The bewilderingly complex world of Los Angeles traffic control was explored last year at the Center for Land Use Intrepretation, in an exhibition called "Loop Feedback Loop: The Big Picture of Traffic Control in Los Angeles."
As part of the monumental and continuous task of keeping the city's vehicle fleet moving, "the highway and surface street network of Los Angeles has become the most instrumented and managed of any American city."
Its surfaces carefully painted and inlaid with sensors, its intersections programmed from afar, the Los Angeles road network is not unlike an immersive, 24-hour experimental film set. It is a counter-Hollywood, constantly filmed – a paparazzi for empty concrete – and its main actors are the surfaces of roads. All of this is overseen by a rotating staff of technicians who sip coffee and watch for "incidents" in secure, air-conditioned control rooms.
These rooms are where new scenes in the great and secret show of Los Angeles are recorded everyday.
It's a kind of metropolitan nervous system, an intelligent city, the urban dreams of Futurists made (almost) real: "Increasingly automated, signals also flow out from these control rooms, adjusting timings of lights at intersections and freeway metering ramps, dispatching incident response teams, and updating traffic reports, including live maps on the web. These in turn effect the flow, feeding back into the system and changing its form, as indicated by the sensors that send their signals to the control rooms: the loops feeding back to the loops."
These loops are literal: they're called inductive loops, and they're magnetically active zones of the road that detect the presence of large metallic bodies – cars, in other words, that have stopped at a light and are waiting.
All of this information – scientifically registered, studied, and saved – is monitored in real-time; and, as anyone who has seen the remake of The Italian Job knows, the true public life of Los Angeles is played out on walls of monitors, screened by private security firms, given order and sense where there can still be the illusion of control.
The highway as reality TV.
The city, in unedited time.