President Obama is in town, which means the local media is throwing a fit about “Obamajam.” In fact, every single time the leader of the free world visits L.A., the headlines — such as the one above from Huffington Post L.A. — are all about gridlock. (We are not immune.)
OBAMAJAM!; Credit: Huffington Post L.A.
Obamajam, however, is a media-driven myth. The president's motorcade doesn't actually cause that much traffic. After the jump, check out a traffic map from about 5 p.m. last night — the height of the “Obamajam” caused by the president's visit to NBC's studios in Burbank:
It's the Obamapocalypse! Start stocking up on gallon jugs and shotgun shells!
There were, of course, some delays in the immediate vicinity of the motorcade. And we did find some tweets mentioning #Obamajam — though most of them were from journalists attempting to document this phenomenon, not from real drivers complaining about it.
But was there system-wide gridlock? No. Obamajam is an illusion, and it's past time to get over it.
Now, it's true that this myth got started in reality. The first mention of Obamajam that we can find is in this blog post from Aug. 17, 2010, the morning after Obama's ill-fated trip to a fundraiser in Hancock Park.
On that sorrowful occasion, Obama's advance team arranged for the president to travel from the Beverly Hilton, where he was staying, to the fundraiser at producer John Wells' house. From there, he traveled back along the same route to the hotel, where he stayed the night.
Ordinarily, the Secret Service shuts down a street about 15 minutes before the presidential motorcade arrives, secures it, and then opens it up again once the motorcade passes by. But according to a member of the presidential advance team, who asked not to be named for security reasons, that's not what happened in this case.
In this unusual instance, because Obama was coming back along the same route, they decided to keep the route closed throughout the fundraiser.
This caused genuine chaos. People were stuck in their cars. For hours. Area residents were unable to get home, even on foot. It was a disaster.
Since then, the Secret Service has cleaned up its act. Nowadays, they generally do not double back over the same route, and if they do, they don't close a major street for hours on end. As a result, traffic delays are localized and relatively minimal.
But the memory of the 2010 fundraiser lingers. This is especially true among the press, which is wired for disaster anyway. (Fire! Riot! Earthquake! Obamajam!) And because the Secret Service is secret, they haven't put the word out that this problem has been addressed. As a result, every time Obama visits, he ends up getting blamed for normal traffic delays.
It's time for this to end.
L.A. is a great world city and it ought to be able to handle a presidential visit without going into conniptions over imaginary gridlock.