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After observatory traffic jam, note to self: go early, hike or stay home

FILE: An eclipsed supermoon is shown on Sept. 27, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. People flocked to the Griffith Observatory to catch a glimpse of the lunar event, causing another traffic jam to and from the hilltop.
FILE: An eclipsed supermoon is shown on Sept. 27, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. People flocked to the Griffith Observatory to catch a glimpse of the lunar event, causing another traffic jam to and from the hilltop.
Christopher Polk/Getty Images

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It's happened again: another Griffith Observatory event, another traffic jam.

Sunday's supermoon lunar eclipse had some folks howling in super traffic after thousands of people flocked to the hilltop observatory to take in the rare celestial occurrence. The last time both a total lunar eclipse and a supermoon converged was 33 years ago.

But a lot of people didn't see much — other than a sea of brake lights as the road up the hill jammed for hours.

Officials at the observatory warned the public it would be overcrowded and recommended people arrive early and take public transit to a shuttle, but Observatory Deputy Director Mark Pine said: “You can’t make them make good choices.”

Pine says the observatory staff prepared as best it could for the hordes, tripling shuttle service and closing inbound traffic on one road to keep things moving.

“We’re on a hilltop so there is only so much places to park,” he said.

But with a concert at the Greek Theater marking what would have been Bob Marley's 70th birthday,  and the promotion of the lunar event, the preparations just weren't enough.

The observatory had recommended on its website that people take the weekend shuttle rather drive, but the crowds turned out to be too much for the buses available. Lines of people grew longer and longer at the Vermont-Sunset Redline Metro station, and at stops along the shuttle route, as the time for the eclipse drew near. 

Shuttle passengers complained that the ride up the hill took from an hour and a half to two hours. On one shuttle, some of the riders demanded to be left off half-way up to the observatory; some walked up, others abandoned the effort and walked down the hill.

Long-time Los Angeles residents recalled similar traffic jams whenever the observatory plays host to other astronomical events, raising similar concerns about safety and access for ambulances and other vehicles should there be an emergency.

The observatory has had success controlling traffic. Upon its reopening after renovations in 2006, it closed car traffic to the top of the hill and required visitors to buy a shuttle ticket far in advance. Pine said it took months of publicity to alert the public to the changes back then. For a one-off event like Sunday's, it wouldn't be feasible to do the same thing, he said, citing cost among other factors.

So the next time you want to catch a superstar event, Pine's advice: go early, hike up … or just watch from home.