Sunday, July 17, 2011
So the weekend we’ve been dreading is finally here: Carmageddon—when life as we know it in west L.A. was supposed to grind to a halt while 10 miles of the 405 freeway were closed for major repairs. Fifty-three hours of sheer traffic chaos—or so everyone predicted. Since we live only 2 blocks from the 405, I envisioned all kinds of gridlock in our neighborhood as people tried to avoid the blockage four miles north of us.
But the horror we all thought was going to happen never materialized—probably because the media did such a good job of scaring everyone to death. Westsiders either left town or just stayed indoors all weekend. In fact, the project went so well that the freeway is now open again some 20 hours ahead of schedule.
Still, it was an historic event—how often is L.A.’s main north-south artery voluntarily closed for more than a few minutes?—so, of course, we had to see it for ourselves firsthand.
The methodical process of closing the 405 started at 7PM, Friday night, with full closure occurring at midnight. We tuned into the news as soon as we woke-up the next morning. Expecting to see traffic backed-up for miles, we instead saw a newscaster happily driving around, showing the world just how uncongested the highways actually were.
“I want to see what the freeway looks like without any cars!” I excitedly told Tim. “Let’s go for a ride!”
“But it’s 6:30AM,” he said groggily.
“I’ll drive, but I need you to take photos, “ I insisted. “Let’s go before everyone else has the same idea.”
We threw on the previous day’s clothes and hopped into the car. Most of L.A. was apparently still fast asleep.
We entered the 405 off of Culver Blvd. The road was wide open—a miracle even at 7 o’clock on a Saturday morning.
“Wow! Wouldn’t it be fabulous if the freeway was always like this?” I exclaimed.
Tim was madly taking pictures. Before we knew it we arrived at the I-10 interchange, where we passed a roadblock and several workers in reflective gear. The northbound 405 was closed from here to highway 101. We merged onto the 10 and then exited at National. My plan was to drive up to UCLA and across the Sunset Blvd. bridge, so we could look down onto the empty freeway.
Though few cars were on the road, traffic cops were stationed at what are usually the most heavily traveled intersections (i.e., Pico and Overland). We continued north on surface streets until we got to Sunset and then turned left (west).
“Get the camera ready,” I told Tim as we approached the bridge. A lone bicyclist was standing on the freeway overpass, photographing the scene below. We parked across the street and ran over to the bridge. With the exception of a few orange Caltrans vehicles, the northbound lanes were completely deserted. Very freaky. I felt like we were watching a post-nuclear holocaust movie from the 1950s.
After a few minutes, we jumped into the car and got back on the freeway. We were one of three cars headed south. Very, very strange, but not at all unpleasant. Indeed, it was kinda nice having the entire road to ourselves. Plus, when we got home, we noticed that the ever-present freeway noise outside our front door was completely gone. Maybe this Carmageddon thing wasn’t so bad after all!