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By E. Randol Schoenberg

Like everyone else in Brentwood, I’ve watched with horror as the late afternoon traffic on Sunset has choked our community. We never saw traffic jams on Sunset until the 1990s. So, what happened?

I often read articles and hear people suggest that growth in Brentwood itself is the cause. Any new development on San Vicente, or plans to expand our local private schools, is met with fierce community opposition based on the theory that more development equals more traffic. But what if what we do in Brentwood doesn’t really make a difference at all?

I decided to use Waze.com to test my theory that most of our traffic problems are caused by workers in Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades who are trying to go home via the 405 through the Sepulveda Pass to the Valley.

Waze, for those who haven’t used it, is a GPS-based navigation program that uses real-time data from users to provide the fastest driving routes to a particular destination. The program was developed in Israel and was purchased by Google in 2013. Most people use Waze as an application on their smartphone. But you can also use the Waze.com website to find the fastest driving routes.

I tested the route on a Tuesday from 400 Colorado Ave. in Santa Monica with the destination 6230 Sylmar Ave. in Van Nuys. If you were driving with no traffic, you’d hop on the 10 at 4th Street and take the freeway over the hill. You would never drive though Brentwood. But how about when there’s traffic? What would Waze say?

Starting at 4:30 p.m., Waze finds San Vicente to Barrington to Sunset a faster route (1h 4m) than Wilshire (1h 11m) or the 10 Fwy (1h 14m). Brentwood remains the fastest route until 6:30 p.m.

Try it for yourself on the website and you’ll see. Traffic from the Palisades mostly heads down Sunset to the 405. Even traffic from Main Street in Santa Monica is advised to skip the freeway and head north through Brentwood when there’s traffic in the afternoon.

That’s why we see cars lined up past Cliffwood trying to head East on Sunset to the 405.

This also tells us that nothing we do in Brentwood really makes much of a difference. Brentwood could shut its local schools and stop all our driving during the afternoons and we’d still see lines of cars. Unless we stop the external traffic pressure caused by the jam on the 10-405, there is no way to end our traffic problems.

Increasing local trips within Brentwood probably wouldn’t make much difference either. Expanding our schools and building on San Vicente isn’t the looming disaster that so many of our homeowners think it is. That may sound counterintuitive to some, but it makes sense to me (after 50 years of living here).

The traffic peaks long after school gets out, so it’s really not at all about the local schools. When the traffic is at its worst in Brentwood is exactly the time when it is even more terrible on the 10-405 path. That is the cause of our problems. I am not suggesting that Waze is the cause of our traffic. Rather, it is a tool to diagnose the problem.

Lest someone think I have some undisclosed interest, my kids go to Harvard-Westlake and I don’t own any commercial property in Brentwood. I just live here, that’s all.

The solution, if there is one, is to open up more arteries over (or under) the mountains to the Valley.

We should start treating the traffic problem like we did the smog problem. Like smog, traffic has numerous sources and we all contribute to it. Traffic is also, like smog, a classic “externality” where the costs are not necessarily borne by those causing the problem. We only made headway with smog when, prodded by the League of Women Voters, the State of California set up the South Coast Air Quality Management District in 1977. We need a similar regional authority to tackle traffic, and we may need a political movement to get it done.

 

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