L.A. Lawmakers Looking To Take Legal Action Against Google For Not Solving Long-Running City Traffic Problems

from the fix-our-stuff-or-we'll-fix-you dept

Hopefully nothing will come of this, but one should never underestimate the creativity of city attorneys presented with the opportunity to rack up billable hours.

Yet another Los Angeles city councilman has taken Waze to task for creating "dangerous conditions" in his district, and the politician is now "asking the City to review possible legal action."


In a new letter sent to the City Attorney’s Office, [Councilman David] Ryu formally asked Los Angeles’ top attorney to examine Waze’s behavior.

While Ryu said he supported "advances in technology," he decried Waze and its parent company, Google, for refusing "any responsibility for the traffic problems their app creates or the concerns of residents and City officials."

The city's government believes the traffic/mapping app has made Los Angeles' congestion worse. That the very body tasked with finding solutions to this omnipresent L.A. problem is looking to hold a private third party company responsible for its own shortcomings isn't surprising. If a third-party app can't create better traffic flow, what chance do city planners have? But beyond the buck-passing on congestion, the city may have a point about Waze making driving around Los Angeles a bit more hazardous.

For several months, it's been noted that Waze has been sending drivers careening down the steepest grade in the city -- Baxter Street. Drivers seeking routes around Glendale Ave. traffic choke points have been routed to a street with a 32% grade, increasing the number of accidents located there and generally resulting in barely-controlled mayhem. When any sort of precipitation falls from the sky, the city goes insane. Drivers bypassing Glendale are now hurtling down a steep, water-covered hill, compounding the problem.

It's become noticeable enough that the city government has approached Waze/Google in the recent past, asking for an algorithmic change to prevent drivers from being routed to Baxter. These efforts were met with a reasonable response from Google.

"Google Maps models the ever-changing real world by mapping for ground truth," the company said. "This means that our map reflects any measures taken by local agencies to protect their citizens—for example, blocking off a steep road, or implementing turn restrictions. Should the local agency decide to restrict Baxter Street, this change will be taken into account when routing drivers through the Los Angeles area."

The city finds this response -- one that says the city should do something about limiting access to Baxter Street if driving on it is inherently dangerous -- unreasonable. These are the words of Councilman Paul Krekorian.

"[Google has] not demonstrated any willingness to engage," he told Ars last week. "It goes to the heart of problems—that’s not [the] good corporate citizenship I expect."

Yes, but "engage" how? The city believes the algorithm can be rewritten to exclude Baxter Street from suggested routes without screwing things up elsewhere. Residents of Baxter Street want even more -- for it to be erased from Google's map.

This is nothing more than a city looking to offload problems of its own making. I suppose the addition of a cautionary note when rerouting to Baxter wouldn't be that much of a problem to implement, but that shouldn't even necessarily be something Google needs to handle. The Waze app allows drivers to add notes about streets, traffic, etc. so it's highly likely motorists are being warned about the steep grade but choosing to take their chances anyway.

I'm not sure where the city wants to go with this, but that hasn't stopped it from tasking its attorney from trying to find some way to punish Google for city's long-running congestion problems. Google isn't part of the city government, isn't asked to participate in city planning efforts, cannot control access to the city's streets, and has no way of forcing drivers to take only certain routes. This is all stuff only the city can address, and it's decided to make it someone else's problem.

Filed Under: blame, david ryu, google maps, los angeles, paul krekorian, traffic congestion, waze
Companies: google

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  1. icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 24 Apr 2018 @ 1:22pm

    Re: willing to engage

    The discussion should be why don't they respond to that

    As the story states, they did respond, and quite reasonably.

    If the street is "clearly dangerous" as you say, then why doesn't the city itself treat it as such?

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