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L.A. Considers Legal Action to Stop Waze from Routing Commuters Through Neighborhoods

The navigation app helps drivers avoid traffic — which can mean sending highway drivers into residential side streets.

Los Angeles officials are considering taking legal action against Waze, following claims the trip-planning app routes motorists through residential neighborhoods. 

“The city attorney's office shares the concerns of the communities affected by the use of Waze and we are considering all our options,” said Rob Wilcox, director of community engagement in Los Angeles, in an email. “Our office has already reached out to Waze executives to convene a meeting to find ways to work together to help end this problem plaguing our quiet streets and neighborhoods.”

The response by the Los Angeles city attorney’s office follows a letter councilmember David Ryu sent April 17 urging the city attorney to consider taking legal action against the Google-owned company, following claims that Waze reroutes commuters off of major freeways and arterial roads onto local streets when those larger throughways become congested.

“Ironically, many of these ‘short cuts’ end up causing more traffic in a race-to-the-bottom effort to cut travel times by using small cut-through streets, leading drivers to make unsafe turns and often unpermitted traffic directions,” Ryu wrote in the letter.

Waze, which uses crowd-sourced traffic information from millions of users — more than 2 million in the Los Angeles metro region alone — maintains that it offers this free, open-sourced data to drivers as well as city officials to make trip-planning decisions based on real-time data, and will continue to work with city traffic officials create safe driving conditions.

“It’s important to note that Waze does not ‘control’ traffic but our maps do reflect public roads that federal and local authorities have identified and built for its citizens,” said Waze Chief Executive Officer Noam Bardin, in a statement. “If the city identifies a dangerous condition, it is their responsibility to legally reclassify a road, which will then be reflected on the Waze map.”

Los Angeles is hardly Waze’s first run-in with local officials grumbling about commuters being routed onto local streets.

Earlier this year Leonia, N.J., took the unusual step of banning non-residents from using its city streets during the morning and afternoon rush hours. Locals were issued a special yellow tag to hang on their rearview mirrors, indicating their authority to drive the town’s small streets. Leonia sits in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge and is a busy commuter route into and out of New York City. Leonia worked closely with Google and other makers of online maps to indicate the closed streets during rush hours.

Back in Los Angeles, city Department of Transportation officials have tried mitigation efforts such as new signage, said Ryu. “But this congestion begins and ends with wayfinding technology.”

“I fully support advances in technology, particularly those applied to improving traffic congestion and traffic safety,” Ryu wrote. “But in this case, we have allowed the private sector to change the use and capacity of public roads. Waze and Google’s involvement in this matter is key to any lasting solution, and should be secured by any means necessary.” 

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.