When President Barack Obama arrived in Los Angeles Aug. 16 for a fundraising swing, his entourage caused the worst traffic nightmare seen since the 1992 Rodney King riots or 1994 Northridge earthquake. With more cars per square block than any city in the U.S., Los Angeles is prone toward gridlock without natural disasters, riots or special events. Los Angeles Police and the Dept. of Transportation officials know the gravity of daily traffic congestion on LA freeways and surface streets. In the best of times, early rush-hours and traffic congestion snarl thoroughfares and city streets making commuting to work or recreational events a dangerous obstacle course. Obama’s recent visit froze traffic for miles around the areas cordoned off by the LAPD, endangering citizens commuting to essential services like doctors, hospitals, not to mention paralyzing regular business operations.
Given today’s world, when the president comes to town, everyone expects added security precautions. Los Angeles has a fairly straightforward geography, with a series of north-south and east-west surface streets paralleling freeways. In LA, Interstate 405 runs north-south, eventually intersecting in West LA with Interstate 10, the freeway running about 15 miles from Santa Monica Beach to the civic center. From Los Angeles International Airport, the main routes to LA destinations are either the I-405 north to the I-10 west or Lincoln Blvd north to either the east-west-running Wilshire Blvd or Santa Monica Blvd, both main east-west surface street arteries running from the ocean to downtown. Since the LAPD and Secret Service don’t like to clog freeways, they typically travel on surface streets, cordoning off major north-south and east-west routes, causing the kind of gridlock seen on Aug. 16 and 17.
With the Los Angeles economy suffering along with other parts of country, the city can ill-afford major disruptions in business caused by unnecessary traffic gridlock. Secret Service, LAPD and City decisions to run the president and entourage through the city streets of Los Angeles was extravagant showmanship, endangering private citizens and harming the city businesses. “It is an obligation of the LAPD . . . to assist the Secret Service in providing security and protection for President of the United States,” said a prepared statement from the LAPD. What the statement doesn’t say is that the route from LAX is approved by the mayor’s office and LA Dept. of Transportation, both signed on to the travel route. When the City, LAPD and Secret Service decide to run the president’s motorcade through city streets they know the massive gridlock and inconvenience created.
White House, Secret Service, City of LA and LAPD officials all want to duck the responsibility of creating a dangerous traffic emergency on LA streets. They know they literally shutdown LA businesses and the transportation lanes needed for emergency services. There’s simply no excuse for the LAPD or City of LA to paralyze the nation’s second largest metropolis to stage a dog-and-pony show for a sitting president, whether Democrat or Republican. Secret Service officials know it would be far safer to transport Obama via helicopter to the closest helipad to the president’s fundraising destination. Blocking major east-west and north-south streets for a completely unnecessary and wasteful police and presidential motorcade paralyzes the city, endangers ordinary citizens and harms vital business activity. No city the size and importance of LA should accept this discruption.
Obama’s PR team and Secret Service must come clean and accept responsibility for the egregious political grandstanding that backfired, hurting the president’s approval ratings. Paralyzing the nation’s second largest city to run an unnecessary and extravagant presidential motorcade is inexcusable. “We work closely with local law enforcement on Presidential motorcade routes we always try to have the least impact as possible,” said Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan, admitting that his agency coordinated the mess with LA officials. While no one wants to take blame, Donovan admits he’s aware of possible disruptions. If Donovan believes blocking off large sections of Wilshire Blvd., the most traveled east-west artery in Los Angeles, causes little disruption, God help the president. No one could be that oblivious without endangering the commander-in-chief.
If the Secret Service, LAPD and City officials really want to protect the president without endangering the public and hurting LA businesses, Obama’s visits should be less announced, with helicopters providing more efficient and less disruptive transportation. Blocking off major north-south and east-west major streets in the nation’s second largest city is bound to cause dangerous gridlock and paralysis. Given the president’s fragile approval ratings, you’d think his PR team wouldn’t antagonize Democrats, Republicans and independents in the nation’s second largest media market. No matter how much cash Obama raised for Democratic candidates, he hurt himself infuriating LA residents. White House, Secret Service and local officials must come up with a better plan to deliver the president safely to his destinations, while, at the same time, not endangering LA residents and hurting businesses.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.