L.A. and the driving is easy
Motorists largely heed the warnings about 'Carmageddon'
and stay off the freeways and roads officials feared could be gridlocked. A race between cyclists and a jetliner adds some drama.
July 17, 2011
By Alan Zarembo, Ari Bloomekatz, Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times
For all the doomsday warnings about "Carmageddon," the first day largely came down to one question: Could a group of bicycle riders beat a plane across Los Angeles?
Life without the 405 Freeway to connect the San Fernando Valley and Westside was remarkable only for what didn't happen. The canyons of the Hollywood Hills did not become giant parking lots. Hospitals did not go unstaffed. Stranded motorists did not abandon their cars and stagger down the freeways in search of food and water.
But although gridlock never materialized, something unexpected did: Los Angeles' car culture took a day off. Many people simply stayed home. Flying down open freeways was reminiscent of the traffic-free days during the 1984 Olympics.
The free-flowing traffic was proof, officials said, that their warnings had worked.
In a California Department of Transportation "nerve center," a giant electronic road map of Los Angeles glowed green all day. "Saturday light," as Mike Miles, a Caltrans executive, called it.
Carmageddon could turn out to be the biggest non-event since Y2K.
Not that the day lacked drama. In the great tradition of the land of reality television, Los Angeles created its own.
First came a clever marketing ploy from JetBlue Airways: $4 flights Saturday between Burbank and Long Beach airports.
A flurry of Twitter activity ensued, followed by tough talk from the Wolfpack Hustle, a local cycling club, that six of its best riders could beat the 150-seat Airbus A320 — including drive time to and from the airports, check-in and security screening.
In the end, the cyclists crushed it, cruising along the Los Angeles River to reach the final destination, the lighthouse in Shoreline Aquatic Park, in 1 hour and 34 minutes.
The plane had barely taken off. Cyclist Joe Anthony, on board as part of the challenge, said there was only one advantage to the airliner.
"It's legal to drink beer and fly, whereas the cyclists have to follow all the rules," he said.
Most passengers flew purely for the novelty. Alfred Pierfax, who was heading straight back to Burbank on the next plane, said he was unimpressed by Carmageddon.
"I'm going to call it 'Carmadud,' " he said.
Still, it was a rare day in Los Angeles.
Even the much anticipated soccer game between the L.A. Galaxy and Real Madrid wasn't creating traffic woes as fans arrived at the Coliseum on Saturday afternoon — and found themselves with time to kill.
"Not once did we drive under 60 on the way here," said Vatche Marganian, who came from Orange County using the 91 and 110 freeways.
Michele Cohn, who was perusing a garage sale in Santa Monica, said she felt like she was living in a small town for the day. "Its amazing; I love it. I wish it were like this all the time.