L.A. Looks to Twitter to Save It From Carmageddon

L.A. Looks to Twitter to Save It From Carmageddon

This weekend U.S. highway 405 in Los Angeles will be closed down for two straight days, in what many are calling “carmageddon,” with officials banking on social media to alleviate confusion, reduce traffic and make the project run more smoothly with the help of well-meaning celebrities.

Is This Thing On?, or ITTO, is our Wednesday column showing how everyday people use technology in unexpected ways.

A 10-mile stretch linking the San Fernando Valley to the west side of Los Angeles will be shut down for about 53 hours beginning July 15 so the Mulholland Bridge in Sepulveda Pass can be partially demolished to add carpool lanes and other improvements. There is serious concern that the closure might cause chaos, accidents, and all-around upset for the estimated 500,000 angry motorists and the surrounding residential areas that will be impacted.

“If you think it’s bad now, let me just make something absolutely clear: on July 16th and 17th, it will be an absolute nightmare,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Municipal officials have encouraged TV news, print media and other traditional outlets to spread the news about the closure, holding multiple press conferences to encourage motorists to steer clear of the area. But they are also spreading the word via the Internet, apps and social media to drive home the message.

And, California being California, the Los Angeles Police Department turned to Hollywood for some star power to pump up the campaign, tapping several celebrities to help with community outreach.

The LAPD contacted hundreds of celebrities, many who have already begun tweeting news of the closure to give their followers a “heads-up” on the upcoming traffic nightmare.

Ashton Kutcher cleverly tweeted this earlier this month, “LAPD askd me 2tweet: 405fwy btwn 10 & 101 will b closed July 16-17. In xchange, I would like a free pass on that stoplight tickt IT WAS YELLOW.” No news yet if his request was honored.

Actor Eric Roberts joined the campaign, too, tweeting of the closure and adding this personal safety tip, “Nothr tip frm CHP: The freeways aren’t free if U pay with your life. Buckle Up!”

Access to 30 million followers with celebrity Twitter does have a downside, though. One of the Kardashians promptly complied with the LAPD’s request, but got the information wrong — twice.

Newly engaged sister Kim Kardashian jumped the gun, advising her 8 million followers of the wrong weekend. When notified of her mistake, she referred to the weekend before the planned closure, getting it wrong yet again. Kardashian proved the third time is indeed a charm, and her persistence in the getting the word out was appreciated by officials.

Finally, Lady Gaga is onboard to be a Twitter traffic cop, promising to tweet public service updates about the closure along with general updates and glamorous observations to her nearly 11.3 million followers.

“The whole idea is just to re-message the theme of avoiding the 405 area and that it’s going to be a mess if people don’t stay away,” said LAPD spokesman, Lt. Andy Neiman. “Twitter is a way to reach that whole demographic that could be oblivious to the 405 closure for that weekend.”

In addition to the social media campaign, officials are pointing citizens to smartphone apps for critical up-to-the-minute reports of detours, arterial street traffic and other observations.

Traffic app Waze, which provides real-time, turn-by-turn road reports in exchange for Waze community credits, is teaming up with local news station KABC just for this weekend to offer on-air updates for motorists.

“We’ll be giving the real-time citizen perspective on all detours, not just the ones that the city provides,” said Di-Ann Eisnor, vice president of platform and partnerships at Waze.

The freeway closure and bridge project is part of a $1 billion project to improve the city’s roads, and will include free subway rides, additional buses and traffic engineers on stand-by to manage the ripple effect on nearby roads and intersections.

Monday morning commentary will reveal Los Angeles’ success in managing the highway closure and construction work. But until then, officials stress spreading basic information widely, by any means possible.

“This doesn’t need to be carmageddon,” said County Supervisor Zev Yaroslovsky, who really, really stayed on message.

“The best alternative route is to totally avoid the 405 area, completely avoid it, don’t come anywhere near it, don’t even think about coming to it,” said Yaroslovsky. “Stay the heck out of here.”

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