Opinion: the 405 closure as a case for multi-modal transportation in L.A.

Traffic on the 405 freeway. Photo by biofriendly, via Flickr.

By now it should be no secret that a massive chunk of the 405 freeway will be closing the weekend of July 15 – the big countdown clock on our sidebar kind of gives it away.

If the countdown clock, press releases and media coverage (“carmageddon” anyone?) haven’t made it clear, allow me: this is a big deal for L.A.

Of course, some of our regular and more transit-oriented readers may scoff and even revel in the suffering of our car-dependent cohorts. I know there’s a part of me that thinks: 1) the media and some officials are unnecessarily sensationalizing the event (but that’s what they do best), and; 2) haha, eat it gas guzzlers.

But on the other hand, most Angelenos are car-dependent and by default, freeway dependent. So even if it’s just a weekend, the closure is going to have a big impact on a lot of people – and make a lot of people feel stranded, trapped and confused.

In a sense the apocalyptic hyperbole of the media may be grounded in the reality that, due to our overwhelming dependency on cars, many Angelenos will suffer. To be sure, it’s no tsunami, hurricane or earthquake – but maybe L.A.’s worst natural disaster is actually a man-made one.

In our multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-faceted city we’ve left the “multi” prefix off of one very important element: our transportation system.

We trapped ourselves in single mode city and suffer the consequences each and every day, whether it be from our daily car-tastrophes (traffic, accidents, road rage) to our occasional carmageddons.

With that in mind, I view the 405 closure not as an inconvenience – minor or massive – but as an opportunity to knock some sense into Los Angeles. We need to become a multi-modal city.

Think about it: would closing the 405 be such a big deal if there were numerous viable alternatives? I’m talking exclusive bike lanes, grade-separated heavy rail, light rail, streetcars, bus rapid transit, even a vibrant taxi network. Sure it would still be an inconvenience, but there would be more attractive alternatives than “please stay at home if you can.”

Here’s an anecdotal example from abroad: a few years back I took a holiday in Paris, a fantastically multi-modal city. My plan was to get a Metro pass and use public transit to get around. Unfortunately, as often happens in France, transit workers were on strike for the entire duration of my trip. Was I trapped? Was my trip ruined? Au contraire.

Multi-modality is like a fail safe. Just because one mode fails doesn’t mean the system fails. The great pedestrian, bicycle and street infrastructure of Paris meant I could see all the sights as planned while Metro workers picketed. And it wasn’t just me as a tourist who benefited from the city’s multi-modal nature – there was a large uptick in Vélib‘ (Paris’s bike sharing network) as locals replaced their Metro commutes with bike commutes.

The old idiom goes: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. That’s what we did for a long time with our transportation system. With the return of urban rail in the 90s, the passage of Measure R and the momentum of America Fast Fast Forward, I think Angelenos are more aware than ever of the advantages of multi-modality. Hopefully any pain caused by July’s 405 closure will only serve as an incentive to continue to support the non-highway projects that will finally turn L.A. into a multi-modal city.

Then we can reserve our fatalistic headlines for the stuff that’s actually scary in L.A.: earthquakes, wildfires and the Whole Foods parking lot.

10 replies

  1. A good example of this is the Bay Bridge closures up in San Francisco. During full closures of the Bay Bridge everyone was allowed to ride BART into the city for free. Imagine if BART didn’t exist…

  2. Thanks for the insightful piece, Fred. Any word what Metro is doing to make the 761 a viable alternative that weekend? That’s the only transit route from the SF Valley to the Westside, but there’s been nary a peep on the subject.

    For there to be a multi-modal system, there has to be multiple modes. Over Sepulveda Pass, there’s only one. Thanks for passing along any info you find out.

  3. Excellent article!! This really highlights the importance of transit options more than any article I have read. Naysayers scoff at the concept of transit options and we have way too much of that attitude in this town. I am really getting sick of the “LA will always be a car city and transit is not feasible” BS. We can learn a bit from the Bay Area.

  4. Metro could reroute via Kanan or Los Virgines. This is a great alternative to coastal commuties and to the westside!!!

  5. Another alternative for Valley folks would be the Red Line to Wilshire and Vermont and then the 720 which takes you down Wilshire to the beach

  6. In other cities, I’ve always been glad to have taxi service when a subway or rail line has shut down. The best thing for LA during the closure is to have sepulveda open only to buses and emergency vehicles. And run a lot more buses, not just one every half hour.

  7. They expect us Vals to take an “around the horn” route using the Red Line, the Purple Line and the 720 bus line. Been there, done that.