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An LA City Councilmember Wants to Stop the Navigation App Waze from Giving Drivers So Many Shortcuts

Waze has made navigating LA quicker for commuters, but Paul Krekorian says it's causing problems in areas that are seeing an influx of shortcut-seeking drivers.

by Mike Pearl
Apr 29 2015, 12:42am

Photo by the author

If you don't live in a car-dominated place like Los Angeles, you may not have even heard of Waze, but here in LA it's hard to imagine getting around without the Google-owned app. It works basically like Google Maps, but uses live feedback from the behavior of other drivers to detect traffic and update your route in real time to find you a better way to get to your destination.

The app has gotten so popular that it's begun to interact with the government—last week, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the city would be partnering with Waze to share traffic numbers and try to find new tools for dealing with kidnappings and hit and runs. Other elected officials, however, are focused on ways to make the way Waze works mesh a little more smoothly with city infrastructure.

See, the app's signature magic trick is sending users down obscure side streets in order to avoid congested major thoroughfares. This has created an issue residents complained about to the LA Times in January. According to that article, Waze had been "pushing cars into residential areas," and residents of affluent areas like Beverly Hills said they'd been trying to avoid traffic in LA, but because of the app, "There's nowhere left to hide. There aren't any smaller roads nearby. We're it."

Indeed, thanks to Waze, many younger LA residents who live on the East Side of Los Angeles but work in western areas of the city use the roads of rich neighborhoods like Windsor Square to avoid Wilshire Boulevard, one of LA's many clogged arteries. That's just one example out of hundreds.

But today, City Councilmember Paul Krekorian issued a press release—adorably titled "We've Got a-Waze to Go"—to announce he's planning to expand LA's partnership with Waze in order to reduce "cut-through traffic," which is another name for ducking down residential streets to dodge gridlock.

Ian Thompson, Krekorian's communications director, said that the details of this plan aren't set in stone; it's just something that Krekorian feels "should be a part of that partnership," in response to a "major uptick in traffic."

The actual motion, which Thompson provided to me by email, is a bit vague; it proposes that the app limit the number of daily trips on certain routes, or use "other means" to cut down on cut-through traffic. proposes the preventative measure of "or other means." According to Krekorian's press release, this is urgent because residential streets "were never designed to accommodate the volume."

To be fair, that much is clear to anyone who has ever tried to use LA's residential streets for high-speed travel. Convenient and rarely-congested streets with long straight sections, like Palms Boulevard, feature strange bends and odd intersections that can make for some unwelcome surprises.

Related: Watch our documentary about high-speed driving in the UK.

Perhaps the worst of these is something I'm calling "Waze Frogger" (I'm far from the first to make the comparison), a phenomenon in which Waze sends drivers to the stoplight-free junction of a residential street and a major artery, expecting the driver to cross high-speed traffic coming from both ways in order to continue down the residential street. The driver can either wait for four lanes of traffic to be clear, which can cost precious minutes, or just dash across the road like Vin Diesel jumping his car from skyscaper to skyscraper.

But in spite of it all, so far no big story about Waze causing accidents has emerged. Slightly scary maneuvers? Yes, they come with the territory, but to drivers in Los Angeles, that's well worth the time saved.

I asked Thompson if Krekorian really has the power to do something about these potentially problematic shortcuts, and Thompson told me, "It's a good question. That's what we want to find out." He added, "We just want to see if we can extend the partnership further."

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