Talk about turning a lemon into lemonade. As it turned out, “Carmeggedon” has been a great learning experience for all of us –with an incredibly great outcome for the City of Angels. To me there were three key lessons that we should take with us from this experience, whether we are building a bridge or changing the world.
First, the communication of the pending I-405 shutdown was everywhere for months, from the Tijuana border to San Francisco. The messaging, complete with depictions of the bridge coming down, was all very clear and consistent — do not drive if you can possibly avoid it. Even the national media got involved, with the event being heralded on the network news. The result was that people had plenty of time to plan, no one was caught by surprise (“What do you mean they’re shutting down the freeway?”), and the anticipated gridlock never materialized.
Second, residents were encouraged to turn this seemingly extreme inconvenience into a fun occasion for their local communities, with hotels and restaurants actually using it as a cause for celebration. In fact, people are now referring to it as “Karmageddon” because it offered L.A. an excuse not to be stressed out for two whole days, thus providing the city with much in the way of good karma (a sort of return to the way Neil Diamond described the city in a ‘70s lyric, “the feeling is laid back”). I felt it myself, hanging out at the beach unshaven, “salthead,” and unencumbered for the entire weekend, which was just glorious. ( Thanks, Carmageddon.)
Third, and critical for all of the causes we work on, and have to work on in the future, it was a lesson in setting expectations and ending up with a better outcome than anyone anticipated. Today (Sunday, July 17th) the 405 was originally not supposed to have been reopened until midnight. But Mayor Villaragosa held a press conference at 11 a.m. to announce that the closure had been such a success that the freeway would actually open by 3 p.m. And sure enough, even before that, on my short drive back from the beach, the signs all said “405 open, thank you Los Angeles.”
But actually, I think the gratitude is all ours. Los Angeles will never quite be the same – and the change has definitely been one for the better. We proved that, contrary to what cynics have been claiming, positive improvements can be accomplished (in this case, the widening of a much-traveled artery) with society discovering that the resultant “disruption” not only wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone feared, but actually had unintended and very positive if unexpected fringe benefits.
And that’s a lesson that could benefit all of our causes – and our entire country.