My Way or the Highway

One can get anywhere in Los Angeles in 20 minutes. This is as true a statement as any that can be said about the City of Angels. Any amendment to this rule will dramatically hinder one's progress. The 20-minute rule comes with a caveat or two. It cannot be raining. It must be very early in the morning, although the weekends and holidays work best. There cannot be an accident anywhere, whether it is on either side of the freeway is not important. The side the accident is on, will in effect, cease to move and ostensibly, the other side will slow to a crawl with gawkers looking on as if never having seen a mangled wreck.

Should any of these alterations come into play, any of the fabled freeways in Los Angeles will start to mirror that of their East Coast counterparts, especially that of the Long Island Expressway. Cruelly named an expressway, the Long Island Expressway or L.I.E as it is popularly known, begins to live up to its abbreviation. It is also known by another name; The World's Largest Parking Lot.

By comparison, the freeway and its confusingly articulated automotive life veins to the rest of the immense body that is the bloated corpse of Los Angeles County, is known by numbers. The higher the number, it's said, the higher the car count. To name only a few, the 405 (San Diego Freeway) is the worst offender, with the 210 (Foothill Freeway), the 134 (Ventura Freeway), the 118 (Ronald Regan Freeway), the 110 (Pasadena Freeway), the 101 (Hollywood Freeway), the 10 (San Bernardino Freeway), the 5 (Golden State/Santa Ana Freeway) -- all vying for contender on any given weeknight. It goes all the way down to the 2 (Glendale Freeway) and the 1 (Pacific Coast Highway). Even though the 5 and the 2 are at the bottom of the heap, there is no shortage of heaps upon them at any given moment as there are over 26 million cars in Los Angeles, alone.

This typically comes as a shock to those who travel to Los Angeles on vacation to get away from the traffic mecca that is the tourist-laden East Coast. Tourists are surprised that the car-centric L.A. freeways are jammed and like this every day. L.A. is a car city and county. The old adage is mainly true that no one walks in L.A. Los Angeles is all about the drive time. While no adage is 100 percent, there are stragglers, literally, who walk and jog, but most Los Angelinos would prefer to drive by them with their windows rolled up and the air conditioning on full blast.

Ironically, while the freeways are the life blood of every Los Angeles resident from cradle to grave to get them from Point A to Point Dume, these are usually clogged from entrance to exit. As freeways are referred to as arteries, any clog is obviously not a good thing.

There is, however, a secret that literally gets around this problem. These are the side streets that run adjacent to such Freeways and for some reason are anathema to the archetypal Los Angeles County resident. Maybe it's the love affair with the auto that Los Angeles has, but typically, the side streets, also called alternative streets are often freely flowing and virtually empty as opposed to the sluggish overhead numerical highway of choice.

The concept of leaving the sacred freeway and venturing literally off the beaten path is apparently an abhorrent one to an Angelino. This is possibly due to the fact that the typical Los Angeles resident spends 90 hours a year in their car as opposed to 38 hours compared to the other 47 state counterparts. This is, of course, not counting the ironic last ride to the cemetery when stoplights and signs are waved and in some cases freeways are slowed by police and traffic is cleared to one side to let the deceased have at it one last time in a way they never could have in life. It is the only time when the Freeway lives up to its literal meaning. This last occurrence is a rare instance and usually only allowed to certain V.I.P.'s.

If you mention you'd rather take the side streets than the freeway to a lifelong Angelino, you'll run the risk of getting a reaction as if you'd said: "That gluten-free tofu was fried in animal fat." or "No thanks, I'd rather walk." But taking the side streets isn't as ludicrous as it sounds. There is less time sitting in traffic. You save on gas and should you be in a hurry, odds are you'll get there much quicker and without as much stress.

While it may be sacrilegious to forgo the crumbling aging infrastructure in earthquake country where the Big One is imminently overdue and taking an alternate route or hopping aboard the growing, convenient Metro, both concepts are gaining the momentum that freeways normally lack. With more and more people becoming environmentally conscious and wanting to leave as little carbon footprint as possible, the idea of taking the electric rail and in some communities, trolley is coming back into favor. What's old is new again.

In the not-too-far-off distant future, there may come a time when freeways become a thing of the past. In New York City, disused elevated train tracks have been re-purposed as the High Line, an aerial green-way for residents to find peace and tranquility and give back to nature. This would be something unheard of a generation ago. Should the notion of alternate fuel and travel modes catch on in Los Angeles, who knows what tomorrow will bring? Perhaps one day some of the Freeways might be used as environmentally friendly overhanging gardens and walkways in a smog-free L.A.