Why I won’t willingly live in Los Angeles, even if you pay me to

This picture, courtesy of The Vulgar Curmudgeon, scares the living daylights out of me.

He posted it in connection with an evacuation order for about 200,000 Los Angelenos because of the danger from wildfire . . . but that’s just the beginning.  Imagine that a major earthquake strikes Southern California, or a really big wildfire threatens more of the city, or a health epidemic or some other natural catastrophe affects the region.  Greater Los Angeles is said to contain almost 19 million people.  There are few open areas;  almost everywhere is built up, and roads are frequently clogged like that shown above.

In the event of a major disaster, no-one’s going to be going anywhere.  The roads will clog up and shut down.  Cops won’t be able to even get onto them, much less clear them.  It’s going to be the ultimate traffic nightmare.  Prevented from getting away to safer places, those left behind are going to be at the mercy of people who are willing to do whatever it takes to get what they need and/or want.  To say it’ll be a nightmare is a euphemism.  Even if you’ve stocked up on emergency supplies, you’re likely to be a target for all those who haven’t, just as soon as they realize you have them.  (Think they won’t notice?  Just wait until they see light in your home in the midst of a blacked-out neighborhood, or smell your food cooking, or figure out that you and your kids are still clean, and wearing clean clothes, when everyone else around you is looking like a badly-made-up extra from the Mad Max movies.)

It’s not just Los Angeles – it’s any major built-up metropolitan area.  I’ve had enough of that, thank you very much!



  1. Difficult to evacuate by car? Soon not to be a problem – you can just hop a bullet train to …ahh …umm …San Francusco.

  2. Not to disparage your argument but you should know that photo is a fake. You can see multiple areas where the same pattern has been cut and pasted to make it look wider.

  3. Locals note that the name "The 405" comes from the fact that you can usually drive either four or five miles an hour on it.

  4. It's not just SoCal, remember that long parking lot they had when they evacuated Houston when Katrina was coming …

  5. But with self driving cars they'll all be travelling at full speed with that spacing, right? Or so goes the hype.

  6. ordering 200,000 people to evacuate is a drop in the bucket compared to the number of people who normally commute through those areas. It's about 10% of the San Fernando Valley, and about 1-2% of Los Angeles county.

  7. It is actually worse that it appears here. This looks like rush hour at the I-5 / Harbor Freeway merge, but LAs real traffic problem is that there are only 6 freeways out, in 3 directions, and equally limited rail routes.
    Almost all of the LA basins' water comes either from the Colorado River, pumped over the mountains and desert to the east of SoCal, from the Owens River Valley, or from Northern Cal by way of the American River Aqueduct, which runs from Sacramento to the pumping stations at the Southern end of the Central Valley.
    About ten years ago, I read that LA usually has about 18-20 hours of food reserves, and 12-15 hours of water reserves. (just-in-time ordering anyone?)
    If LA had a water crisis, most of the city would NOT get out. Our transport system (fuel) operates on balanced demand and supply. Most of the early departers (aware people like us, who are ready to make such a decision quickly) would gas up and go, and refuel when possible on the way. These actions would deplete the fuel supply along the highways quickly, trapping those behind.
    Assuming that a city East of LA could temporarily absorb 2x its original population and still supply them with water, the 19+ million Angelenos (if they got out) would double the population of most of the town and cities West of the Mississippi.
    And then the general economy would crash, adding to the wreckage.

    I hope not.

    John Sage – JPDev

  8. And then the idiot governor of California wants everyone to drive an electric vehicle, which would be able to get you about 50 miles in an evacuation before its battery died (with no chance of recharging it!).


  9. So what you're saying is you wouldn't live in Photoshop.


    You and Phil have been had.
    The 22-lane freeway should have been the giveaway.

    If they'd build those, traffic hereabouts would be moving at 80MPH 24/7.

    For reference, the I-5, from downtown L.A. to OC has been 3 lanes since 1954, and only now are they starting to widen it, partially, for a short stretch.

  10. I have to admit I have never been there and have absolutely zero desire to ever do so.
    The picture was just something that caught my eye and fit the point I was trying to make. I snagged it off the internets.
    So what you are telling me though, is that the traffic nightmare down there is even worse than my admittedly vivid imagination, with only 3 freakin' lanes for all those people?

  11. Then there's Miami, way out on the Florida peninsula (east side), with Naples/Marco Island/Bonita Springs on the west; you already mentioned Houston; Manhattan is an island; D.C. is, well, D.C. – 4 bridges to VA and traffic-choked streets to MD.

    The list goes on. It ain't where you are, it's what you are – an urbanite. Doesn't matter where that urban area is, whomever survives long enough to escape will overrun less populated areas around it, destroying each of those areas in turn. Rawles recommends living "farther than one tank of gas" from urban areas. That's easily done with electric cars, but it's just not possible in the U.S. with petroleum-fueled vehicles, except perhaps in the northernmost "deep snow belt."

  12. The interesting thing is that this illustrates something I've been researching: how much does it change our genes to live in cities that are so massive we don't really have a way to leave them for long enough to recover from the pressure to adapt?

  13. Change our genes? I wonder how long that takes… we (humans) just passed the point where more live in cities than not.

  14. I've spent a little time in LA area; fortunately I haven't had to drive there, but I have navigated across the city – the only time there was light traffic was at 5 am on Saturday; you have to expect substantial traffic any time you drive across the city.
    While that picture may have been photoshopped, there are places that look like it; the mixing bowl in downtown Atlanta is about that wide and several times a day is full of traffic. It moves well, but God help the person who has to cross 6 or more lanes of traffic to make their turn! (Been there, done that)
    One thing that struck me about that area was how dry it was and how much brush there was – the way the houses are mixed with brush and preserved areas means many potential fire inroads into built up areas.
    The few highways (all with many bridges) and steep hills mean that transport routes could easily be cut by earthquakes or flooding.
    Of course all of these reasons to not live there are on top of the high living costs, high crime, prohibitions on self defense, long commutes, and mean attitudes…

  15. Houston looked like that, when they called for the evacuation for hurricane Rita. Since then, they realized it was a mistake, and only those needing to evacuate are expected to evacuate. Ever since then, it's a shelter in place city, which is necessary, if you don't like complete chaos.

  16. I live on the outskirts of a, I guess you'd say, minor metropolitan area; Kansas City.

    While we are the "Paris of the Plains", we're not the biggest city around, but we do have more interstates than any other city but one*. So, with that population to pavement ratio, I always felt I had a good handle on getting out of town in an emergency. I've got back routes that get to farm to market roads that lead to state highways that eventually get to interstates miles out in the country. There can be enough congestion at rush hour and, with 2 major league sports franchises and a NASCAR track, enough event traffic to give my bug-out plans some real world tests.

    I thought they were all solid until the eclipse this year. Visited a friend about an hour north of KC, way out in the boonies. I managed to get up there just fine, but coming back – roads that don't usually see a hundred cars a day were parking lots. The interstates were even worse. Quite a wake up call. The only practical plan is to get out early, or get out on foot.

    * Kansas City and New York both have 8 interstates entering/leaving town. Chicago has 7 and El Lay only has 6.

  17. Shortly before the 1994 quake reconfigured everything, I figured out that at the confluence of I-5 and Hwy 14 (Antelope Valley Freeway) just north of L.A., there were, counting every driveable path at the widest point, 29 traffic lanes.

    Of course that included not just the freeway lanes (8 or 10 depending how you counted), but also several extended on/off ramps, three frontage roads (one not much better than a paved goat track), the truck bypass system, and a fire road along the RR tracks.

    Imagine the fun when all the freeway-proper lanes got closed by the quake. What had been a half hour or so of merely-sluggish traffic became five hours at parking-lot speeds, literally overnight.

    Captcha: cars

  18. @Phil
    There are a lot more freeways than the 5 near downtown LA

    going roughtly north/south you have the 2, 5, 405, 710, 605 (and further east the 215 and 15)
    going roughly east/west you have the 101, 105, 110, 10, 60 (and further north the 210, 134 and 118)

    If you look at the freeways of any city at rush hour, you will be able to get pictures of jammed freeways

    I'm not saying LA traffic is fun (I've spent more than my fair share in it), but I consider the San Francisco/Bay area worse, having lived there for a year

    David Lang

  19. Having grown up in/during the Cold War… any large city screams 'TARGET' at me. If I can't get to "country" from center of town in under 30 minutes in *normal* times… I get itchy.

  20. @Rob I wrote about it this week on my blog. We can see major adaptations in less than eight generations. So roughly 150 years.

  21. That's one of the weaknesses of the majority of the prepper mentality – no plan for rebuilding after the disaster.

  22. In the US, living "farther than one tank of gas" from an urban area is simply not possible *anywhere* east of the great plains or within a couple of hundred miles of the west coast.

    Assuming most cars can get at least 350 miles on a full tank of gas. Get a map of the US and at the same scale as the map, make a paper circle 700 miles in diameter (350 mile radius x 2). You quickly see that there are very few areas where you can place that circle and not touch an urban area. And the very few areas you can place it are not very habitable.

    The best plan for most folks would be to shelter in place and prepare to defend what's yours.

  23. 1) There is functionally no place in the lower 48 one tank of gas or more away from a major city. Maybe you could get that far from a megacity (pop. >1M), but outside Alaska, or the center of the Great Basin, you'd be hard-pressed to locate any such terrain away from cities of 100K or more.

    2) Traffic in L.A. is better, not worse, than the pic, because there's twenty freeways going every which way. Anybody here more than 5 minutes learns the term "alternate route", or they read a lot of books sitting in the pile-up of yahoos slowing to a crawl to watch some guy changing a flat tire or getting a ticket.

    3) You couldn't get from downtown L.A. to anything you'd call "country" inside of 2 hours, never mind in 30 minutes, even at midnight, unless your vehicle had wings and jet engines.
    Ignoring city limits, the sprawl stretches from Ventura to the Mojave Desert, and south along the coast to San Diego, with a break only for the as-yet undeveloped stretch of MCB Camp Pendleton.
    You're talking about a region with 10% of the population of the entire country inside it. (More than any other state of the other 49, and more people in that small area than the sum of every other state west of the Rockies – and nearly everything west of the Mississippi less Texas itself – combined.
    Outside of national forests (both mountainous, and the exact areas currently on fire), there's nothing whatsoever that's "countryside" before Bakersfield, 100 miles north, or the Mojave Desert 50-60 miles north and east, both only accessible through narrow corridors through extremely rugged mountains, or the farmlands beyond Santa Barbara, 100 miles up the 101 from L.A., and three counties away.

    That's also why people didn't get all stupid here after all the travel corridors were shut down by freeway collapses in the Northridge earthquake: ain't nobody going anywhere, so you'd better learn to deal with it. The only way to beat that is to leave the year before it happens.

    Just like Houston during Harvey (except without the helpful three days' prior warning something bad was going to happen).

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *