Lesson from ‘Carmageddon’: It’s Possible to Drive Less

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Los Angeles’ much-hyped “Carmaggedon,” in which the 405 Freeway was closed over the weekend, was mostly a non-event. Instead of producing a chaotic, traffic-choked scene all over L.A., the unprecedented road closure resulted in an even more unprecedented scenario, in which huge numbers of Angelenos figured out something to do that (gasp!) didn’t require the use of a car or highway. Could this be the start of a drive-less movement in car-crazed southern California?

That’s what the Los Angeles Times is asking. What’ll people do while not driving around in cars? Largely, the same sorts of things they did this past weekend:

“You can suddenly hear people talking. You hear kids playing,” said L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. “People discovered something about themselves and Los Angeles auto culture that shocked them. Why can’t we take some chunk of L.A. and shut it down to traffic on certain days or weekends, as they do in Italy?”

Carmaggedon, it turns out, didn’t cause mayhem. It did, however, force people to break their drive-first habits, and in the course caused them to question why they developed these habits in the first place. Questioning one’s habits is a first necessary step to changing one’s habits.

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The hope is that Carmaggedon winds up being recast as Karmaggedon, in which locals increasingly seek good karma by driving less and walking and using bikes and public transportation more. Ideas like car-free zones and weekend road closures—for recreation and enjoyment, not repairs—are being floated.

Then again, in notoriously self-centered L.A., there are those who would pay lip service supporting a drive-less movement mainly so there will be fewer cars in their way—making it easier for them to drive all over the city anytime they want. Los Angeles writer D.J. Waldie offered his perspective:

“Appeals for car-free weekends may sound appealing, but from a somewhat cynical perspective, or a skeptical perspective, is that ultimately we hope that other people don’t drive as much,” Waldie said.

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Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.