Driving in Los Angeles County
This article is a travel topic
Driving in Los Angeles, California
Welcome to Los Angeles, second biggest city in the United States and world capital of entertainment. Home of Hollywood, the workplace of the rich and famous and yes, home of the automobile, too.
Dealing with Traffic
Residents of Los Angeles County spend an estimated 4 days of each year stuck in traffic. However, since there is no real effective alternative for getting around, driving, and dealing with traffic, for the vast majority of trips outside the downtown core, traffic is an inescapable part of the Los Angeles lifestyle, and something visitors will not be able to avoid.
When traveling on a Los Angeles freeway it's important to remember slower traffic keeps the right. Many Angelenos do well over 20 mph of the posted speed limit and cutting them off or remaining in the fast lane at a slow pace, will cause frustration with native drivers.
Despite the infamy of Los Angeles' traffic situation, people from other major cities may not be surprised. The real issues are the sheer length of the rush hour period, and the volume of traffic therein. The assertions of driving difficulty and danger will most likely seem unfounded to residents of large cities, especially comparatively frantic northeastern locations such as New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, who often see Los Angeles traffic as relatively easy-going. Indeed, the New Jersey Turnpike, the Beltway, and the Schuylkill Expressway offer easily comparable volume and far less forgiving conditions.
It is actually very easy to drive around Los Angeles for about six hours every day - from around 11 PM to 5 AM. Driving times in these morning hours can easily be less than a third of what they are during peak hours. Don't think for a second that CalTrans hasn't figured this out too. A lot of construction is scheduled during these off peak times; be ready to plan alternative routes. Anyone planning on visiting by car may wish to seriously consider scheduling the trip so as to arrive or depart in the early morning - this can prevent a great deal of frustration. This is also an excellent time of day to find your way around, memorize your traffic routes, and explore.
Los Angeles Car Culture
While nearly every big city in the world has to deal with traffic congestion, what makes L.A. unique is that Los Angeles has not only one of the largest high-speed road networks in the world, but also the highest per-capita car population in the world.
How did this come to happen? A short lesson in history: along with the great boost of technological advancements of the 20th century came the automobile. Due to its economic prosperity and automobile-centric development, the United States has become the country with the most registered vehicles, estimated at some 232 million. California, being the country’s most populous state with the biggest passion for cars, planned its cities such as Los Angeles around the automobile in favor of other modes to an extent greater than perhaps than any other city and now holds the greatest concentration of them all with more than 26 million. This makes the Los Angeles metropolitan area, with roughly 1.8 cars per household, the most car-populated urban sprawl in the world.
The Los Angeles freeway system handles over twelve million cars on a daily basis. While L.A. holds the number one spot as America’s most congested and polluted roadways, surprisingly enough, it does not hold the title of most chaotic car city due to its enormous freeway infrastructure that allows the residents of the Los Angeles area to carry on their daily migration of over 300 million miles.
No one should drive around Los Angeles without a Thomas Guide. If you don't want to purchase a full Thomas Guide (about $20-$30 at bookstores), you can purchase Rand McNally maps which incorporate the Thomas Guide at most gas stations, supermarkets, and convenience stores (Costco and Walmart usually have the cheapest prices). The maps cover a given geographical area and cost about $4-$6. Use of an online mapping tool, such as Mapquest, is also recommended. As a general rule, time estimates given by Mapquest should be at least doubled during rush hours.
In his parody traffic reports, Tonight Show host Johnny Carson used to refer to the "Slauson Cutoff". While driving around LA you often have the option of taking freeways or surface streets. Some locals rely on surface streets to avoid rush hour traffic on the freeways. For example, many people driving to the San Fernando Valley during rush hour will opt to take Sepulveda Blvd, which runs parallel to the 405 Freeway, since the 405 often takes longer at this time of day. In nearby Culver City, La Cienega is used as a cutoff from I-10 to LAX. The effectiveness of such strategies is debatable, and it may be difficult for inexperienced drivers to accurately guess which way will be faster. Outside of rush hour, the freeways will almost always be faster for longer trips around LA.
One particularly annoying aspect of freeways in Los Angeles County is finding an onramp. The onramps are marked with signs marked "Freeway Entrance" but these can be frustratingly difficult to find.
Driving with a GPS unit is highly recommended.
Each freeway is identified by a number, and usually one or two names. In addition, there are three types of freeways: interstate, federal, and state. Federal and state routes can be either freeways or streets or alternate between both but all interstate routes are freeways.
When giving directions, most locals refer to a freeway by its number, "the 405 freeway" or "the 101 freeway", or just "the 101". In some parts of the country, the indefinite article is dropped, whereas it is kept in most of the west coast: "Take the 405 to the 101" rather than just "Take 405 to 101." Although both are acceptable, you may encounter momentary confusion when using the latter with locals.
Local radio station traffic reports, on the other hand, often refer to freeways by name, leading to confusion.
Names usually identify where the freeway goes in a general way; the Ventura freeway is either going toward or away from Ventura, and names change when there is a better-known and closer target. This can be confusing to out-of-towners. For example, the 110 runs from Pasadena in the north to the LA harbor in the south. The portion north of the 10 (Santa Monica Freeway, which runs through downtown Los Angeles) is the Pasadena Freeway and the portion that runs south of the 110 the Harbor Freeway. One thing to be aware of is that a number can shift freeway names; the Hollywood Freeway is the 101 south of the Ventura Freeway, and the 170 north of the Ventura. The Ventura takes over the number from North Hollywood to the west. The eastern portion of the Ventura Freeway is the 134.
- 1 - Pacific Coast Highway or more commonly PCH: Not really a freeway per se. But convenient for the beach towns as it sticks to the coast most of the way through the county, and one of the scenic ways to tour the Los Angeles coast. Usually slower than the 405, it is riddled with traffic signals.
- 2 - Glendale Freeway: This freeway connects the 210 in La Crescenta/La Cañada to the 134 and 5 freeways before petering out in Silver Lake/Echo Park. Convenient for getting to the Angeles National Forest and Dodger Stadium.
- 5 - Golden State Freeway/Santa Ana Freeway: The main north/south freeway through central LA. It passes through downtown LA and heads north through the east end of the San Fernando Valley. Continuing north it is the fastest route to San Francisco. Heading south it will take you to Anaheim, through Orange County, to San Diego and the Mexican border. Although this is one of the busiest and most direct freeways in the region, it is also one of the oldest and is often only two lanes in either direction. This freeway originates at the US border in San Diego and goes all the way to the Canadian border in Washington.
- 10 - Santa Monica Freeway/San Bernadino Freeway: The main east/west freeway. It passes by downtown LA and is the main route between LA and Santa Monica. Going east, it is, along with the 60, the main escape from LA to Riverside County, Palm Springs, and eventually Phoenix and the rest of the country. As a sign near the beginning notes, this is also the "Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway" and runs all the way through Phoenix, Houston and New Orleans to Jacksonville, Florida.
- 14 - Antelope Valley Freeway: This is a freeway starting from the 5 in the south and moves its way to Palmdale and Lancaster (in Northern Los Angeles County).
- 57 - Orange Freeway: Most of this freeway is in Orange County. But it does connect the 210 in La Verne to the 71, 10 and 60 freeways before heading out of the county to the South (straight on to Anaheim and Disneyland). Convenient if you are in the East of the county for Raging Waters, Disneyland or Cal Poly Pomona.
- 60 - Pomona Freeway: Runs parallel to the 10 from downtown to beyond Riverside, after which it merges again with the 10.
- 71 - Chino Valley Freeway: Starts at the 10/57/71 interchange in Pomona in the west and ends at the 91 in Corona. Convenient for getting from Los Angeles County out to Corona and even San Diego (using the 15).
- 91 - Artesia Freeway: An east/west freeway that connects the 110, 5, 605 and 57 freeways. Be careful about it being a 'beach freeway'. It ends long before it ever gets to a beach, much smarter to take other freeway routes to the beaches. When you reach the end of the elevated freeway, the road becomes a highway until it hits PCH (1). Although you may use it to get to either Manhattan or Hermosa beaches, you will wait at many traffic signals.
- 101 - Hollywood Freeway/Ventura Freeway: Runs northwest from downtown LA, past Hollywood, and into the San Fernando Valley, where it turns abruptly west and becomes the Ventura Freeway. It then continues to the Central Coast through Santa Barbra and San Luis Obispo and then onwards to the San Francisco Bay Area, Oregon, and ends in Olympia, Washington. The 170 continues northwest as the Hollywood Freeway. Do not be confused by the fact that sometimes the signs indicate 101 South or East and 101 North or West depending on the stretch of freeway. There is no interchange or visible border when these switch.
- 105 - Glenn Anderson Freeway: An east/west route, a few miles south of the 10. Also known as the Century Freeway. Important because it takes you straight to the LA airport. On the east end, terminates at the 605.
- 110 - Pasadena Freeway/Harbor Freeway: Runs from Pasadena in the north to the LA harbor area in the south. Unusual in that the southern part of the 110 is an Interstate, while the northern part is a state highway. Probably this is because the northern part, the Pasadena Freeway, would never pass code as an Interstate. Ironically, this portion, also known as the "Arroyo Parkway" was the nation's first limited access "freeway". Designed in the 1930s, when it was assumed cars would be travelling at most 35 miles per hour (60 km/h), the Pasadena Freeway is noted for its extremely short offramps, while its onramps give you just a few car lengths to accelerate from a complete stop before merging with oncoming traffic.
- 134 - Ventura Freeway: Connects the 210 in Pasadena to the 101 in Burbank. Cuts right through Glendale and Eagle Rock along the way. Convenient for getting to Griffith Park, Disney studios and most of Glendale.
- 210 - Foothill Freeway: a 'bypass' interstate , running from the valley, intersecting the 5 and the major north/south freeways. The Foothill Freeway parallels the 10 and 60 out of eastern LA county and was recently extended from Rialto.
- 405 - San Diego Freeway: The main north/south freeway for West LA. It is often the road you take to the Los Angeles airport. The 405 runs north through the San Fernando Valley. It runs south from the airport towards Long Beach, and turns east until merging with the 5 in Orange County. The 405 is the most congested freeway in the world, and should be avoided during rush hour.
- 605 - San Gabriel River Freeway: A north/south alternative in east LA county, running from near Long Beach north up to the 210, intersecting the 5 and the major east/wast freeways.
- 710 - Long Beach Freeway: A north/south artery from East LA to Long Beach. This freeway is almost always full of trucks heading in and out of the harbor, so be careful near them..
You can get traffic reports 24 hours a day from several radio stations. Radio stations don't play traffic reports during sports events or special news events. Traffic reports will often substitute the verbal name for a freeway "Westbound Santa Monica Freeway" for the number; be aware that for example, the congestion may be nowhere near Santa Monica.
KFWB 980 AM has traffic reports on the ones (:01, :11, :21, :31, :41, and :51) when they aren't playing Dodger games or running Larry King Live. KNX 1070 AM "News Radio" - Los Angeles' 24-hour news station - has traffic reports "on the 5's" when they aren't running the simucast of 60 Minutes (7 pm on Sunday) or 60 Minutes II, or "Weekly Roundup". KFI 640 AM "More Stimulating Talk Radio" and KABC 790 AM run traffic reports four times an hour, usually during commercial breaks of their talk shows. The radio station web sites have links to graphics showing traffic speeds and the accident logs of the highway patrol.
City of Los Angeles street speed information is available though the City's website