64 Worst: The 405 Freeway vs. The L.A. River

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Which is Worse: The 405 Freeway or the L.A. River?
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The 405 and the L.A. River are both Los Angeles landmarks for all the wrong reasons. They are both made of concrete. They are both hostile and uninviting. They both crawl at the speed of nothing. One, we keep trying to widen. The other, we pretend isn’t there. The 405 is always full. The L.A. River, usually empty. They are the neighbor’s twins that act nothing alike, yet, you hate them both. And they aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon.

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Photo of the L.A. River from mike_1630’s photostream

13 Replies to “64 Worst: The 405 Freeway vs. The L.A. River”

  1. Aren’t there plans to turn the river into something resembling a river? It may have been a long time ago but I think I read something in the LA Times about this.

  2. Seems to be a favorite for car chases too: remake of the Italian Job. And space shuttle crash landings.. although, I can’t remember which movie that was. I guess car chases on freeways would be just-too-normal, as for space shuttles, well everything is just-too-normal for them so the river will do just fine.

  3. Aw man…I have nothing against the 405. I thought it was this horrid stretch of road, but I’ve gotten to Lake Forest faster, than it takes to get to the 10 on Fairfax. From Pico. ;P

    As for the river…well, it is what it is. If you’ve never actually walked along it, it’s an eyesore. Up close it’s, uh interesting. I’m from Kansas City and we got a nice river separating the city from the ‘burbs…and Kansas. Yeah, it was a shock when we moved here and I was like, “That’s not a river, it’s storm drain.” But now, I have a fuller appreciation for it. There’s a lot of neat little pockets of coolness on/near it and it is fun to walk. In fact, I’ll be heading over to the Burbank section tomorrow. I highly suggest taking a tour with FoLAR to see more of the river.

  4. I messed up the tags in that but it is a book by Blake Gumprecht about the LA River that’s excellent.

  5. At least we can wear the 405 like a badge of honor–we’re battle tested.

    The river is just an embarrassment. There’s nothing we can do when someone makes fun of us for that one. :)

  6. The river is just an embarrassment. There’s nothing we can do when someone makes fun of us for that one. :)

    Well, we could point out that the Army Corps of Engineers completed the major channelization project in 1941, and that the last really disastrous episode of flooding along the river was in 1938. :-)

    For most of its length, the LA River is not naturally a year-round river. But at its peak, it can carry a volume comparable to the average flow of the lower reaches of the Mississippi. (And that was true even before the increased runoff due to urbanization.)

    Because the LA River watershed is so steep – it has a greater drop in altitude over its short course from the San Gabriels to the ocean than the entire length of the Mississippi – that flow can include large volumes of debris, which can dam existing channels and cause the river to change course, to divert its flow to new channels.

    The combination of poorly-defined seasonal channels and large-volume flow with heavy debris loads gives the LA River and its tributaries a tendency to wander all over the landscape. Before channelization, it changed course with some frequency. (Blake Gumprecht’s excellent book, cited above, examines this in considerable detail.)

    Prior to channelization, flooding was a frequent and quite serious problem along the LA River. And, unlike in areas with well-defined year-round riverbeds, it wasn’t easily predictable – last year’s high-and-dry location far from the river could easily become this year’s floodplain.

    In the San Fernando Valley, the attentive map-reader and observer of topography can easily chart the course of half a dozen different fossil channels of the Tujunga Wash.

    With over 70 years of relative safety from flooding, that hazard has mostly vanished from the collective local memory, leaving only annoyance at the concrete eyesore, and little appreciation for the freedom from catastrophic flooding that ugly channel represents.

    I definitely second the recommendation of Gumprecht’s book – the historical context it provides may not improve the looks of the river, but it makes it much easier to understand how it got that way.

    And I’d also encourage everyone to check out the LA River Master Plan I mentioned above – it’s a truly ambitious piece of urban planning that attempts to restore the beauty and environmental benefits of the river without sacrificing the flood protection we currently enjoy.

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