Weekend's Carmegeddon II had little effect on L.A. life

by Sophia Lee
Posted 10/02/12, 10:29 am

LOS ANGELES—Interstate Highway 405 in Southern California usually fumes with car exhaust and the resigned temper of Angelenos who bake inside their barely inching cars.

But this weekend, a 10-mile stretch of one of the nation’s busiest freeways stood eerily empty as the city closed it off for construction work. While city officials and residents had worried of the closure’s impact on the rest of the city—250,000 motorists drive on the freeway each day—most drivers seemed to heed warnings and either stayed local or took other freeways.

Known as “Carmegeddon II,” the closure of the 405 from Friday night to Sunday night was the second part of a project to demolish the Mulholland Bridge in order to pave in a new carpool lane. The freeway also shut down last year and many residents stayed home, skirting the apocalyptic standstill its name represents.

Temperatures rose steadily above the 90s Saturday, but drivers’ tempers remained cool on the streets. Residents shared photos of the empty 405 freeway on Instagram and Twitter. A few rollerbladers and newlyweds tried to pull stunts by crossing the closed-off road, but were stopped. Meanwhile, the adjoining freeways, the 101 and I-10 remained congestion-free.

“This is Carmegeddon?” exclaimed William Alvarado, a drive-thru usher at an In-N-Out Burger. “It doesn’t feel any different.” Alvarado lives east of Los Angeles—a long drive to his workplace in Marina del Rey, west of Los Angeles. He said he even saw less traffic than usual.

Meanwhile, business is as brisk as always, Alvarado said, before running off to receive orders from drivers circling the popular fast food chain: “This is still what Americans want, right? They still have a busy schedule, and they’ll drop by the closest place to eat their favorite burgers.”

Likewise, a Costco near the blocked 405 teemed with customers as any other weekend. Cars lumbered around the parking lot in search for an empty spot.

But a short drive away, some business did suffer. Most of the 150 shops at Westside Pavilion, a West L.A. shopping mall just outside the closed-off section of 405, stood nearly empty.

Terrance Brown, an employee at American Eagle Outfitters, spent Saturday mostly rearranging and refolding clothes at the store. He said business isn’t usually this slow. “I guess people don’t want to make the drive out here because of the 405 closure,” he said.

Church attendance on Sunday was largely unaffected—while Bel Air Presbyterian canceled services during last year’s freeway closure, this year the church held two services. The Chinese Baptist Church of West Los Angeles said the closure didn’t affect attendance at all, while Cornerstone Church West Los Angeles said they experienced an attendance drop as expected, estimating about 20 to 40 congregants fewer than usual—but not a significantly noticeable number.

That the project went without much of a speed bump testifies that state and local officials’ warnings worked. For weeks, the California Department of Transportation warned drivers to keep off the road. The highway flashed signs alerting them of the upcoming shutdown and predicting severe traffic jams.

Meanwhile, about 300 local businesses and tourist attractions offered deals to provide incentive for residents to stay close to home. Places like Madam Tussauds Hollywood, the Los Angeles Zoo, and the Natural History Museum all offered discount tickets.

Some organizations got creative. The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition organized a 22-mile cycling tour through Westside on Saturday. Bike groups Wolfpack Hustle and Midnight Ridazz converged at downtown L.A.’s Grand Park for a mega-ride west to Docweiller Beach, taking a break at the 405 overpass and then to watch sunset at the beach.

Anthony Barrios, 17, was one of the Wolfpack Hustle cyclists beating the traffic with his bike. Barrios doesn’t drive. He bikes 24 miles to his Westside college every day instead. He said such freeway shutdowns don’t affect him at all, except to provide just another opportunity to champion for better bike paths in Los Angeles.

At about 3 p.m. the group sped off west, zipping past the sparse cars on the road. For once, the street held more bikes than cars.

Sophia Lee

Sophia is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine based in Los Angeles. Follow Sophia on Twitter @SophiaLeeHyun.

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