I have a confession: I miss the striker.
Living in Los Angeles, I had become dependent on those twice-daily traffic jams, like the sunrise and sunset of my highway-oriented life. Knowing the rhythm of traffic, I felt like I knew how to navigate my city.
But that predictability is gone. After months of heart-stopping empty highways, motorists are back on the road, but I never know when I’ll run into them.
Before the pandemic, traffic in most U.S. cities followed a similar pattern: one peak around 6 a.m. and another, slightly higher, around 5 p.m.
But now the number of motorists on the road is increasing over the course of the day, with a sharp rise in the morning rising to a higher peak in the evening. In many places, this has resulted in worse afternoon traffic than before the pandemic.
Ian Shapiro, a home inspector who lives in downtown LA, said his morning rides had gotten shorter this year, but what was once a 45-minute afternoon ride from LA’s Westside back to downtown was starting to take as much as an hour and 45 minutes.
“It’s just chaos in the afternoon,” Shapiro, 42, told me. “It’s going to be a nightmare when kids go back to school.”
In the metropolitan regions of LA, San Francisco and San Diego, drivers are more likely to hit the road at night this year compared to 2019, according to Streetlight Data, an analytics firm that uses GPS data from cell phones to track traffic patterns.
The roads are usually emptier in the morning as many people have not returned to their offices. But in the afternoon, those employees go home, while telecommuters check things off their to-do lists, such as grocery shopping, going to the gym, or picking up their kids from camp.
“It’s pretty busy again,” Streetlight’s Martin Morzynski told me. “And the only time it’s a little less crowded these days is in the morning.”
Of the four places Streetlight analyzed for me — San Diego, San Francisco, LA, and Sacramento — San Diego and Sacramento’s current traffic patterns are most similar to 2019, with more obvious double peaks in the morning and evening.
Both San Diego and Sacramento reopened businesses earlier than the other two cities, suggesting the rest of the state may also return to 2019 traffic patterns in the coming months if things return to normal, Morzynski said.
For Shapiro, the congestion is a painful reminder of how wonderfully desolate the highways were a year ago. But he’s made peace with the traffic, he told me.
“You just have to accept that this is the way of life in LA,” he said. “It never goes away.”
My colleague Emily Badger focused on the extent to which an increase in remote working could alleviate rush hour, writing that “every extra car does not necessarily contribute equally to worsening traffic. As we approach a tipping point, a few more cars could strangle a freeway. Likewise, removing a small amount of congestion can unclog congestion.”
If you read one story, make it this
President Biden said last week he wanted half of new car sales to be battery powered by the end of the decade, an ambitious target given the current rate is just 4 percent.
But there is one major obstacle: the cost.
While electric car owners can save money in the long run, many Americans can’t afford the large upfront investment required. The Chevrolet Bolt, an inexpensive electric car, starts at $31,000 — nearly $10,000 more than the larger gasoline-powered Chevy Malibu.
Read more from my colleagues Ivan Penn and Niraj Chokshi.
what we eat
This quick sandwich recipe makes canned chickpeas a bold and hearty meal.
Where we are traveling
Today’s California travel tip comes from Angelin Marie McGowan, a reader who lives in Oakland. Angeline writes:
My hidden gem is a weekend in Philo, CA. Driveable from the Bay Area (3-4 hours). Our family (2 parents, 2 young children, 2 dogs) camps at the dog-friendly Hendy Woods Campground, which is surrounded by redwood trees (keeps the area cool during those hot summer days). Wine tasting is wonderful – reminds me of the old days when Sonoma was not so well known and busy. Most are also kid and dog friendly. We usually end the day lounging by the Navarro River. On the drive home we pick up sandwiches at Lemons’ Philo Market.
Tell us about the best places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected] We will share more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, good news
After a 17-month hiatus, “Hamilton” takes the stage at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theater this week.
Producers say West Coast production will be the first to reopen in North America, The Mercury News reports. The play will return to Broadway in New York in mid-September.
A negative Covid test or vaccination certificate is required to see the musical, so cardholders, do not throw away your shot (cards).
Thank you for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya
PS Here is today’s mini crossword, and a clue: Messenger ___ (which the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use) (3 letters).
Steven Moity contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].
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