Our Undemocratic Impulse to Defeat the Waze App
Vista, the little Sunset Square “capillary” street we live on, runs North-South between two major “artery” boulevards, Hollywood and Sunset. Because there’s a school at the end of our block, diverting traffic around the block to the East or West, Vista Street is inconvenient for those in a hurry. Most drivers take a more direct route, one that runs uninterrupted by elementary education.
Almost all day and night it’s eerily quiet around here. But Monday-Friday, a couple of times a day — the morning and afternoon commuter rush hours — our otherwise tranquil street is overrun (literally) by dozens of unfamiliar vehicles, many of them ignoring the Stop signs and posted speed limits. These interlopers are mostly users of the Waze application, a community-based GPS navigation system powered by a seemingly omniscient algorithm that always knows the fastest way to get from one place to another.
Waze has revolutionized street usage in Los Angeles (and everywhere else). Its main trick is to steer drivers away from traffic and onto flowing thruways. It’s frighteningly effective and “smart.” Any objective analysis based on resource efficiency, time-saving and reduced wear-and-tear (on cars, drivers and streets) would have to conclude that Waze is a net positive. We humans have a tough time with proper distribution — of wealth, water, food, space, compassion, everything. Traffic is the result of too many cars using too few available streets. By redistributing the consumption of road resources, Waze makes life a little better for everyone.
Everyone except those of us who live on quiet little streets unaccustomed to traffic.
To counteract the influx of speeders, rolling-stoppers and ear-shattering radio players that Waze has brought onto otherwise tranquil lanes, many local residents have resolved to get their municipalities to shut down their streets during rush hours, limiting use to residents. It was revealed at a recent meeting of the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council, the hand-wringing volunteer “advisory” board with zero power or influence at City Hall, that certain Hollywood neighborhood streets would indeed be shut down this summer during busy Hollywood Bowl and movie premiere nights as part of a pilot program the City is testing. Access to these public roads will cease on those gridlocked nights; services like Lyft and Waze will no longer show these streets as available routes. The castle drawbridge will be raised and the moat made unpassable.
These are public roadways. We like to say “my street,” as in, “the jacaranda trees are in bloom on my street.” But unless you live in a private gated community, the streets are all of ours. We all own them. We’re all entitled to drive on them, even the streets we don’t live on, even the quiet, tree-lined streets like mine, where wealthy people shielded from the indignities of commuter life maintain mansions.
None of us may dictate who may or may not use the public street we happen to live next to. That’s not reasonable, and it’s not democratic. Indeed, if you sniff strongly enough around those who wish to banish Waze drivers from their neighborhoods, the familiar aroma of privilege can be detected beneath notes of “public safety” and burnt vanilla.
What’s reasonable is to hold accountable all drivers, whether traveling in familiar or unfamiliar neighborhoods. We expect them to respect their surroundings, to be mindful of pedestrians and cyclists and animals, to obey the traffic laws, to not turn a net positive into a negative.
The uncomfortable truth is that even if all drivers behaved perfectly, many of us who live on idyllic streets still would resent having so many extra cars passing our gardens and porches. We like our peace and quiet. We feel we earned it by dint of being able to afford a home on such a pastoral street. Didn’t we purchase some exclusivity along with the domicile?
The short answer: no. We purchased a home beside a public street.
The sooner we put our focus on better driving, not defeating the Waze algorithm, the better off we’ll all be. Even folks like me who don’t own a car.