The Traffic Nightmare Before Christmas

ladwp_lightsThere are very few things in Los Angeles that make idling in traffic for hours tolerable. Seeing a positively giddy Yo Yo Ma play with the LA Philharmonic as conducted by Placido Domingo last night certainly counts as one of them. But alas, dear reader, I’m not writing to provide an account of how the virtuoso bent his cello like Beckham in front of an attentive sold-out Hollywood Bowl audience. No, I’m here to help bring light to a form of entertainment on the complete opposite end of the spectrum.

If you haven’t already guessed by the photo and title of this post, I’m talking about the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Festival of Lights display it mounts in Griffith Park every holiday season. For the uninitiated, for two nearly six weeks out of the year, the LADWP strings together an absolutely third-rate series of displays on Griffith Park’s Crystal Springs Drive that, for some bizarre reason, attracts thousands of visitors every year. Nearly all of the visitors drive through the light display, which means they idle in their vehicles for up to two hours on Interstate 5 and Los Feliz Boulevard as they wait to get to the main event. Not only are the displays amateurish and the resulting traffic congestion nightmarish for nearby residents, but the event also seems highly inappropriate for a municipal utility that claims it has “an obligation to take a leading role in the fight against global warming.”

Thankfully, somebody is trying to remedy the situation. As mentioned in an article in the Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood City Council’s latest newsletter, the Council is advocating for the event to be turned into a pedestrian-only event. Huzzah! And the Council wants your feedback. If you have a thought or two (yes, even if you don’t agree with me), write to them at [email protected] and give them your two cents. I’ll scan the newsletter’s article and post updates in the months to come.

UPDATE (8/27/09): Scanned the article. Here it is.

Photo by Lisa Newton via a Flickr Creative Commons license.

13 thoughts on “The Traffic Nightmare Before Christmas”

  1. I kinda think the imagery is charming in its anachronistic way, but I definitely agree that this should be made a bike- and pedestrian-only event. Jeez. It would be so healthy for these people to get out of their cars & walk for a change–especially when they’re noshing on holiday candy & cookies daily. Plus it’s just so nice to walk back there, on that route.

  2. Yeah, I don’t know if I’d call the displays amateurish. Corny maybe. And the festival runs for more than two weeks. Typically it goes 5 or 6 weeks. Last year it started November 24th with the ever-fulla-bullshit token “bike nite,” followed by several ped-only nights ” and then continued gridlocked with vehicles through to the end of December.

  3. Thanks, Will. Corrected! And maybe “amateurish” is a bit harsh, but then again, everybody knows there are amateur displays far more impressive than this one during the holidays. At any rate, I think the “entertainment capitol of the world” could muster up something a little more snazzy.

  4. Ohhh, it had to be said.
    It’s a waste of electrical power, time, fuel and overtime for the the DWP.
    Many marriages/relationships end on this road to nothingness nothingness.
    “Festival of Lights”: Ha! Whadda turkey!

  5. Rather than blasting the quality of the event itself – which I’ve never seen – I’d like to know:

    1. On those “bike night” and “ped nights” that Will is referring to, how was attendance? Good enough to convince the DWP that if they banned cars, people would still come?

    2. Did the visitors who drove in on the ped-only nights find easy enough parking, or was it a huge mess just to park? You get my gist: Visitors who couldn’t walk to Griffith Park from their homes would have to drive there, so I wonder how many traffic congestion problems would really be solved by forcing people to find parking instead of just letting them drive through.

    Frankly, I’d be happy to scrap this thing entirely, because it sounds like a total waste of energy. But again – I’ve never been, so I’d never miss it. I’m just wondering if anybody who has been on the non-car nights can truthfully say that, from their observations, this alternative might work.

  6. Actually, it’s not a waste of energy at all. You see, when the load of the City of LA decreases at night, power is still being generated. The steam plants that the Department uses cannot easily, quickly, or efficiently be turned off and then turned back on (a cold start takes at least 8 hours). Having this light show provides a (albeit small) place for the power generated by these plants to go at night, and is one of many.

  7. I don’t know if it’s practical but I’d love to see horse drawn wagons or carts…old fashioned hay rides….I’d give tickets to that as presents…I’ve known about the lights for over 20 years and never wanted to go because driving defeats the magic of the experience…
    I remember seeing signs advising people where to go to park, so they must have that in place.

  8. No, I’d agree that while the displays probably aren’t made by amateurs, they’re definitely third-rateish. For all its hype and the long lines, its a bit of a let down, especially for a city that pioneers special effects.

    That aside, the City of LA could have a much greater, civic minded event by turning this over to pedestrians. Besides the current walk through, they could turn an extra profit by selling hot chocolate along the path, create specialty nights with booth space for local merchants – evening Farmers Markets of sorts, and more.

    We need more excuses to get people out of their cars, especially around the holiday season, and this seems like a natural place to do it.

  9. “You’re a mean one, Mister Grinch.”

    Seriously, I like the Light Festival and think it is fine the way it is. Why does everything have to be some over-produced, Hollywood spectacle? Yeah, it’s hokey. But there is a lot of charm in those old-school displays.

  10. I like the show, but I’ve only been through once. I agree, it would be much more fun to only have peds/bicycles. Couldn’t they do something like they did when the Observatory re-opened, and run shuttles from the zoo? That would minimize traffic snarls, I would think.

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