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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Light traffic in LA despite Carmageddon


(Reuters) - Traffic moved fast in Los Angeles on Saturday despite a freeway shutdown and a so-called "Carmageddon" with the potential to clog streets, as a race between a plane and bicyclists upstaged fears of congestion.

The unprecedented construction-related shutdown of a 10-mile stretch of the 405 Freeway could, in a worst-case scenario, delay motorists for hours this weekend on alternate routes with ripple effects on other major highways.

"We don't want to claim victory at the moment, but it appears as though people are heeding the call that we issued to stay away or stay home," said Dave Sotero, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. "But it's not over yet."

The light traffic that began on Friday evening, when work crews started to block on-ramps and connectors to the closed stretch of the 405 Freeway, continued through the next morning and into Saturday afternoon, officials said.

Plans call for the canyon pass to reopen on Monday by 6 a.m., after a shutdown orchestrated to allow crews to demolish part of a bridge for a $1 billion freeway widening project.

Despite the worries about Carmageddon, a catchphrase description that has seized the motoring public's imagination, the most significant drama on Saturday was a race between a group of bicyclists and an airplane.

JetBlue Airways offered a $4 flight between Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, at the northeast end of Los Angeles, and Long Beach Airport 30 miles south, allowing commuters to bypass the 405 Freeway. In reaction, a team of six bike riders called Wolfpack Hustle made a bet they could beat the jet commuters.

The cyclists left northeast Los Angeles at 10:50 a.m. and arrived in Long Beach harbor at 12:24 p.m., participants said.

Ezra Horne, 24, a passenger who took the plane, said he left his home at the same time as the cyclists, but arrived an hour later at the finish line, after such delays as commuting to the airport, checking in, going through security and a cab driver who got lost.

The flight itself took only 12 minutes, and JetBlue called for a re-match.

"The cyclists rolled all over us this time," said Sebastian White, spokesman for the airline. "Out of fairness, we'd like to propose a best of three. How about LAX (in Los Angeles) to JFK (in New York) next time?"

Los Angeles is famous for its car culture and residents' heavy dependence on getting behind the wheel to drive to work and recreate, due to the city's relatively vast expanse and the meager public transit options in many areas.

As a result, the freeway shutdown had many officials in America's second-largest city worried, and they opened an emergency operations center to manage any potential problems.

Some residents booked hotels to avoid getting caught in traffic while commuting for work over the weekend.

On a typical weekend, 500,000 vehicles file through the stretch of freeway that is closed for the project, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The freeway stretch passes through a canyon that connects the occasionally sweltering San Fernando Valley to the more temperate westside and its tony beach communities.


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