Los Angelenos Love To Complain About Traffic But Traffic Is So Bad Because They Absolutely Suck At Driving
Los Angeles traffic is consistently, by far, the worst in existence. I’ve been to about 2/3 of these United States, so I’ve driven in a lot of cities. Plus I’m on the road for several hours a day in Los Angeles; not because I’m travelling great distances but simply because traffic. So there’s a lot of time to think about it. What I’ve observed is not that there are too many cars on the road, major cities all have a lot of cars on the road. The problem is you, Los Angelenos, all drive the same whether there are 20 cars in front of you or no cars in front of you. You drive like you’re in heavy traffic whether you’re in heavy traffic or not. And I can now confirm this as fact as I’ve driven in Los Angeles during a pandemic with most of the populace in quarantine. You’re slow, slow to react, and focused on everything but driving. Yet you’ll complain about how long it takes to get anywhere in LA. It can only lead me to the conclusion that large swaths of the Los Angeles population physically become stupider when they get behind the wheel. Why do I say this? Because they can’t seem to put it together that doing an activity slower means it takes longer. I’m not talking about speeding, just get up to the fucking speed limit. And then actually focusing on driving when you’re driving, and realize that you’re not the only person on the road.
Let’s break this behavior down. Driving is supposed to be a somewhat collaborative process. It has to be. It requires sharing a resource—the road—with other people who are also operating a large hunk of steel that will damage itself and everything around it if it collides with something. Everything works just fine if everyone kind of looks out for each other and it also helps if everyone is generally on the same page that the point of getting in a car is to reach a destination in less time than it would take to walk. The driving culture here is so full of bad habits that I’m not sure if anyone even knows what a car is for.
Everyone complains about rush hour. The roads get jammed with bumper to bumper traffic. It’s a nightmare. Except that’s seldom actually the case– there’s almost never bumper to bumper anything here. If you were to take a bird’s eye view of the roads in LA during rush hour you’d see huge pieces of road not being used, huge spaces between cars. I’m guessing you could safely fit about twice as many vehicles on the road at any given time. What seems to happen here is people are slavish about keeping a distance in front of their vehicle, going well beyond the general one car length for every 10 mph rule. Another version of this rule is the 2 second rule, which states that if you were to pick a point on the side of the road up ahead of you, it should take 2 seconds between the time the vehicle in front of you passes it and you pass it. It’s a good rule. If you’re actually driving at a consistently speedy clip. When you’re driving at 10, 20, 30 mph you really have to be dense to need that much space in order to be able to react in time to changes. People will vigorously preserve this cushion in front of them at the expense of reaching any sort of practical speed. Which means an oppressive number of drivers are consistently driving well below the speed limit even though there is nothing in front of them impeding their progress. To even further fly in the face of reason, people will keep multiple car lengths of space in front of them while stopped at red lights, where there is absolutely no danger of having to stop short.
Some might look at all of this and say that people are just very cautious out here. What’s not to like about that? Well, no one is driving that way out of caution. They’re driving like that because that frees them up from having to pay any attention to the task at hand. Distracted driving is more dangerous than drunk driving but you have an entire population who just know they have a handle on it. If you just keep that safe buffer zone in front of you and look up every now and then, you catch up on your emails, texts, business calls, Netflix, etc. all you want. Too many goddamn people are looking at their phones while driving. I’ll look around me when traffic stops and it’s no exaggeration to say that’s about 70 percent of the people are looking at a screen. It really is the Los Angeles attitude in microcosm— no self awareness, no acknowledgement of others, my current needs outweigh everything including your needs and safety, public spaces/services were created for me only. It’s the single biggest problem with LA traffic. Every other problem stems from this.
Which is why I encounter this buffoonery multiple times every day:
Since, in the above example, I’m switching lanes for a reason and not just for kicks, I’m going to have to do it whether you assist me or not. So instead of benefitting from some helpful cooperation, I now have to slow way down to get in behind you (if the person behind you happens to notice me trying to switch lanes as well) which means I’m now blocking traffic in my lane.
There’s no sense that we’re working together here. To keep things moving smoothly you have to be paying attention, watching what other drivers are doing, anticipating what they might do or need to do next. Are there freeway on-ramps around that people might need to switch lanes to access? Are you at a red light and the person behind you needs you to move up just a couple feet so she can turn onto the side street (while you’re stopped with 20 feet in front of you)? Did a bus just stop in the right lane and now people are going to be trying to go around? Does that person ahead look like they’re trying to get over so they can make a turn of some kind? Varying your speed (maybe even going a little over the speed limit, which IS PERFECTLY OKAY) to help make room for others to maneuver is part of being a good, attentive driver and keeping traffic moving. I know this because I’ve seen it work countless times in many other lands across the country where they kind of just do it because it’s the friendly thing to do.
The lack of this sense of cooperation or good sense in general is why the freeways out here will always be something that is just broken and will never be right. There’s not much to say other than, if you can’t grasp the concept of the passing lane, there’s no hope for you. The left most lane (non-carpool lane if you’re in Los Angeles) in every state in the country is for passing. Not cruising, not fucking off and doing what the hell ever you want. Passing. If you’re in the left most non-carpool lane and you’re not passing anyone, and worse, people are now passing you on the right, you’re an asshole and causing dangerous driving conditions. Because now you’re forcing everyone to weave in and out of traffic to get where they need to be.
This “left lane is a passing lane”, is indeed a rule in California too. So is SLOWER TRAFFIC KEEP RIGHT. I know this because I had to get a CA license when I moved here which required reading and absorbing the California Drivers’ Handbook. There is a full book, even though by the way people drive, a one page handout with some bullet points seems to be all that’s provided. Needless to say, there’s no excuse for not knowing these things.
There’s also no excuse for not using a turn signal. It’s so easy. It’s a lever right there on the steering column. It takes almost no effort to lift your arm and activate it. All over the country, it’s a great tool for communicating with your fellow drivers that you’d like to, for instance, give a heads up to everyone that you would like to switch lanes or that you will be making a turn up ahead and therefore your sudden decelerating won’t be a surprise. Usually, the only heads up you’ll get that the car in front of you is turning is when it makes a split second stop and hairpins into the 7 Eleven.
When a turn signal is used by LA drivers, I get the distinct impression that the person signaling knows how to signal but he doesn’t know why. A general rule– if you’re already stopped when you flip the signal on, you’re too late. To reiterate, the signal is a heads up warning that you are planning to turn in the near future so that your fellow drivers can safely navigate around you. According to the California Driver’s Handbook, it’s supposed to be done 100 feet from where you’re turning. If you are actually in the process of turning, you no longer need to turn the signal on and tell me you want to turn because it’s now very obvious.
Simply using a turn signal can save so much trouble for your fellow drivers by keeping them aware and keeping things moving. For instance, when I’ve been sitting at a stop sign waiting for you to pass so I can turn into the intersection only to have you turn into where I’m coming out of and I could’ve actually made my turn thirty seconds ago had you signaled you were turning, you’ve made a dick move. Another dick move is when I’m behind you in the left most lane when the light turns green—and only then do you signal that you’re turning left and now I can’t go because none of the oncoming traffic is going to let you make your turn while they have a green and I can’t go around you because there’s not a chance in hell anyone is going to let me into their lane for the same reason. Its just courtesy, man.
Traffic lights and the use of traffic lights are perhaps the most insidious problem for LA drivers. It’s not entirely their fault. LA has a stoplight problem. While stoplights are a necessary nuisance in any city, Los Angeles takes the idea far beyond nuisance into some Byzantine farce. There are so many stoplights littered throughout the city that they actually, no shit, cancel each other out.
The commute from my current residence to my current place of work is 9.6 miles. Along that 9.6 mile trip I have to go through 49 stop lights and that’s after refining my trip to miss as many lights as possible. If you’re of a mathematical bent, that’s a little over 5 per mile. Say the average red light lasts about a minute (mainly because you won’t get through on the first go around and I’ll get into that), if I manage to only get stopped at half the lights on my journey, that’s twenty plus minutes added to my commute. I’m guessing you could eliminate a third of the city’s stop lights and be perfectly fine. Every little piddily-dink neighborhood side street doesn’t need it’s own light. All these lights are doing is creating unnecessary traffic problems.
That being said, you know what might make this problem less a problem? Actually going when the light turns green. Because that’s what a green light means. It means “go”. Not wait a few seconds and go. Not “go when you feel like it” or “go as soon as you’re done with that text message” or when you’re finished arranging the items on the passenger seat. And once you’ve gone, get up to the damn speed limit as quickly as is reasonably possible. An LA green light sets off a competition to see who can accelerate the slowest and still be in motion. It’s as if everyone chose one of the fat Mario Kart drivers. People seriously sit at green lights like the light turning green was an event they just weren’t prepared to encounter.
I’ve heard some say that no one goes right away because people run red lights in Los Angeles all the time. Yet I’ve only seen this happen a handful of times while living here, no more than any other city. Even if someone did run the light, if you’re paying attention while the light is still red, and you’re supposed be doing just that because you are in fact supposed to be paying attention at all times while operating a motor vehicle, you can watch the oncoming traffic and anticipate when someone is going to run the light. If so, wait. If not, go.
And then get moving because it works wonders in simply keeping traffic moving. I’ve never thought twice about this. Where I come from, we always just assumed it was the polite thing to do because there are people behind us waiting to go. It’s common sense. The person behind you can’t go until you go. And the person behind them can’t go until they go and so on. I understand there may be a red light up ahead for you but for the people behind you, there is a green light and they can’t go through it because you’re driving like no one else exists.
The way I drive is considered aggressive out here. It’s simply called driving back east, so I think it’s more apt to say LA drivers are passive drivers, which means that you kind of let the driving take care of itself. There is a minimum of thought and effort put into the actual process of driving because your attention is elsewhere. Making calls, responding to emails or texts, putting on your make up, surfing the web, watching TV, etc. is not only fucking stupid and dangerous but if you were actively involved in driving, you’d be seeing the very simple ways your commute could be quicker and more efficient.
You need to be an active participant on the road. You need to have your head in the game. If you don’t want to step up your driving game, that’s fine. It’s a free country. But don’t complain about traffic because you’re the reason there’s traffic.