Now, rather sooner than one might have wished, that vision of a less-car-dependent populace is being put to the test. It's being called Carmageddon, the closure of the 405 Fwy through the heart of LA for an entire weekend this July 15th (at midnight) through the 17th. What will this human science experiment in the living laboratory tell us about Angelenos' prognosis for survival in a more sustainable world?
According to a UCLA Newsroom report entitled "The Day the 405 Stood Still":
At UCLA, shutting down is not an option: With a major hospital to run, summer camps to attend and petri-dish experiments to keep alive, university officials expect 8,000 to 10,000 people on campus.
UCLA Today in its "UCLA braces for Carmageddon" piece adds:
More than 1,900 hospital employees will keep UCLA’s two hospitals purring, with several hundred doctors, nurses and other staff bunking in campus residence halls in case of an emergency. Roughly 200 children will attend long-ago promised sports camps, about 200 MBA students start classes, and 150 teachers from China will arrive at LAX to begin teacher-training on campus.
UCLA Medical Center's response to the potential nightmare is to put itself on high alert, take measures to see that it continues to function normally, and make on-campus housing available for commuting staff "in case of an emergency." Presumably that emergency would be impassable roads. They don't seem to anticipate an influx of patients as a result of the freeway closure, though the way the event is being imagined in science fiction terms makes it sound like casualties are inevitable. Will road rage turn into rioting and looting? Will there be a mass psychiatric meltdown? Will people trip on the unfamiliar laces of their walking shoes? Rest assured, more police will be out (on bicycles?), according to UCLA Today's article:
The UCPD and UCLA Transportation are among the departments scheduling extra staff to make sure everything runs smoothly, and both UCPD and the LAPD are considering overnighting in UCLA dorms.
LA Times architecture critic and urban culture columnist Christopher Hawthorne brings a different voice to the table in his June 12 Times article when he asks: "doesn't the general freak out over the shutdown suggest, in and of itself, its fundamental folly?" He wonders if spending $1B on an added freeway lane is really what LA needs to be doing to make the future more...accommodating.
Public transit does exist in LA, and improvements, extensions, and rail links are all underway thanks to the Measure R transit initiative sales tax increase approved by voters in 2008, as well as some recent loan money from Washington. But the real change has to happen in the psyche of Los Angeles County's 9,818,605 citizens. Yet another LA Times article on the impact of the freeway closure is simply titled: "Caution: lifestyle changes ahead." It leads with the picture of a happy young couple who planned their wedding this Sunday long before the doomsday forecast. They will get married all the same. Because if this is the end of the world as we know it, well, they feel fine.
For in-depth pre-event reporting on the 405 closure, watch the public television broadcast "Countdown to Carmageddon" produced by UCLA and CNET. It airs Wednesday, July 13 and again July 15 on the news program "SoCal Connected."
Christopher Hawthorne, who doesn't count himself among those people likely to be seriously pained by the closure, muses:
For the rest of us it has been a lesson in the almost comically central place that the freeway continues to hold in Southern California life in literal and symbolic terms.
Q: How do you think Angelenos will fare this weekend? What will the first impression of those 150 Chinese teachers be?
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