The driver next to me is studying. It looks like notes for a test, but maybe it’s a magic map with a secret route out of this traffic jam, and maybe she’ll take me with her.
It’s 7:55 a.m. on Beverly Boulevard, and it’s totally gridlocked. She’s taking full advantage of this situation. It’s a risky move. You have to bring your A-game when you’re driving in LA. You share the road with drivers who think using a blinker is merely a courtesy. They get distracted by their cell phones and the sights. They drive into oncoming traffic to worm their way into left-hand turn lanes.
It’s a deadly obstacle course. It’s why, at that moment, I wished I were aboard the Expo Line, not behind the wheel. The train is a perfectly safe space to study.
But it’s Transportation Week, and I am competing against Curbed editors in New York, and San Francisco to see which city is home to the worst commute. LA’s fresh new light rail to the beach, albeit slow, doesn’t qualify for that title. I’m here to give you a taste of what it’s like to weather LA’s infamous traffic.
Every car trip in LA begins with the all-important route-selection. It really is like SNL skit The Californians. If you and your friends drive, you’re always talking about the quickest way to get to your destination. It almost never entails the most direct route or the biggest thoroughfare.
My plan was to scoot west down Hollywood, head south on Wilton, hook a right on Beverly, drop off my husband in Beverly Grove, then inch south toward Olympic via La Cienega. (Hands down, Olympic is the best boulevard to take when driving to the Westside.)
If that sounds straightforward, you’ve never operated a car in LA.
I bobbed and weaved down Wilton, where I ground to a halt behind a car turning left when there wasn’t a dedicated left-hand turn lane. At one point, I spotted a big rig pulling onto Wilton from an alley up-ahead, blocking both lanes of traffic, so I cut over one block west, only to get ensnarled in a glob of elementary school traffic.
On Beverly, shortly after encountering the studious driver, we waited a precious five minutes at an intersection that was so clogged, we sat impatiently as the light cycled through its full rotation two times before we finally made it through.
By this point, my husband had realized he would be 10 minutes late for work. We were both anxious. Tempers flared. We got into three tiffs before we landed safely at his office.
My heart rate slowed to a normal pace from there. It was a beautiful, blue-sky morning, and though I was never able to go faster than 30 mph, drivers were, at least, obeying traffic laws. As I glided down Olympic, I even began to think I should have selected a tougher route—the 10 freeway—or a different commute entirely—the Sepulveda Pass!
Truly, there are so many terrible driving commutes in Los Angeles, that it had been tough to pick one.
I got distracted thinking about the hellscape that is LA roads at rush hour. By the time I snapped back to it, I realized I was about to pass the entrance to my destination’s parking garage to my right. I was in the left lane, and there was a line of cars so thick in the right lane, that even being polite and flicking on my blinker didn’t help. I spent three minutes circling back around the block in order to pull into the garage.
The trip was 13.1 miles—and it took precisely 1 hour.
Once at my desk, my sanity still miraculously intact, I found myself, again, reflecting on how easy the drive seemed. Maybe it’s a matter of perspective. I’ve been hardened by exhausting commutes from Santa Monica to Lake Forest via the 405 and from Long Beach to Downtown LA via the 110. But I’m snapped, once again, back to reality when 4:40 p.m. rolls around. The Google Maps app on my phone notifies me how long it will take to drive home: 91 minutes.