Waze, the Israeli startup promising to help Los Angeles “beat Carmageddon” this July 15 to July 17 with constant GPS updates, will only work if we all use it.

Sounds simple enough — but crowd-sourcing is a tricky beast. Waze will only be helpful if the majority of drivers feed their surrounding conditions into the app (smartphoning while driving, tsk tsk), yet said drivers will only bother if they're sure everyone else is doing it, as well. So how to instill that confidence?

We admit: When we first got wind of this alleged “Carmageddon app” a few weeks ago, we were skeptical.

Google Maps and countless news sites already provide up-to-the-minute traffic conditions by tracking the speed of passing cars. And, like car-themed drink specials at Santa Monica bars, the Waze app sounds more like a clutch business opportunity than a public service. What better way to promote your somewhat superfluous traffic gadget than via the biggest shutdown of the most-travelled U.S. roadway in history? It's apocalyptic Hollywood gold:

But that's partly why people might warm to Waze: We're all totally loving this Carmageddon drama, no matter how we may wail on it. The more opportunities to obsess, the better.

Waze's just-announced partnership with KABC, on top if its growing viral traction in the tech blogosphere, is another sign it might earn its keep during the hellish 405 closure. Via the New York Times (yes, this thing has officially overblown itself all the way to the East Coast):

Waze's app tracks the movement of each of its users to get a sense of traffic, and then directs them to quicker routes based on the data it collects. The company says it has 180,000 users in the Los Angeles area.

During the highway closure, KABC will use Waze's data to give its viewers updates on what is happening on a variety of alternate routes. The system will predict how long each route would take, a function that the app does in normal traffic conditions with relative reliability. KABC already uses real-time traffic maps, which draw data from sensors on freeways. But there is no equivalent way to get information about traffic on side streets, which are expected to see heavy traffic. Waze's data includes information on anywhere where a critical mass of people are driving, and presumably many of its users will be winding slowly through side streets during the I-405 closing. So Waze's system may be particularly well-suited for this specific task.

The one problem we won't have, come Carmageddon.

The one problem we won't have, come Carmageddon.

But Google does many of those things already. Will it be annoying for drivers to use two services at once? And can they do so without rear-ending the A-holes in front of them? (Unless smartphoners are so charmed by Waze that they drop all other GPS routines/loyalties — unlikely at a time of panic.)

There's also a huge likelihood that all freeways and sidestreets anywhere near the 10-mile closure will become a solid parking lot. Since Waze only uses one color — red — to shade the streets behind cars it perceives as stopped, might the map just turn into one big useless block of “don't go there”?

One thing we are really looking forward to: Waze allows users to add little notes and photos to spots along the commute. Though there probably won't be any duckling sightings, like in the app's happy-go-lucky tutorial video, we might get some amusing sunroof dance parties or road-rage breaking points on camera.

Freaking out about traffic, and/or making fun of other people freaking out about traffic, is L.A.'s No. 1 favorite way to self-loathe. As Waze takes Carmageddon worldwide, providing even more ways to complain and cope and chatter this thing up, we might be about to witness the crowd-sourced pinnacle of our closet-proud local obsession. And that's pretty rad.


LA Weekly