The Sepulveda Mystery Bottleneck
Recently, I moved back to the LA area after years of living in wine country. Well-meaning friends, full of that NoCal confidence that relocating anywhere else on earth is an occasion for sympathy, visibly shuddered at the thought of "LA traffic!" before I moved. Now they ask me gently, "Sooooo, how's that commute coming along?" and moan softly into the phone when I tell them that a good day is an hour flat to work, and a bad day clocks in at 90 minutes. A former neighbor suggested brightly that I learn a language via podcast. Another friend, who knows I'm a night owl and chronically tardy, gives me a hard stop of 2 p.m. for caffeine consumption. Look, it’s not like I'm unfamiliar with grim commutes. I worked for years with people that drove 120 miles round trip each day from San Francisco, or Sacramento, or even San Mateo (God forbid!) to Napa. In contrast, I toddled out of the house and zipped 8 miles through vineyards each morning; I knew that commuter Karma was heading my way some day, and I was ready.
I would have to be a complete rube to be 'surprised' by LA traffic, but it’s not really the traffic congestion that's confounding...It's the Sepulveda Pass Mystery Bottleneck that baffles me. You can bowl south down the 405 at a reasonable pace most mornings, until two or three miles before the 101, then everything slows to a drip. Fine. Delaying, but completely understandable. Things pick up teasingly after the 101 connection, and then, for no discernible reason, traffic slows to a crawl climbing up and over the Sepulveda Pass. The highway is just as wide, no one's slowing for an exit, the grade can't be considered steep by any measure, but traffic all but idles its way to the bottom of the hill. Then, just south of the Getty, mystifyingly, cars seem to thin out and rev up to nearly 50 miles an hour all the way to Olympic. What gives? It's not the Grapevine, you don't have to worry about your brakes. You don't have randos crossing 5 lines of traffic to take a non-existent exit. I don't understand it and its infuriating!
Well, apparently, I am not the only person in Los Angeles that is troubled by the Sepulveda Pass bottleneck. (“whaaaaaaa?” you say, “surely not!”…). In fact when I googled “why does traffic bottleneck through Sepulveda Pass” (like a newbie), an LA Times article from November 2015 listed the Sepulveda Pass bottleneck as one of the most infuriating in the country. According to a study by the American Highway Users Alliance, it turns out that LA has not one, or some, but 11 of the nation’s 30 worst traffic bottlenecks. But, I was pleased to note that the worst bottleneck in the country - by far! - squats thickly in Chicago, on the Kennedy Expressway. All by itself, it generates 17 million hours — or nearly 1,940 years — of delay annually.
...On the bright side, my Italian is really coming along.