Mon, Aug

405 Closure: A Tale of Two Tweets

RETHINKING LA - The much anticipated weekend closure of LA’s 405 freeway caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth as the threat of Carmageddon loomed heavy on the horizon and officials unleashed a barrage of “stay home” warnings in every format imaginable including relentless email blasts, repetitious press conferences, and electronic sign messaging throughout the countywide freeway system.

As the world watched, @Jet Blue airlines seized on the opportunity and offered “jetpool” flights over the 405 between Burbank and Long Beach airports for $4. This press coup drew a challenge from @GaryRidesBikes who suggested that cyclists could beat a jet in door-to-door travel time. @TomVanderbilt, author of “Traffic, Why we Drive the Way We Do” and Slate columnist, accepted Gary’s tweet as a Top-Gear style challenge and, as the world watched, the race was on.

Jet Blue passengers @OhaiJoe and @EzraHorne hopped in a car for the ride to the Burbank Airport, while @WolfpackHustle cyclists rode from Burbank to Long Beach in a #flightvsbike race that saw Jet Blue CEO @davidjbarger join the flight to welcome the racers. (rumors that the Jet Blue pilot was racing the cyclists for pink slips were unconfirmed)

Ignoring the “stay home” advice of the naysayers, Gary entered the race representing the pedestrian/mass transit mode and walked to the Red Line, where he rode for free to the Blue Line, transferred for the ride to Long Beach where he then walked the final leg to the Long Beach Lighthouse. Total cost - $0.00.

The Wolfpack cyclists, an elite group of athletes who averaged 24+ mph on the ride to Long Beach, took an oath to ride legally, as did Gary who crossed all streets with the signal, prompting Vanderbilt to tweet “Where is @garyridesbikes? Probably stuck at one of those epic LA pedestrian crossings. #flightvsbikes”   The cost of the Wolfpack ride included lots of coffee, donuts, and a celebratory refueling that may have included malted beverages.

As the dust settled, the cyclists won in 1:34, the ped/transit combo placed at 1:54, and @Jennix, who surprised the field with her stealth entrance on inline skates, showed at 2:34. Jenni is no stranger to long distance skating and leads “The Night Skate” rides on the streets of LA.

Meanwhile, the airline passengers enjoyed a record 12 minute Jet Blue flight, but experienced connectivity issues that included the traditional security maze and a taxi-cab driver who couldn’t find the Long Beach Lighthouse, the large navigational facility that is traditionally used as a guide to travelers. Joe and Ezra ended up walking the final leg for a 2:52 fourth place finish. Their $4 Jet Blue tickets included consolation prizes of cake, snacks, and Jet Blue gift bags.

@WolfpackHustle reveled in their victory by noting “Meanwhile... our politicians and police cowered and bit their nails, telling people to stay home and avoid this beautiful weekend.”

@JetBlue proved to be good sports about the race and asked for a rematch, this time racing from LAX to JFK.

As for the taxi-cab driver, his inability to help travelers in the first/last mile connection of multi-modal transportation demonstrates the big opportunity to be found in little solutions, such as the Wolfpack offer of $8 bike rides back to Burbank.

While other cities embrace bikeshare programs, pedicab networks, jitneys and streetcar connectors, LA continues to invest in transportation philosophy that is fully a generation behind in commitment to modal choices and connectivity.

If there is anything to be learned from Carmageddon’s peaceful non-appearance it’s this:

1) Angeleno’s are resilient and innovative - Time after time, whether it was the ‘84 Olympics, the Northridge earthquake, the Metro strike, or the shutdown of the 405, there are many ways to get around LA and it’s up to LA’s leadership to support great sustainable choices.

2) Great choices support sustainable behavior -  If LA’s leadership were to give walking and cycling the same support that they just gave the $1 billion widening of the 405 freeway, LA would experience traffic congestion relief at a fraction of the price and Angeleno’s would have great multi-modal choices.

3) Metro Works - Increasing service frequency and offering free rides through anticipated congested areas yielded positive results, demonstrating the folly of the recent Metro service cuts. Dollar for dollar, the cost of offering service pales in comparison to not offering service.

4) Celebrate the local economy - Theatres offered $4.05 tickets, bars offered $4.05 beverages, and neighborhoods citywide celebrated the opportunity to slow down to a local pace, enjoying the many local attractions that can get missed as one races to the Woodland Hills Costco.

5) Freeway Closures Rule - The success of the 405 closure had such a positive impact on life in the Los Angeles basin that some suggest it should be a regular event. A poll at Bitter Lemons yielded an 84% favorable response to the question “Should Los Angeles make Carmageddon a Regional Holiday and shut down the 405 once a year?”

6) Carmageddon is now Karmageddon - We reap what we sow and as Doug Failing, the Metro’s executive director of highway projects, pointed out “There is not a lot of elasticity in the system, even on the weekends.” The 405 closure just demonstrated the efficacy of a multi-modal commitment combined with a behavioral shift. A billion dollars of freeway widening is going to have a hard time competing with that kind of impact. The choice is ours.

Los Angeles just experienced a significant triumph of the Complete Streets philosophy, one that embraces all modes of transportation and commits to supporting choice as the essential element of a transportation system with the “elasticity” that our freeway system lacks.

As for next steps, it’s time to congratulate the State of California, the County of LA, the City of LA, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, and everyone else involved with the 405 closure for demonstrating that when it matters, they can work together to make it happen. Now it’s time for them to put that same focus on making the streets of LA a great place to go for a walk, to ride a bicycle, to catch a bus, to hop on a train, to get to the airport, and yes, to drive a car.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at:               [email protected] .)         –cw

Tags: Carmageddon, Jet Blue, pedestrians, cyclists, Burbank, Long Beach,

Vol 9 Issue 57
Pub: July 19, 2011