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Waze app makes drivers faster, residents furious

Drivers determined to find the fastest route from here to there have embraced Waze, an app that crowdsources traffic reports and promises users they'll be "outsmarting traffic, together."

But togetherness depends only goes so far.

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In its goal to shorten commute times and reroute drivers around incessantly clogged freeways, Waze has been sending Southern California drivers down side streets in neighborhoods not designed to accommodate so many cars.

The Waze app on a mobile phone.
Nir Elias | Reuters
The Waze app on a mobile phone.

"The traffic is unbearable now. You can't even walk your dog," a Sherman Oaks resident on a once-quiet street told the Associated Press.

In some communities, residents vow to fight back and reclaim their sleepy-street status by filing fake accident reports with Waze in hopes that the app will route drivers back to the freeways—or through a different neighborhood.

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But that won't work, said Waze spokeswoman Julie Mossler.

"With millions of users in LA, fake, coordinated traffic reports can't come to fruition because they'll be negated by the next 10 people that drive down the street passively using Waze," she told the AP.

NBC's Kerry Sanders put the app to the test. He faced off against Los Angeles resident Jeff Bacon to see who could drive 13 miles from Bacon's house to his workplace the fastest. Bacon used his Waze app. Sanders used a paper map.

Sanders got to Jeff's work down Route 101 in 4 turns while Waze sent Bacon through side neighborhoods for a total of 14 turns. But it only took Bacon 38 minutes and 25 seconds, while it took Sanders 55 minutes and 30 seconds.

"I could have had breakfast!" said Bacon at the end of their race.

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That time savings comes at a cost, at least for the residents on previously sleepy blocks.

Some neighborhoods are turning to transportation officials for help, seeking speed bumps, four-way stop signs and other tools to discourage shortcut takers.

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But "this story is really about what inevitably happens when you design a city to be so dependent on cars alone, neglect mass transit and pedestrians, and vastly undercharge for the use of the roads," said Joshua Schank, President and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation.

"No matter how Waze shuffles the traffic around, there are simply too many people trying to drive in L.A.," said Schank.