6 Secret Tips to Beat L.A. Traffic
Los Angeles is a tricky town. Unlike other major metropoles, it has no real center and its characteristic urban sprawl makes it hard to tell where it begins and ends. Overlay it with an eccentric freeway system and L.A. can become even more discouraging to drivers.
L.A. County is laced together with over 500 miles of freeway, on which more than 200 million vehicle miles are driven each day. Its famed county seat alone is comprised of roughly 6,500 miles of streets. That’s the largest municipal street system in the country—and the most congested.
It’s not surprising that driving is a daily conversation piece among Angelenos—so much so that it’s the subject of a classic SNL sketch “The Californians.” It’s also not surprising that savvy locals are privy to driving hacks that alleviate an otherwise blood-boiling schlep across town.
Whether you’re just visiting or moving to the City of Angels for the first time, here are some insider tricks to L.A.’s notorious impasses to help save you both money and precious time.
1. Stay Away From “the 405”
You might’ve heard this one already, but it bears repeating: ditch the 405, especially during rush hour. If you’re heading up to the Valley from Santa Monica, your best bet might be to take Sepulveda all the way instead. Although Interstate 405 was widened several years ago, reports conflict on whether its renovation has had a positive or negative impact. Either way, it’s still the most notorious of L.A. freeways and, according to some studies, the most congested artery in the country.
2. Beware of “the 10” during USC games
The I-10 freeway connects the Westside to Downtown L.A. Heading east between the hours of 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. could easily mean two hours of stop-and-go traffic. And when the Trojans are playing at home, the 10 will be the largest parking lot you’ve ever seen.
If you’re among the hordes of college football fans schlepping easterly to make it before tipoff and hit a reddened thread of tail lights, get off at the next exit and take any of the following streets—Jefferson, Washington, MLK, or Venice—which run parallel to the 10.
It’s important to note that street parking is next to impossible. There are parking structures near the Coliseum, which usually charge around $25, but sometimes they’re much more. As an alternative, many locals—some of whom are USC students—will rent out their driveways for a fee of just $10-$20.
Even if you’re not going to the game, knowing when it starts can help you gauge whether or not you’ll hit traffic—if, for instance, you plan to peruse Downtown’s historical theaters on the 500 block of south Broadway.
3. Use public transportation
While L.A. isn’t renowned for its public transit system, it’s better than you might think. In a study published by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies, the City of Angels ranked third in the top 10 accessible metro areas in the nation (just behind New York and San Francisco).
Its color-coded light rail system traverses a multitude of prime locations throughout the metro area. Plus, fare is only $1.75 ($1 for students K-12). Sure, in some instances driving might be faster, but taking the rail saves you the expense of parking and gas, not to mention the ennui of gridlock.
4. Always take Fountain
Johnny Carson once asked Bette Davis how young starlets can get into Hollywood. Her advice: “Take Fountain.” However literal, it’s sound advice all the same—especially when there’s a concert at the Hollywood Bowl.
Rather than go down Sunset or the costumed logjam that is Hollywood Boulevard, Fountain Ave affords a reprieve from Tinsel Town’s bustling activity, quickly getting you from west to east or vice versa.
5. Make “the 90” your best friend
SR-90 is the one freeway in L.A. that’s rarely clogged. It’s actually comprised of two non-linking segments—the Marina Freeway and Imperial Highway. The former smoothly conveys you from Marina del Rey to Culver City. The latter winds gently through inland Orange County. For the most part, the 90 is composed of just a couple lanes and a few exits, making it a dependable—albeit brief—corridor through southwestern L.A.
6. Embrace technology
Google Maps and Waze are great ways to circumnavigate backed-up freeways. Using Waze can provide a unique way to explore the city. Just be careful with some of its eccentric routes. L.A. is rife with alleys and Waze might not always account for those that are obstructed.
Another way of dodging the travails of traffic is the throwback, Sig Alerts—which are broadcasted via radio and signs along the highway. Sig Alerts warn drivers of collisions holding up traffic, or road closings during award season.
Of course, it’s safe to assume there will always be traffic. Los Angeles has the most expensive car insurance premiums in California for a reason—its prodigious volume of cars on the road correlates directly with its higher risk of collisions. So if you’re at a Dodger’s game, leave 45 minutes early. Need to catch a flight at LAX? Give yourself a buffer to get there on time, whether or not you take La Cienega or the 405.
There are even on-demand helicopter apps, like UberChopper and BLADE, which enable users to avoid traffic entirely. Embracing some indigenous know-how, in conjunction with apps and tech, is the most robust way to steer clear of traffic, and thereby enjoy the multifaceted (and often misunderstood) City of Angels.