Though I’m fairly new to Los Angeles, I consider myself somewhat of an ambassador. A simple, “How do you like L.A.?” launches me into a monologue on L.A.’s finer points, like:
- Dishing out authentic Mexican fare and tons of fresh seafood
- Peppering a gorgeous landscape with top-quality museums, parks, and trails
- Putting palm trees in your front yard
However, none of this good stuff (and we only scratched the surface there) can make you forget about the thing for which L.A. is truly abysmal: driving.
For those considering a visit to L.A. — or for those who live here but just want to therapeutically relive the misery — here’s one Angeleno’s personal guide to the worst parts of driving in the City of Angels. Read on to feel a little bit better about your commute.
You (usually) have no other choice
For such a sprawling place, public transportation in L.A. is surprisingly thin (no direct train to the airport? C’mon!). Although it has the seventh-highest square mileage of any U.S. city, the lack of public transit can often limit pedestrians and (non-Olympic) bicyclists to their immediate neighborhoods.
Alas, if you really want to take in all the city has to offer, driving (L.A. leads the nation in annual fuel use) is hard to escape. And it’s that feeling of helplessness that can really get under your skin.
The traffic (my God, the traffic)
OK, as petrifying as that is, (and make no mistake, it’s 100 percent petrifying), what’s actually caused me more frustration than the hours parked on the freeway are the short commutes that sneakily turn long. You know, the 1.2-mile drive home from the grocery store at 1:30 p.m. that inexplicably takes 25 minutes. How many pints of ice cream have to spoil before we enact change? How many pints???
Overreliance on interstates
What’s the first sign you have too many eggs in the interstate basket? I don’t know … maybe if your main freeway closes down for a weekend and the entire town goes berserk and then, in a blaze of spectacular panic, dubs the event “Carmageddon.” Oh wait, that’s exactly what happened here.
In mid-2011, road maintenance briefly forced Angelenos off a key stretch of the 405 freeway. This prospect was so unthinkable, it led to weirdly foreboding billboards shooing people away, instilling (for many) a genuine fear of going anywhere. Clearly, the term “scenic route” is not part of our lexicon. When the interstate shuts down, you shut down.
(For what it’s worth, when Carmageddon II — oh yes, the sequel! — hit a year later, it inspired way fewer doomsday proclamations.)
The parking situation
You’re probably familiar with the Ancient Mariner’s famous adage: “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” Well I’d like to give that line an L.A. tweaking: “Concrete, concrete everywhere, nor any space to park.”
I confess, moving here from Chicago, I fell for the mirage — look at all this room! Parking in L.A. will be a piece of cake! Little did I know that when you mix millions upon millions of frustrated drivers with some of the most cramped parking lots you’ve ever seen, things actually get more stressful. To this day, the words “Hey, can you stop at Trader Joe’s?” still cause me, like a dysfunctional Pavlovian dog, to shake uncontrollably for several hours.
The weather (hold on, hear me out)
For fear of getting sucker punched by the nearest local, any sentence beginning with “The weather in L.A …” usually needs to finish with something like “… has reaffirmed my faith in the world.” So I’ll take this slow: “The weather in L.A. … creates a driving issue.”
Now, no one’s debating L.A.’s beauty. Yet, it’s precisely because Los Angeles exists in a vacu-sealed, warm and sunny, hyperbolic chamber that trouble can occur. Because, frankly, when that rare rainy day does arrive, people just lose their minds.
I’ve been stuck behind someone doing 10 mph in a 40-mph zone during a light drizzle; I’ve feared for my life looking in the rearview mirror as someone swerves lanes during a downpour; I’ve watched in awe as drivers tailgate aggressively on slick roads only minutes after a storm.
In essence, I’ve come to L.A. (Now … do you validate?)
What’s the most frustrating thing about driving in your town? Would you rank it among the worst cities in the country? (And could it possibly be worse than L.A.?) Leave a comment below.