During my drive to California in May, contrasts to our northwest driving experiences became evident.
Approaching Los Angeles, I experienced the biggest difference: multiple freeways with multiple lanes. There’s a theory that more lanes allow improved traffic flow — a concept that may have been lost when creating I-405 and I-5 in western Washington. Whereas a mass volume of traffic there sits still upon two or three lanes per side, many more vehicles move quite well in SoCal on six to ten lanes available in each direction.
Beginning around Grapevine (about 70 miles north of Los Angeles), the freeway average of seven lanes going each way generally makes for “smooth sailing.” But maybe it’s a bit too smooth for speeders. While it’s easy to adapt to the average speed of traffic (about 78 mph), one encounters frequent speeders going 90-100 mph, who are sampling all of the lanes to make their ways through traffic. When you’re returning to right-hand lanes after overtaking other vehicles, such speeders commonly appear from behind, suddenly occupying the spot you were about to take. To avoid crashes, it’s advised to take one look to plan your maneuver and another look before you complete it.
Within a 25-mile radius around Los Angeles, traffic often sits still even with ten available lanes. The efficient movement of heavy vehicle volume there is fragile. A police cruiser, stranded motorist, or even a traffic cone on the shoulder can induce a chain-reaction of rubbernecking drivers slowing down progress.
That’s when the “multiple freeways” portion of the California traffic-moving equation kicks in. Making an efficient run through that densely populated region takes a bit of pre-planning, but the roads are available to map out alternate routes.
For example, since I was heading south beyond Los Angeles, I got off of I-5 at Exit 163 near Santa Clarita. From there, I got on I-210E, to CA-57S, to CA-71S, to CA-91E, and back on I-15S. That customized “shortcut” effectively got me through the Los Angeles region without delays, using multiple expressways with multiple lanes.
Another contrast I noted throughout California was a lack of confrontation at freeway entrance ramps. As mergers and mergees, I found drivers to be predictable and conscientious in this cooperative driving procedure. Here, I often note a lack of awareness among drivers moving up the ramp s— many don’t even check freeway traffic until arriving at the crucial merge point.
Not that I mind moving left to accommodate a merge, but it should not often be necessary. Even in the far-more-dense traffic in SoCal, drivers entering the freeways always seem to time their merge just ahead, or just behind my vehicle without forcing me to move left or make speed adjustments. One reason for this is that traffic volume usually does not allow a sudden move to the left, so drivers don’t expect it. Planning a freeway entrance spot while on the ramp is not that difficult, and adjusting your vehicle speed to make it seamlessly into that spot should be equally easy.
Easy, that is, if vehicles upon the freeway don’t alter their speed to accommodate a merge. Again, while entering SoCal freeways, I could depend on existing freeway traffic to maintain constant speed. Here, not so much.
Overall, I think the sheer traffic density in southern California sharpens driver skills. It’s a necessity of survival there, but an attention level that I would welcome here.
Readers may contact Bill Love via email at email@example.com.