Carmaggedon in Los Angeles came and went with a fizzle. In fact, it may have been the best day for driving on LA freeways since the 1984 Olympics.
For more than two weeks, officials in the land of Hollywood attracted national media an all-star cast to warn people of the to STAY HOME! or BE SOMEWHERE ELSE! lest one get stuck in unprecedented paralyzing traffic.
The reason for the dire predictions of all hell breaking loose was the weekend closure of ten miles of I-405 through the Sepulveda Pass necessitated by the demolition of a bridge across the freeway. The freeway closure was part of the ongoing Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project, a $1 billion project to add 1 HOV lane to the freeway.
In a shrewd move, Jet Blue capitalized on everyone’s fears by offering $4 flights from Burbank to Long Beach as a way to fly over the expected crush of traffic. The unusual flight garnered the airline tons of publicity that more than made up for the cost of the flights. But the 20 minute flights did not help anyone get across the LA Basin any faster than any other mode of travel, not by a long shot.
Responding to Jet Blue, a group of bicyclists challenged the airline that they could travel the 40 miles from North Hollywood to Long Beach faster than the plane. And boy did they! The Wolfpack Hustle group completed the journey in 1 hour 34 minutes. Someone taking public transit arrived 10 minutes later. People taking the Jet Blue flight, on the other hand, took almost 3 hours! Even an inline skater made the trip faster than the fliers!
St. Louisans Knew All Along
Of course, anybody from St. Louis could have told LA that Carmaggedon would amount to almost nothing. St. Louis spent 2 years without 5-mile portions of I-64. Prior to the highway’s closure in 2008, many people pleaded to the city, county, state, and anybody who would listen to stop the imminent project prophesying 3-hour commutes and economic ruin for the St. Louis region. Unexpectedly for many, traffic disappeared in most places for the first few days; the full impact of the highway closure, from a congestion standpoint, took months to develop. Also, a survey released near at the project’s conclusion did not find any discernible economic impact on businesses near the highway as compared to businesses elsewhere in the St. Louis region.
What does it all mean? Only that contrary to “common sense”, the economic well being of cities across the country is not tied to the highways that cut through them. That and air travel takes a minimum of 3 hours door to door regardless of how short the flight is.