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Tips to Avoid Traffic Jams in Los Angeles

One aspect of Los Angeles that tourists and locals have to contend with is the frequently miserable, road-rage inducing traffic. While some of the city’s bad reputation is unjustified (there’s plenty of culture here), there really is an unfortunate love affair with the car in LA. Public transportation exists but is underutilized, resulting in traffic jams galore. Fortunately, there are some pretty decent ways to avoid traffic in Los Angeles and improve the quality of your Southern California vacation. These tips won’t enable all travelers to avoid all traffic jams in Los Angeles, but they’ll help reduce your time on the road so you can get back to what you really want to do in LA — have a fun time.

Freeway Onramp in Los Angeles, California (Jennifer Miner)

You know you're doomed when this is the onramp

Tips to Avoid Traffic Jams in Los Angeles

  1. Even La-La Land follows the same general rules of traffic as all large US cities: traffic’s at a peak during rush hour. If your travel plans allow you to avoid driving during rush hour, you’ll reduce the stress associated with sitting in your car waiting for your vacation to kick into high gear.  Also, some freeways are more jam-prone than others. The 101 freeway at the 405, the 10 freeway heading downtown, and the 5 freeway by the 10 are our worst offenders.

    Los Angeles Google Map Traffic Feature

    Red means heavy traffic, green, easy-peasy. Ignore the Solvang, not sure how that got there.

  2. Los Angeles is a huge sprawl, yes, but it’s really made up of many distinct neighborhoods. Is going on a freeway absolutely necessary? If you’re just traveling somewhere a couple of neighborhoods away, surface streets are your best bet. Planning alternate traffic routes is a good travel tip in general, but never more so than when driving in congestion-prone areas like Los Angeles.
  3. For freeway traffic especially, use a live mapping feature like Google Maps’ traffic feature on your smartphone. Smartphones have good traffic features – the iPhone’s Google Maps traffic feature is fast and reliable, while my clunky old Blackberry takes longer to load updated traffic information. Rental cars can come with GPS devices with this feature as well. But remember; keep your eyes on the road in front of you, not the one on the screen.
  4. Unless you’re a solo traveler, don’t be shy about those High Occupancy Vehicle (“carpool”) lanes. I can’t tell you the number of times that driving in the HOV lane has saved me around 30 minutes’ worth of driving. There’s a sort of grim satisfaction to be gleaned from whizzing by all the poor saps stewing in their own juices, sitting alone in their cars on the traffic-filled freeway.
  5. Here are the local Los Angeles traffic update radio stations: KABC 790 AM, KFWB 980 AM, KFI 640 AM, and KNX 1070 AM. This last is a 24-hour news station with “traffic on the 5′s.” Program your rental car’s radio so that one of these is preset.

So those are some tips for avoiding traffic in Los Angeles, but hey, how’s this for a suggestion: Don’t get in your car unless you absolutely have to! Seriously, we here in LA may have some pathological need to drive even a few miles, but there is a subway (limited though it may be), and there are bikes. Don’t make our pathology, your pathology. Since Los Angeles is one of the top 4 most popular vacation destination cities in the US, some of that traffic isn’t entirely our fault. Although…yeah. Most of it is.

Pacific Coast Highway Traffic Jam (Jennifer Miner)

Rain AND a traffic jam; this'll take a while

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4 Responses to “Tips to Avoid Traffic Jams in Los Angeles”

  1. 1

    ugh. coming from a town of 800, where a traffic jam can be a few minutes waiting for a space to pass a tractor, i can’t even imagine. that said, i learned lots of traffic tips when i lived in minneapolis, and london. great tips!!

  2. 2
    Sandra Foyt says:

    Be careful about depending on the GPS device. In a misguided and mind-boggling effort to avoid traffic, our Garmin Nuvi had us going on every possible side street, exponentially lengthening a trip to the Citadel mall.

  3. 3
    Jeremy Branham says:

    Headed to LA this week and can’t tell you how much I dread the traffic! I hope I can avoid it so that once I arrive, I won’t have to deal with it any more until I leave!

  4. 4
    Turtle says:

    Thanks for the tips! Traffic is the main reason I tend to avoid LA whenever I’m in the US. Honestly, though, I think trying to give advice on how to avoid cars in LA is like trying to explain how to avoid sand in the desert! :)

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