Mayor Eric Garcetti recently announced that the city is sharing data with Waze, the app that uses real-time traffic information to shorten users' commutes. That's good for Waze and its users, but the city of L.A. gets something out of the deal as well — access to Waze's data.
That could end up making life more difficult for Waze. For the last six months or so, neighborhood groups — especially in the hills above the L.A. Basin — have been griping about extra traffic on residential streets. Though they can't prove it, many blame Waze for steering commuters to previously obscure shortcuts.
The issue has even become a concern in the City Council race in the 4th District. Waze came up on Tuesday night at a debate sponsored by the Laurel Canyon Association. Rick Seireeni, a board member, said residents have noticed an influx of commuters using Lookout Mountain Avenue as an alternate route when traffic backs up on Laurel Canyon Boulevard.
He said nonlocal drivers often don't see the stop signs near Wonderland Avenue Elementary School, and drive through them.
"Obviously it's impossible to know if Waze is directly responsible for the increase," Seireeni said. "But you can see where Waze would really help you find that shortcut."
With access to Waze's data, the city might actually be able to figure out how much arterial traffic the app is sending onto residential streets.
Garcetti's tech-friendly administration does not seem interested in delving into this question. Peter Marx, the mayor's chief technology officer, was noncommittal when asked if it would be possible to study the issue.
But at a recent debate in Sherman Oaks, City Council candidate Carolyn Ramsay vowed to get to the bottom of it.
"I'm gonna work with Waze to identify where those people are going," Ramsay said. "They have all that data. Then we can steer them off residential streets."
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That might not sit too well with Waze. Di-Ann Eisnor, head of growth for Waze, was asked about the issue at a City Hall press conference on Tuesday. First she downplayed the concerns, noting that the Waze algorithm has a penalty for going onto side streets.
"It really has to be the absolute best option for that to happen," she said.
But she also argued that if side streets really are the best option, then Waze users have a right to know that.
"The goal will always be to reduce congestion overall for the whole system," she said. "And if we know that a road is a public road, then that’s kind of fair game."