Traffic on the 405 Isn't That Bad. Really!

The 405 freeway. Congested? Yes. The worst? Hardly.EXPAND
The 405 freeway. Congested? Yes. The worst? Hardly.

It's one of Los Angeles' most enduring cliches: The 405 freeway is the worst; it is less a roadway and more a merciless, elongated parking lot into which no hope of mobility can merge.

"The freeway's congestion problems are legendary, leading to jokes that the road was numbered 405 because traffic moves at 'four or five' miles per hour, or because drivers need 'four or five' hours to get anywhere," reads the 405's Wikipedia entry. (I've never heard that joke.)

There's even a Twitter account dedicated to 405 hatred, the cleverly named @the405sucks. Its bio reads: "I'm Interstate 405 in LA & OC ... the worst freeway ever. Born in hell. Built in 1964."

And yet some longtime Angelenos (like me) have long held a sneaking suspicion that while traffic on the 405 freeway has maintained its horribleness, traffic on the 10 and 101 freeways have gotten even more horrible. And now we have data to back us up.

The traffic analytics company Inrix released its annual traffic scorecard yesterday, revealing that, yes, Los Angeles still has the worst traffic in the country. 

The study also includes a list of the country's worst traffic corridors. Unsurprisingly, L.A. freeways claimed the three top spots and six out of the top 10.

The much-maligned 405, however, didn't even make the top 10. It's only the 17th worst stretch of road in the country. 

The 405 is often ranked as among the "worst bottlenecks" in the country, but those studies are often based on different criteria and compare shorter stretches of freeway. For example, a 2015 study by the American Highway Users Alliance had the 405 as the fourth worst bottleneck, behind the I-90 in Chicago, a stretch of the 405 in Long Beach and the 10 East. But that looked at a much smaller stretch of the 405, between Venice and Wilshire boulevards.

Itrix's rankings use much longer stretches and compare the speed of free-flowing traffic to the average speed of traffic during peak rush hours. 

The worst freeway in America is the southbound 101 freeway, between Topanga Canyon and North Vignes Street, aka the jail exit. Commuters unlucky enough to depend on that forsaken 26 miles of roadway burn away 134 hours, or six whole days, of their life every year!

The 101 north was declared the second worst corridor, followed by the 10 East, followed by some freeway in Chicago and some freeway in New York. Here's Inrix's list of the worst freeways in the Los Angeles area:

Traffic on the 405 Isn't That Bad. Really!

So why is the 405 freeway only  the ninth worst in the city? Could it be that the 405 widening project, which added a carpool lane (and which took so long that Elon Musk was ready to break out his own electric bulldozer to help), actually worked?

Probably not. Last year's Inrix study found that traffic on the 405 actually got a bit worse after the carpool lane came along.

What's more likely is that the other freeways have become become even more clogged. The rise of downtown as a bustling residential neighborhood — with the most expensive L.A. ZIP code east of La Brea — is surely a factor. 

Inrix representatives cautioned against comparing their annual studies with each other, since they've changed their exact methodology over the years. One thing they did say, though, is that traffic is definitely getting worse in L.A. and nearly every other American city. Why? Two reasons: an improving economy and low gas prices. 

At least there was one bright spot in the Inrix report: L.A. may have the worst traffic in the city, but our traffic is nothing compared with London's. Whereas Angelenos waste an average of 81 hours in traffic, London residents on average squander 101. 


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