Two years in LA (4): Traffic [basic strategy]

Traffic is the worst part of Los Angeles, by far.  The traffic limits where you can go in a day, and consequently, what you can do in a day, and at what times.  There will always be traffic during the daytime in LA, and for much of the nighttime as well, the only question is how much.  This entry will be the first of a series within the series of how to deal with LA traffic and how best to navigate it.


If you are driving in LA, the first thing you will need is a smartphone.  Download the application Waze.  There will come many a time when the route you typically take to a location will for some reason, whether it be an accident, road closure, road work, etc. will take infinitely more time than a longer, but freer road.

Now in using Waze, there are some minor deficiencies.

- Occasionally the program tells you to take high occupancy roads when you are only one person, this will optimize the route you will take to your destination.  (I'm sure you can program around this but I'm too lazy to do so.)

- Sometimes the address will be off.  (in unfamiliar locations, check to see if the application will take you to the ballpark area of where you're supposed to be)

- Sometimes it will tell you to take a left onto a multiple lane road from a back road that isn't protected by a stoplight, which may end up burning more time than expected.  Avoid these left turns if you can and make a left turn when you're able to snag a stoplight.


The next thing you'll need to do is follow some basic rules on the road.  Some of these are obvious, others are more subtle, but this is what I've learned over time:

- On freeways, go with the flow.  Some freeways like the 101 have 55 mph speed limits, others like the 10 and the 405 have 65 mph speed limits, but really, these limits almost mean nothing as long as you follow this rule.  On the road when driving in the fast lane, take away the outlier speeders (20+ mph over limit), and go within 3-5 mph faster at maximum than the fastest car on the highway, and more than that.  Speeding is all relative, I've heard of people getting tickets for < 10 mph infractions.  I've managed to keep away from those so far by blending in the crowd.

Two cars on a left turn.  Don't be the asshole third car.  But don't be the idiot that waits for another red light cycle instead of turning with the first car in front.

Know which areas are 3PM-7PM as opposed to 4PM-7PM.  Certain areas have parking restrictions during rush hour.  I can't tell you how many nub drivers that are that aren't aware that you can drive in those lanes during these times and cut time by doing so.  Some zones start earlier than others, so sometimes you can plan your arrival and departure times accordingly.  These will typically be on long East-West roads like Santa Monica Blvd., Sunset Blvd, Olympic, Wilshire, etc.

- "I don't want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light." - Woody Allen Ditto on how many nub drivers who just wait on that red...WHY

When the roads are narrow (2 lanes without a middle lane for turns), stay to the right (unless you can pass).  Getting caught on Highland behind a car taking a left while cars zoom past you on the right can be frustrating.

When roads are wide (3 lanes or more and/or a middle lane for turns), stay to the left.  More cars will exit the lane you're on as they turn left out of your way, so in theory all car speed being equal, you'll be progressing faster.

- On a yellow light (assuming you have sufficient time to pass), always keep a trigger finger on your horn.  Some people misjudge when you're going to go for it or not and try to take a left when the light is about to turn, be ready to preempt that instinct and save yourself from dying.

- A yellow light typically turns yellow when the pedestrian walk sign countdown hits 0, and turns red approximately 3.9 seconds afterwards.  Typically, I find myself stopping on the safe side, being used to shorter yellows.  Once you drive enough, you'll be able to feel when you can go on yellow or not, they're pretty consistent.  Plan your velocity throughout the countdown to be able to pass through it.


There are more cars then there are humans in Los Angeles, as a result, finding parking can be a hassle.  Here are some general guidelines:

Slightly less complicated than a LSAT logic game.

Slightly less complicated than a LSAT logic game.

- During the day, if there are tons of spots in an area that shouldn't have tons of spots, it's probably too good to be true.  Check the signs in the area, there's probably street cleaning going on, and/or it may be rush hour where certain roads need to be clear.

- Saturdays are considered business days for the most part.  Any restrictions USUALLY carry over on Saturdays, including meters and other locations.  Check signs carefully (they put that except Saturdays and Sundays print really small)

- Yellow and green curbs - use them strategically.  Yellow and green curbs give you five and 15 (or 30) minutes respectively during the hours of 7AM-6PM in Los Angeles county, Monday through Saturday.  They are fair game outside those hours and all day Sunday without restrictions.  Unless, of course signs say otherwise, but typically they won't.  After 6PM, keep an eye out for those yellow spots.

Unmetered parking are regulated by meter maids.  "They won't check if I'm parked for 2 hours."  Actually they do.  They do this by putting chalk on your tire and seeing if it's still in the same spot when they return.  If you're within vision of your car, you can spot them and then wait the appropriate time before either removing the chalk (risky IMO) or moving the car to another spot.  Check the signs for time allowed.

Read the signs.  Did I mention this?  Really though, they're not THAT complicated.

- New parking apps can also help.  Recently, Los Angeles has allowed certain applications to pay parking meters by phone.  You can scan QR codes and do so, and then save it so that when you go somewhere and have to refill the meter, you don't have to leave and can do so from your device.  Other apps use meter sensors to find what spots are available as well as parking garages with spots as well as pricing info.  In areas where you anticipate heavy parking trouble, it could be worth it to do a bit of scouting before you leave.


This covers the basic knowledge you need to know about LA traffic.  I'll go over specific areas and roads over the next couple of entries or so.