The Anatomy of a Southern California Traffic Jamboree

One of the few things I do not miss about Southern California is the freeway system.  If I ever fuss about the traffic on Broadway in Eureka, then it is clear that I needed a stint on one of the many freeways that dot the landscape of my former home.

Just the other day I was traveling from the Inland Empire (San Bernardino, Redlands).  My destination was the more familiar stomping grounds of Ventura County.  Of course I spent some time in a bumper to bumper grind that quickly dried up my patience.  I began to curse the fact that there will never be enough freeway for the number of cars on the road.  I soon realized that complaining would accomplish nothing, so I resorted to casual observation.

From the moment I started to mark my observations, I noticed that there was a flow to these traffic slow downs.

First, the cars off in the distance begin to bunch up.  At this point we can’t know for sure if traffic will slow down.  However, as the number of cars increase, and the proximity between each vehicle decreases, there those drivers who start to weave through the lanes.  As if being chased by the Terminator, these drivers change lanes on the fly so as not have to slow down.

The next phase starts when the brake lights start to flash across the hoard of wheeled machines.  This is when the lanes tighten up, and the weavers start to discover that spaces to slide into are disappearing faster than they are driving.  Drivers are now seeing that the flow of traffic is slowing down.  There are still some drivers who won’t give up the bob and weave.  Lane changes are quick, and often force an adjacent vehicle to slam on the brakes, which causes a chain reaction down the line.  Meanwhile traffic is slowing down, but will it come to a stand still.

Then it happens.  We come to a stop.  On a stretch of concrete and asphalt designed to allow motor vehicles to travel in excess of 65 miles per hour, we are at a dead stop.  As we start to move at a few feet per minute, drivers scan the adjacent lanes for faster traffic. No luck.  We have to wait for the traffic to untie its knot.

Eventually the cars start to move again.  Slowly at first, but we are no longer at a dead stop.  It is at this point that no lane changes are happening.  People have been humbled, and are now waiting for the traffic knot to let up.

Are we near an interchange with another freeway?  Maybe.  Is there an accident or disabled vehicle?  I hope not.  On this day it was just a traffic knot that eased up at an unspecific spot on the freeway.  No sign of an accident that had been cleaned up, or any car sitting by the shoulder.  No, it was as if the hand of God untied the little traffic jam this time.  It was probably a butterfly effect.  Somebody hit the brakes, and caused other drivers to do the same.  It slowed people down so much that the spot of the freeway bottlenecked.  We who were miles away paid the price of bumper to bumper traffic.

Just another day and another Traffic Jamboree in Southern California.

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2 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a Southern California Traffic Jamboree

  1. As much as sitting in a So Cal traffic jam can suck….not having real freeways is sooooo much worse. In Boston freeways are very few and far between and the roads you really use to get around are built on old cow paths. Give me a good old traffic jam any day.

  2. I always thought that the reason for the slow downs on So Cal freeways was because the car somewhere up ahead was going too slow.

    Your analysis seems to be more correct.
    I was on (the)210 two week’s ago going about 70 mph in the second from the inside lane. A guy doing about 85 to 90 raced up the carpool lane next to me and cut between the guy ahead of him and into my lane with at least 2 or 3 feet to spare. His infinity had to get somewhere much faster than my kia. I wonder if he made it?

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