Los Angeles

Neighbors Suspect Waze App Is Guiding Commuters to Steep Residential Street as Cut-Through

Residents who live along one of the steepest streets in Los Angeles are seeking relief from the streams of commuters who have discovered Baxter Street offers an alternative to Glendale Boulevard and other clogged rush hour thoroughfares through Echo Park.

Residents suspect the traffic increase in recent years reflects use of the traffic app Waze, which relies on GPS and crowd sourced information to steer drivers to faster routes.

With grades as steep as 32 degrees -- 35 percent -- residents say Baxter Street is most treacherous in the rain, with a history of cars skidding into front yards.

It has recently become more of a concern during dry times as well.

"The rain has always been an issue, but I guess this particular issue with traffic started when Waze became popular," said Baxter resident Robbie Adams, who has been active in pressing City Hall to take steps to ease the traffic volumes.

East of Glendale Boulevard in the hills of upper Echo Park, Baxter Street has two summits with cross streets.

In the intersection with Alvarado Street, Baxter is so steep, drivers cannot see the road on the other side until starting down.

Even as tires were spinning and horns honking there during Wednesday's evening rush hours, residents crowded into a conference room at the Echo Park district office of City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell to meet with city transportation officials and press for solutions. Making Baxter one-way has been proposed, but the alternative favored by many residents is adding road signs prohibiting cut-through traffic during rush hours.

Going through the neighborhood, it seems most every neighbor has cellphone video to share of incidents that have occurred on Baxter. Adams has a pickup spinning its rear tires in front of his house.  Brian Sayres recorded a car giving up the climb, attempting to back down, then knocking loose its bumper when it turned around.  Daniel Ruiz's cellphone video shows a backup of traffic behind car halted at the summit.  Another resident's posting on YouTube shows the semi-trailer of an 18 wheeler literally grounded at the summit, its wheels dangling in the air, before it was finally winched free.

Several residents shared stories of skidding cars sliding into yards. James Anderson said the car he parks outside his Baxter Street home has been hit twice, and after the second time, asked the driver what happened.

"He said, 'all of a sudden my car started sliding out of control,'" Anderson recalled.

"I think it's a safety issue," said Jaylynn Chun, an Echo Park resident and runner who finds training value in Baxter's steep slopes, but worries about the increasing vehicle traffic, which she attributes to drivers from outside the area taking "shortcuts."

The issue first gained media attention in a Los Angeles Times column by Steve Lopez.

Adams said Waze's response to an email indicated it could not remove Baxter Street from its system, nor add a warning message.

The situation raises questions about the circumstances under which Waze, owned by Google, would be willing to delete a public street from candidacy as a route option. Waze has yet to respond to a request to its public relations representative for comment.

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