Ron Kaye: Karmageddon: Making traffic problems worse

No sooner did we survive a doomsayer’s warning of the rapturous Armageddon on May 16 then we were confronted with dire warnings of something worse: spending an entire weekend stuck in the worst traffic gridlock anyone, anywhere has ever seen.

It’s “Carmageddon” weekend — 53 hours of traffic hell from this Friday night until next Monday morning.

That’s when the 405 Freeway link from the San Fernando Valley to the Westside will be entirely closed down from the 10 to the 101, forcing the normal half-million drivers who go through Sepulveda Pass on a hot summer weekend to stay parked at home or face expectations of nightmarish gridlock along alternative routes.

Nothing could be worse in this home of the car culture, where driving alone is regarded as an inalienable right, where buses and trains so poorly connect people to where they actually want to go.

The hype, the drama — it’s so L.A.

Celebrities like Lady Gaga and Ashton Kutcher tweeting warnings. Erik Estrada doing a public service announcement on YouTube. A “Carmageddon” page on Facebook. A “Carmageddon” website. The Getty Center and the Skirball Museum closed all weekend. Thousands of people downloading Waze GPS so we can track where the cars are, and where they’re not.

The fear. The anxiety. It will build-up all week and then…?

Carmageddon likely will turn out to be a dud like the traffic disaster that didn’t happen during the 1984 Olympics, or how we barely noticed how much worse the gridlock was when the freeways collapsed after the Northridge Earthquake 10 years later.

The real problem is we have the worst traffic congestion in the nation, come rain or come shine, all year long; and the worst public transit system to go along with it.

When we build rail lines, we cut bus service and raise fares. We tax ourselves to death — 1.5 percent on every transaction — for a system that fails to offer adequate connections and frequency of service.

This isn’t about Carmageddon; it’s about “Karmageddon” — the consequence of inconsistent and incoherent public transportation policies for the whole region for most of a century.

Once there was a system of trolley cars, but the merchants of growth preferred the profits in pushing cars; so we abandoned the Red Cars and built freeways — often without completing interchanges in all directions.

And when the region became built up, they stopped building freeways and waited years before starting to build trains that only went to downtown Los Angeles — not to the airport, Coliseum, or anywhere else large numbers of people went.

The subway to nowhere stopped in Hollywood without going to the congested Westside and it stopped at the gateway to the San Fernando Valley without going east, west or north — without connecting the 2.5 million people of the region to the transit system they paid for.

The decisions were entirely made for political reasons without regard to building an effective system for getting people out of their cars and carrying them from point to point by bus, train and subway. The result is the public transit ridership is little improved despite all the billions that have been spent — except for the 12-month period in the mid-1980s when fares were cut in half and ridership doubled.

The same is still true today, with the Westside of Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley muscling most of the Measure R and federal transportation dollars for light rail and subway extensions.

What the Valley gets is the Carmageddon project — a $1-billion northbound HOV lane that will slightly improve evening rush hour commute times.

Burbank and Glendale — forget it. The connection by train, monorail or busway from Pasadena to North Hollywood is just a pipedream.

What’s real is the massive expansion of Universal Studios and the major office/condo complex planned across the street at the subway station that will make the already heavily-congested, two-lane transition between the 101 and 134 freeways a permanent Carmageddon.

We’re not solving our traffic problems. We’re making them worse.

RON KAYE can be reached at Share your thoughts and stories with him.

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