Carmageddon Communication: What We Can Learn from the 405 Shutdown


Months ago, it began. The news alerts, the warnings, the PSAs. The tweets from celebrities. The hopeful said, “Maybe it’ll be like the 1984 Olympics, when people decided to leave town and the traffic really wasn’t that bad.”

And then it was here. People took vacation days. Businesses allowed telecommuting. Workplaces closed early to let employees get home before the freeway closed. Several local transit lines offered free fares for the weekend.

So how was it? Well, according to periodic looks at Google Maps, the freeways were wide open. Certainly when I drove under the 101, the predicted traffic jam . . . was nowhere to be seen. Apparently people heeded the warnings and stayed off the freeways. Now, an awful lot of people are proclaiming it a failure.

Me, I think it was an unqualified success. While the coverage did seem overwhelming, particularly for the last couple of weeks, the results are evident. People paid attention and planned ahead. Failure, in contrast, would have involved a giant traffic jam.

What have we learned? I think we’ve learned that if you tell them enough times, people actually do hear what you’re saying. I think we learned that it’s possible to find ways to spend time and money in our own neighborhoods. And I think we learned that just because the freeway is there, doesn’t mean we have to drive on it.*

I have no real confidence that we’ll retain these lessons, though. Because next year, it’s going to happen all over again. But I have a sneaking suspicion that people will forget why it worked this time.

*Let’s not forget that a great many people do have to travel those routes. Not every job allows telecommuting, and not every job can be done remotely. The people who clean office buildings on the weekends have to actually go to those buildings. Doctors and nurses and radiology technicians have to actually go to the hospital. And so forth.


Posted on July 18, 2011, in Communication and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Telecommuting? That would never work.

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