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Driving in Los Angeles

Los Angeles Freeways and Driving Tips

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Los Angeles spreads over 34,149 square miles (88,446 sq. km) and the popular Los Angeles attractions are spread all over, with some of them as much as 60 miles apart. Consult the Los Angeles Distance chart to understand the distances involved for your trip.

The American love affair with the automobile may well have been born in Los Angeles, and most people get around by car on one of the many freeways. Driving times in Los Angeles are highly variable and can be interminably long at rush hour.

Driving on Los Angeles Freeways

Since California's first freeway, the 6-mile Arroyo Seco Parkway (now called the Pasadena Freeway) opened in 1940, more than 600 miles of asphalt have been laid in and around Los Angeles. It sounds like a lot, but in fact, the city ranks 44th among urban areas in freeway space per resident. You've heard about the resulting gridlock. Don't let the visitor's bureau or any other happy-talking travel writer tell you that it doesn't exist. I've experienced it a maddening number of times and if you don't believe me, Forbes magazine reported in 2006 that Los Angeles, Long Beach and Santa Ana have the country's worst traffic.

An essential tool for getting around with minimum delays is your car radio. Tune it to KNX 1070 for traffic reports every 10 minutes on the fives. KFWB 980 also reports every 10 minutes on the ones. If you have Internet access, the LADOT website or the KNX website plot real-time freeway speeds on a map, making it easy to pick the least congested routes.

When you first start listening to a radio traffic report, you may think you've lost your ability understand English as they cheerily rattle on about sigalerts on the Artesia Freeway and looky-loos adding to the trouble in the number 2 lane.

A few phrases of Southland traffic lingo will also be useful:

  • SigAlert: An unplanned event that stops traffic for 30 minutes or more
  • Looky-loo: A driver who slows down to gawk at an accident or other incident
  • Number 1 (2,3...) Lane: Numbered from the leftmost lane as #1

Angelenos love their freeways so much that they've given them nicknames and you may hear them used instead highway numbers on the local traffic report. Our LA Freeway map is a handy tool that can help you quickly translate.

Other things that will help keep you moving: Don't try to get on the freeway during rush hour. Don't even try to drive toward it. Get where you're going off-hours and stay put until the traffic clears up. Friday afternoons are reputed to be the worst for traffic jams, and trying to get into Los Angeles on Sunday evening can also take much longer than you expected.

And just for fun - in case you were wondering, according to California Highways, the SigAlert is named in honor of radio pioneer Loyd C. Sigmon who came up with the idea of broadcasting traffic alerts to attract more listeners for radio station KMPC, which he co-owned. In the beginning, the alterts covered all kinds of emergencies - the first one broadcasted was about a train wreck. Nowadays, the Highway Patrol is in charge of issuing SigAlerts.

Carpool and HOV Lanes

Los Angeles has about 350 miles of HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes, also called carpool lanes. These lanes are reserved for vehicles with 2 or more occupants, 24 hours a day.

In Orange County, drivers can pay to drive in the HOT (high occupancy toll) lanes on Highway 91, which are jokingly called "Lexus lanes"

Getting Around by Metro Rail

The Metro Rail system is a good start at useful public transportation for Los Angeles, and you should check to see if it can take you where you want to go. It runs through downtown, Pasadena, Universal City and Hollywood as well as many other places.

More: Getting to Los Angeles | Los Angeles Driving Distances

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