Hunker down or flee? Los Angelenos gird for 'carmageddon' on I-405

With the shutdown of the key I-405 freeway in Los Angeles this weekend threatening 'carmageddon,' city residents and businesses are finding ways to help one another cope.

By , Staff writer

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    Traffic moves slowly on the 405 freeway under the Mulholland Bridge in Los Angeles, Calif., July 14. 'Carmageddon' is the name Los Angeles residents are giving the likely epic traffic tie-up that will result when a 10-mile stretch of the 405 Freeway is closed for construction.
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Mail clerk Jack Jones is flying on a special Jet Blue package from Burbank to Long Beach for just $5 round trip.

Martha Remple, an unemployed mom, will be taking the orange subway line anywhere it goes for free.

Hairdresser Julie Dixon and messenger Randy Galang will leave their Granada Hills homes three hours early for a 7:30 p.m. Saturday night showing of “Evil Dead 2,” which is playing under the stars on the lawn of the Hollywood Cemetery.

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“It’s usually a 20-minute drive but we’re not taking any chances,” says Ms. Dixon.

How Angelenos are coping, or not, with “carmageddon” – the 53-hour shutdown of a crucial 10-mile segment of freeway here – is the topic of conversation no matter where you go in this city.

From 7 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. Monday, this segment of Interstate 405 linking the Los Angeles International Airport and the San Fernando Valley – the most traveled freeway in the United States – will be closed so that engineers can demolish a bridge to create a carpool lane.

Many say it’s tearing the city apart by spotlighting the entire metropolitan region’s long-term overdependence on cars in place of adequate public transportation. Others say it’s bringing the city together as never before, because everyone is in the same predicament and helping each other out.

Newspapers are full of neighborhood-street short-cuts to try and ones to avoid. Restaurants and bars are offering special, car-themed promotions. Web sites offer T-shirts (“I was in the war”), bumper stickers (“the good … the bad… and the elderly”), and mouse pads with a photo of the devil at the wheel.

Bloggers are spoofing official attempts to provide information:

“Q: Will there be official-looking people everywhere I go, waving signs and telling me how to proceed?”

Yes. But that won’t change the fact that you’re [in big trouble.]’’

Some officials say the entire city will be clogged uncontrollably for the entire weekend. They note that on average, 375,000 cars drive the 405 every day. More on weekends. Others advise residents in no uncertain terms to either stay at home or leave town and things will be OK.

“I know every shortcut and not one of them is going to work,” said L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky in an interview with ABC News.com. “Stay the hell away is the best advice we can give. Don’t go anywhere near the west side of L.A. … stay home, get Netflix … everybody has to suck it up. We’re doing our part to make sure every man, woman, and child knows about this.”

“It’s a good thing this is happening on a weekend,” says Mr. Galang, eating a plate of hummus at Heart of India Café, right at the intersection of the 405 and 101, the city’s other busiest freeway. “Anyone that needs to go up and down the 405 is going to be dead in the water. I use this route all day every day, but lucky for me, I don’t work weekends.”

The J. Paul Getty Museum, high on a crest above the 405 – which gets 1.2 million visitors a year, is closing down for one of its busiest weekends of the year, according to spokeswoman Melissa Abraham in L.A. Weekly. And local TV stations have been doing stories on tourists and wedding parties that planned their trips and festivities well before the closure was announced and now have few, if any alternatives.

One couple said they can’t change their wedding plans because several of their guests have already paid for airline tickets from overseas. They are shelling out their own money for nearby hotels to make sure these family members will make it to the wedding.

The LAPD, sheriffs, and other law enforcement and transportation officials say they have contingency plans for emergency vehicles and to route traffic around problem areas using additional helicopter surveillance and supplementary, on-street traffic controllers.

L.A. Department of Transportation will be monitoring all the signalized intersections to ensure the swift movement of traffic,” says Krishniah Murthy, executive director of transit project delivery for L.A. Metro in an online Q and A, posted as a public service.

There are also websites created by local residents to aid motorists – carmageddon.com and beatcarmageddon.com.

“Everything we saw was very doom and gloom, very stay at home, don't venture out,” says Anastasia Roark, one of the beatcarmageddon.com’s founders, in a YouTube video. “We just really thought it would be really fun to put together an all-encompassing survival guide to help people get through it and find some silver lining to enjoy it.”

Local news has also carried several stories about a new, free application for cellphones called Waze – which monitors car traffic in real time, and responds to the speed each car is going, rather than just relate conventional geographical information from on-street sensors and cameras.

“This will be one of the great new uses of this technology, because it relies on tens of thousands of users being monitored in real time and can help people find the route with the least traffic as if they were aerially above it, looking down and able to choose,” says Diann Eisnor, vice president of platform and partnerships for Waze.

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