A Map Is Worth 3,000 Words: Presidential Road Closures, The Media & The Call for Better UX 

A lineup of LAPD motorcycles juxtaposed with a traffic jam

Foxie Rating - 1 star - Ugly

The Big One is upon us.

This is the #1 phrase no Angelino wants to hear. And by Big One, we’re talking an earthquake of epic proportions.

The second most dreaded phrase?

The President is coming to town.

Oh, The Horror!

Whenever Air Force One touches down at LAX, that only means one thing: rush hour will be 1,000 times longer and more miserable than usual.

According to Deadline, today marks the 21st time President Obama has visited LA since taking office, and I swear pretty much all of those visits have taken place on a weekday during rush hour.

President Obama disembarking from Air Force One, saluting two Marines who are standing in salute at the foot of the staircase

You would think after the 10th or heck 20th visit, Team Presidente would have just commandeered and decked out a hangar at LAX where the president could attend all of his LA events.

That way filthy rich celebrities and talk show hosts could come to him, eliminating the need for soul-sucking road closures in high-traffic areas.

I’d hazard this change alone would boost President Obama’s approval rating exponentially.

Oh, The Digital Horror!

What’s almost as bad as the massive traffic jams that arise whenever the president comes to town is the way in which the road closures are communicated by the news media online.

This is how road closures are communicated on KTLA:

A screenshot of the KTLA article page on the road closures, which includes a bulleted list of street areas that will be closed and at between what time period for each

It is the same for other news sites, from KCRW to CBS Los Angeles.

A long bulleted list of streets and cross streets is a terrible user experience. As a user, I would have to devote significant time and brain energy in order to get a full picture of where these road closures will be, at what times — a.k.a., how and where will they affect me.

And since I don’t have a photographic memory and therefore do not walk around with a detailed map of the LA grid in my head, I have to pop over to Google Maps in order to match one bulleted street closure to an actual area on the map.

You know what would be 3,000 times simpler?

A good ol’ digital map of the closures.

CBS Los Angeles does include some mapped visuals on its article page, but they’re embedded in a video.

Screenshot of a video still from a CBS2 news story on the road closures, embedded on an article page on the CBS LA websiteNot every user is going to want to take the time to watch a 2-minute news story.

Not to mention that many users will want to be able to zoom into one or more areas of the map, to plan accordingly for themselves and, perhaps, for their loved ones as well.

Instead, in tandem with a bulleted list, local news outlets should embed an interactive map on the article detail page. Ideally, the map would have 4-5 overlay filters via which I could quickly and easily see which areas of town will be inaccessible from 3pm to 5pm; versus 4pm to 7:30pm; versus 7:30pm to 8:30pm.

And then, when I shared a link to the map with friends and colleagues, as any good Angelino would do, they would also be able to quickly and easily see how the closures will be affecting their commute home or elsewhere.

Such a map could be akin to this Google Map of the 2012 Los Angeles marathon, created by KPCC, showing the marathon route as well as road and street closures:

Screenshot of a Google map of the 2012 Los Angeles marathon showing the marathon route and street and road closures

It’s visual, interactive and provides a much more streamlined and enjoyable user experience than a cross-eye inducing bulleted list or columned table.

It will be interesting to see which, if any, LA news outlet will make the effort to provide a better map-based user experience the 22nd time President Obama comes to town.