Why Can't Everyday be Carmaggedon? The True Story of LA's Weekend Without a Car


On July 16th and 17th, Los Angeles, CA, a city built for the automobile, braced for a predicted disaster known worldwide as Carmaggedon. A ten-mile stretch of the infamous 405 Freeway would be closed for 53 hours due to construction.  The shut down section, between the 10 Freeway and 101 Freeway interchanges, normally sees almost 500,000 cars on a summer weekend. When Angelenos (myself included) found out about the impending closure during tourist season we panicked like ">Godzilla had just walked onshore.carmaggedon2

The month preceding the closure saw 4 million car dependant residents go into full on orange terror alert mode – buying emergency groceries, flights from Long Beach to Burbank Airports (40 miles apart), and preparing to hole up in their homes for the entire weekend, maybe with boarded up windows, just in case looters showed up.

Meanwhile, city officials expanded subway and bus service -making certain routes free. Restaurants and attractions advertised Carmaggedon specials for residents. Inventive neighborhoods put on “local” themed festivals like Culver City’s Eat Real Fest, which showcased local foods. But most importantly, the city launched a media campaign to, “scare the heck out of everyone,” according to LA county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

And, in short, the scare tactics worked.

I woke up early on Saturday July 16th instead of sleeping in to give myself extra time for the walking or horse & buggy riding I was going to have to do to get anything done. I imagined the line of stalled cars I would see when I stepped outside; the honking, screaming, frayed nerves, and chaos that would inevitably make the city feel hotter.  But when I stepped outside to walk to my homemade jam class (Yes! A homemade preserving class care of Surfas in the spirit of the weekend) it was silent. Eerily quiet. No tires on pavement. No engines. Just birds and bugs. The people of Los Angeles had actually stayed in their neighborhoods, walked, and road bikes. Turning the corner onto the main road I saw people walking with their families, groups of kids on bikes – and they were all talking to each other! I realize these sights might be common in other parts of the world but not in LA. Perhaps I imagined it but everything seemed calmer and happier.carmaggedon

Why can’t everyday be Carmaggedon? Beyond the environmental benefits, (according to the LA Times air pollution sensors measured a dip in smog levels) everyone just seemed to have more fun – some of my friends got together to make homemade pizza, some sat in local parks they hadn’t been to before, another friend walked 7 miles to a festival and loved it! We all talked to each other, and just enjoyed the day.

On Monday, the traffic resumed. And people commuted to work thinking that Carmaggedon was some magic trick and not an event, a celebration that we had all agreed and acted upon together. We can do it again. Why don’t we? As one resident said, “I love this. Monday is going to be hell again.”


For other great stories on all aspects of climate change, check out Celsias:

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  • Posted on July 20, 2011. Listed in:

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