Waze prepares for its closeup with Carmageddon

While almost no one is looking forward to Los Angeles’ so-called Carmageddon, an upcoming weekend closure of one its busiest freeways, crowd-sourced traffic app Waze sees a big opportunity to shine. The Israeli company is teaming with the local ABC affiliate, which will use Waze to beef up its real-time traffic information for drivers hitting the road.

ABC (s dis) will be able to tap the movements of some 180,000 local Waze users, using their information to highlight alternate routes around the 405 freeway in West Los Angeles, which is scheduled to close July 15 for construction for the entire weekend. This will supplement ABC’s existing traffic data, which uses road sensors and cameras, providing real-time information for areas on less-traveled routes which aren’t covered by ABC. Waze users agree to let their location be used by the service, which helps route people turn-by-turn around slowdowns and accidents and helps predict the time to a destination. By opting in, users not only get traffic information, but also contribute their data to the larger group of users, who can benefit from the pooled information.

Waze currently has almost 5 million users in 45 countries, but the Carmageddon partnership with ABC could be a break-out moment showing its value to not just L.A. users but consumers nationwide. The company is planning to extend its citizen journalism program, which lets news companies reach out to users in the field to ask them for data and pictures about breaking events. If Waze can prove to be valuable to both users and news stations during the Carmageddon weekend, this could convince a lot of people of the worth of crowd-sourced data and citizen journalism, and it could help Waze extend beyond its roots as a traffic tool.

The Waze partnership, however, has some limitations for ABC users. They’ll need to get their information on TV or the web before they leave, because there’s no radio component for broadcasting the ABC traffic information when people drive. And the partnership seems one-way right now so Waze users won’t get ABC traffic data on their app, they’ll just be contributing to ABC’s information. Waze said it’s pulling in data from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the state Department of Transportation. And ABC will be reliant on the cell networks to bring back information, which could be loaded up if a lot of users broadcast their real-time information with Waze. Also, running the Waze app could also be a battery suck on a long ride.

But Waze, which is available on iOS (s aapl), Android (s goog), BlackBerry (s rimm), Nokia (s nok) and Windows Mobile (s msft), is helping show how crowdsourcing and community-assisted information and opinion gathering can be a useful tool in the real world. Examples like Carmageddon can also help convince people of the benefit of sharing their data for the good of the community. Apple is interested in a similar crowdsourced traffic feature, which it mentioned during the recent location privacy issue. Waze may find Carmageddon is an opportunity to shine, but if it does really well, don’t be surprised if more competitors line up with similar services.