Traffic and SIG Alerts

There’s what you (and the rest of the world) call Traffic, and what we in Los Angeles call Traffic.

This is the one stereotype about Los Angeles driving that is bang on target. The Traffic here is terrible. I remember being back home in Washington D.C. a couple of years ago, with my Dad in the car, and him complaining about “the traffic.”

Now, the cars in our four-lane Freeway were moving along at a 35-40 mile per hour clip, but moving.

I laughed…out loud.

“Traffic” in Los Angeles is being jammed packed in the middle of a sea of cars and SUVs and moving about 5-6 miles per hour. Such Traffic is not a rarity. It happens on a daily basis. Days where that doesn’t happen are what’s rare.

…and that wasn’t so bad.

The worst times are of course “Rush Hour”, which of course, isn’t an hour. It’s the time when Angelenos are rushing to work, and Angelenos (like always) are usually running late. Things are usually at their worst between 8:00am and 10:30am in the morning, and 4:00pm and 7:00pm in the evening on most weekdays. No area of Los Angeles is immune. While I suggest taking side streets to go wherever you need to go during Rush Hour, bear in mind that many Angelenos have the same idea.

Uhh, yeah. At times it can look like this.

Which brings us to the topic of how to avoid said Traffic.

You can’t.

Look, Traffic is like the rain. It can drop down on you anytime and anywhere for any reason (that’s beginning to be a bit of a theme, isn’t it). So all you can do is be prepared for it, and be prepared to use Side Streets where you can (and if you know how). If you have a Navigation System, all the better. It should adapt to any adjustments in course.

Another thing to learn about are the so-called SIG Alerts. You’re going to hear this term a lot while you’re in town, especially on the morning or evening news. Basically, a SIG Alert (and I’m getting this from Wikipedia) is defined by the California Highway Patrol as “any unplanned event that causes the closing of one lane of traffic for 30 minutes or more” SIG Alerts are issued by the CHP and are posted on their website, broadcast on radio and television stations throughout California, and signaled to motorists via electronic message signs on the freeways.

Basically, what you need to know is a SIG Alert is bad news, and something to be avoided if at all possible. They are frequent, happening at least once a day.

And the name? Well (and this is also from Wikipedia):

SigAlerts originated in 1955 with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). By the early 1950s, the rapidly growing number of automobiles in Los Angeles had greatly increased the frequency and severity of traffic accidents and jams. Radio stations reported traffic conditions, but the LAPD refused to call radio stations with this information, so each station would call the LAPD, a process that tied up telephone lines and forced officers to repeat the same information again and again.


In 1955, Lloyd C. “Sig” Sigmon began developing a solution. Sigmon was Executive Vice President of Golden West Broadcasters (a company owned by singing cowboy Gene Autry). Sigmon had worked for Golden West’s station KMPC 710 in 1941, but found himself in the United States Army Signal Corps during World War II, assigned to General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s staff, in charge of non-combat radio communications in the European theater. Now, he proposed to apply his knowledge of complex radio networks to the situation in Los Angeles.


Sigmon developed a specialized radio receiver and reel-to-reel tape recorder. When the receiver picked up a particular tone, it would record the subsequent bulletin. The device cost about $600. The LAPD’s chief, William H. Parker, was interested, though skeptical, warning the inventor, “We’re going to name this damn thing Sigalert.” More practically, he refused to use it unless the receivers were made available to all Los Angeles radio stations — it could not be a KMPC monopoly.


Initially, half a dozen stations installed Sigmon receivers that had “Sigalert” stamped on their side. When a message had been received and recorded from the LAPD, a red light, sometimes accompanied by a buzzer, would alert the radio stations’ engineers. Depending on the nature of the problem, the engineer could air the police broadcast immediately, interrupting regular programming if necessary.


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