One time, I went to Anaheim to meet a high school friend who was visiting for a convention. After hugging and interchanging some words, she asked me to take her to Hollywood to see the famous Walk of Fame.
I almost faint. Why? Because, she was asking me to drive her 60 miles (96 km) during rush hour in Greater Los Angeles. That was probably going to take about two hours one way. Plus, I drove one and a half hours to see her.
After explaining the situation, we decided to spend the evening in Downtown Disney and forgot about the crazy idea of going to Hollywood.
With this story, I try to illustrate two main points. One: the distances in Los Angeles are long. Two: the congestion in the freeways is serious. Many have heard the nightmare stories about traffic in Los Angeles but, of those, only a few have experienced it.
Do not let those facts deter you from visiting the City of Angels (you are going to like it, I promise). Here are my best tips for dealing with traffic.
- Los Angeles is big. Let me say that again. Los Angeles is huge. The metropolitan area is 33,954 sq mi or 87,490 km2. Eighteen million people live in the area.
- The city has one of the worst traffic situations in the entire world. During peak hour, it is not uncommon to have some freeways moving at 8 miles per hour. A 30 mile ride can easily take one hour and ten or twenty minutes.
- Things can get worst. Yes, you heard me right. The freeways can get to a total halt when multiple accidents occur, when people are trying to get out of the city right before a holiday or when it rains (yes, we are not used to drive in the rain).
- Therefore, if something is located in “Los Angeles,” in reality that place can be located miles away (and hours away too).
- There is no way to avoid all traffic. On the other hand, the situation can be alleviated with some tips and tricks.
- Stay close to the attractions you are interested in visiting in order to cut driving time. You may have to stay in different neighborhoods during your stay.
- If you are staying with friends and family, realize they may be live far from the places you want to visit.
- If you need to use the freeway during the day, move between 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. or 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
- In the evening, traffic can be heavy until 7:30 p.m.
- If you are trying to get out of Los Angeles (Las Vegas or Santa Barbara), try to hit the road before 6:00 a.m. This may sound too harsh but believe me, you do not want to sit in traffic two hours just to get out of the city. This applies mainly when you are driving north (towards Los Angeles). If you do not want to get out of town early, you will need to wait for the mid-morning, non-rush hour to get out of the city fast.
- A friend of mine (with 3 kids) gets out of the city at night (when he is going on road trips). By driving at night, he avoids traffic, the heat of the day and kids crying on the road. More people than you think use this technique.
- Use the carpool lane (need 2 or more people in the car). However, do not expect a great advantage over other drivers. In some freeways, the carpool is as clogged as the rest of the lanes.
- Use the Express Lanes. This is a pay option. Basically, you open an account and a transponder is sent to you. This device is then installed in your car and in that way, the system knows what toll roads you are using. I have never used this option but coworkers have described it as “expensive.” Ask the car rental agency for fast track / express lane ready cars.
- Avoid passing through Downtown Los Angeles. This is a high traffic area. I have experienced traffic here at 4:00 a.m. No kidding!
- Use your Smartphone to find the route with less traffic (sometimes the best route is using the “streets”).
- A route through the streets (as opposed to the freeway) is not necessarily faster than the freeway. You get the sensation that it is faster because you are moving. But, have to admit these routes can save some time and work better for people who get anxious by being stuck on the freeway.
- Be prepared since GPS systems may fail in some areas of Los Angeles. Not sure why this happens (may be related to the high amount of roads converging in certain points). I can never get my phone’s GPS to work in Downtown.
- If you are moving around the Civic Center, Hollywood, Little Tokyo, Arts District and Chinatown, the Metro may be a good option. When I go to Downtown during the weekends, I take the Metro (from Redondo Beach).
- Or, you can secure a parking spot and move around using the Metro or buses.
- Services like RelayRides’ Los Angeles car rentals, Uber and Lyft are very popular in Los Angeles. The driver should know how to get you fast from point A to Point B.
- Follow the parking instructions / restrictions on the streets if you want to avoid a big, fat ticket. Cities have people whose job is to give parking tickets all day.
- Be careful in covered parking structures. Spaces tend to be small and there are tons of obstacles (cones, bumps, columns) in the way.
- If your car malfunctions in the freeway, try to move to the emergency lane. Follow you rental car agency instructions or call 911 for assistance. Avoid getting out of the car, walking in the emergency lane or crossing the freeway (some people have done it with terrible consequences).
The following infographic from my friends at RelayRides contains more fun facts and tips about driving in Los Angeles.
What are your best traffic busting tips?