightmare that further exemplifies why no one would ever want to live in L.A. — might we actually…miss it?

Hear us out. So much has gone wrong in 2020: The year began with a global pandemic and went on to add wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes and floods, not to mention civil unrest and turmoil in the White House. Nothing about this year has felt normal, and the thought of cars breezing down the 405 just before Thanksgiving is just one more reminder of how weird things have become.

Don’t get us wrong: We endorse public health guidelines and strongly encourage people to follow the CDC’s travel recommendations this year.

But there are many losses to mourn this year, including birthdays spent alone, graduations canceled, holidays missed and, most importantly, more than 250,000 Americans dead from COVID-19.

Here’s hoping that in 2021, we’ll once again find ourselves blissfully not moving on the offbound ramp, bathed in the red glow of taillights and looking forward to Black Friday.


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