With empty freeways, a changed SoCal sees its hallmark traffic evaporate due to coronavirus

Local News
Data pix.

The coronavirus crisis has dramatically changed life as we know it in Southern California in the past week, with mass store and school closures, popular tourist sites shut down and many employees being told to work from home, among other things.

That has led to a steep decline in something often considered a hallmark of Los Angeles: traffic.

On Wednesday morning, Google traffic maps showed a sea of green on freeways that are usually deep shades of red during the rush-hour. That means fast speeds instead of the usual stop-and-go traffic.

For example, two of the busiest corridors in the greater Los Angeles area — the 5 and 101 Freeways — were wide open as of 8 a.m., according to Google Maps.

A Google traffic map is seen on the morning of March 18, 2020.
A Google traffic map is seen on the morning of March 18, 2020.

The 405 Freeway through the Sepulveda and the 10 Freeway from downtown L.A. to the Westside were also flowing freely at the time. The southbound 405 and the eastbound 10 through those two stretches generally also have some of the region's worst morning rush-hour traffic.

Roadways around the region have been running smoothly in the past few days, a side of effect of people not having to go to work — some due to layoffs — and children not being shuttled to and from school because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many campuses were shut down as of Monday, and myriad closures of non-essential businesses, entertainment venues, bars and more have gone into effect since last weekend. On Tuesday night, Gov. Gavin Newsom indicated he didn't think students would return to school before summer break.

The strangely empty freeways stand in stark contrast to the jammed roads that typically dominate the region's landscape, costing residents valuable time.

A study published by transportation analytics firm Inrix last week found that Los Angeles in 2019 was the sixth most congested urban area in the U.S., with motorists spending an average of 103 hours in traffic.

That works out to $1,524 in time lost per driver, researchers found.

The two most congested roadways in the nation were in the L.A. region, the research found: the stretch of 5 Freeway between the 10 and 605 freeways, and the 101 Freeway between the 134 and 110 freeways.

The daily delays on those two freeways averaged 20 and 19 minutes respectively, or 80 and 76 hours for the year, according to the study.

With uncertainty marking nearly everything in daily life at the moment, it's unclear how long traffic — one symbol of a prosperous economy — will remain this light.

But as much as clogged roads can be a nuisance, the return of traffic congestion in L.A. will, likely for many, be considered a strong indicator of a return to normalcy.

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