Making It Easier For Tourists To Navigate In L.A.
This is the 110 Harbor Freeway at 3 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon.
You can have all the GPS and Apps at your disposal, but in Los Angeles that will do you little good unless you have some idea of the area and the freeways.
This is in large part because CalTrans is unable to design a flowing freeway system – I could have done better with a crayon and posterboard in elementary school – and has built on-ramps and interchanges with the obvious goal of causing massive back-ups of traffic, leaving everyone confused, involved in hair-raising near-misses and very late for your dinner appointment.
This this poor design is made even worse by signage that is often more confusing than helpful.
As a result, many a tourist has been frustrated, lost, baffled, crazed and perplexed (locals too, by the way).
With that in mind, here’s Sightseeing Sam’s Top 5 Tips For Driving On L.A.’s Freeways:
1.) Know The Freeways. You need to know this because there are several confusing intersections and poor signage that come at places where immediate lane-changes and decisions are required. If you don’t believe me, try driving the the 10 freeway through downtown. It’s not a straight line, I’ll tell you that right here!
Here’s a quick guide to the major ones:
• The 405 runs north to south along the western part of the city, from north of the valley to south Orange County. It must be noted this is not a bypass or a loop as, say, I-285 in Atlanta, but a north-south route. Use it for getting to the beach cities (Santa Monica, Manhattan/Hermosa/Redondo Beach, Long Beach, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach).
• The 10 runs east-west, goes out to the Inland Empire and Palm Springs and ends in Santa Monica. It intersects the 405 just west of Santa Monica.
• The 110 goes through downtown and to the port city of San Pedro, connecting to the 405 in Carson and – in really bizarre fashion – with the 10 downtown.
• The 101 runs, well it’s kind of hard to understand exactly which direction it runs, but it’s the freeway for the Valley. It meshes/merges and does other confusing things with the 134 around Burbank.
• The 5 goes north/south and is a mess in L.A. County. Unfortunately, you have to take it to get to Dodger Stadium. It also goes past Angels Stadium and Disneyland in Orange County, where it has more lanes and is less frustrating.
2.) Motorcycles Zoom Past You Between The Lanes. This will startle the heck out of you if you are not expecting it. Especially when they fly by your door by mere inches at 60 mph as you are sitting still in traffic.
3.) There Are Red Lights On The On Ramps. This is just plain dumb. On the other hand, it fits ideally into CalTrans’ apparent plan to back up traffic as much as possible at every location. In this, it excels, causing backups on the interchanges and the surface streets feeding the ramp.
4.) Watch Out For Sudden Slow-Downs Or Stops. This is quite common. You’ll be cruising along, listening to tunes and saying “hey, this L.A. traffic isn’t so bad,” when all of a sudden your eyes get as big as plate saucers because the traffic in front of you is completely stopped. This usually occurs at freeway interchanges because, as noted above, CalTans can’t design them, which causes traffic to slow down or to come down to a full stop.
There could also be look-e-loos slowing down to check out someone pulled over on the shoulder – often they do this even if it’s the opposite shoulder; come ON people! – or sometimes the traffic speed picks up again and you have no idea what caused the slow-down to happen. So be alert!
5.) Get In The Far Left Lane Immediately If You Are Traveling Some Distance. Those freeway interchanges and backups at off-ramps often cause the right two lanes to slow down or stop, so get in the far left lane so you can breeze (relatively speaking, of course) past the traffic jam.
Los Angeles does have carpool lanes but some are now tolls – hey, what happened to the FREEway!? – and some of those toll lanes don’t have good signage. So pay attention and hope you are in the correct lane.
Finally, keep your calm and if you get lost or misdirected, and if so, always head to the west. Toward the beach. That’s the best place to be in Los Angeles anyway.