Sunday, July 17, 2011

#FlightVsBike #FlightVsMetro #BikeVsMetro #SkateVsMetro, A Huge Success!

For those who were not following the live #FlightVsBike hashtag updates yesterday, our little race of bikes against a JetBlue aircraft blew up in a way that far exceeded any of my initial expectations. It was an idea borne out of the Twittersphere, and carried into reality thanks to help from the infamous Roadblock and the racers of Wolfpack, Joe Anthony of Bike Commute News, and a supporting cast of volunteers from L.A.'s bike culture. It drew attention from a lot of blogs and internet news as I had expected, but it also attracted a lot more mainstream media attention than I had anticipated. Thanks in part to the behind the scenes work of my wife Meghan Kavanagh working media contacts and sending out press releases.

The idea from the very beginning was to demonstrate the viability of bikes as a real mode of transportation, poke a little fun at the delay of going through airports, and the unnecessary fear of being told to stay home as though life could not go on without cars with the 405 was shut down. At the last moment I decided to throw in a twist as well. I took a combination of bike and public transit to get to the race start at Chandler Blvd and Cahuenga Blvd, and it got me thinking that we could make it 3 way race and commuter challenge by having a public transit user in the race. L.A.'s public transit system may be behind some of the other mega cities of the world, with needed improvements on the way, but it often does not get enough credit for what it is already able to do. As well as how many people already ride it.

I thought it would be a great opportunity to really highlight all the transportation alternatives with this event, and Metro is offering free fare on many lines for this Carmageddon weekend. The route of North Hollywood and Burbank to Long Beach is ideally suited to both bicycling and transit. There is train service, with heavy rail subway, and light-rail above ground, all the way to Downtown Long Beach. There is also the often overlooked L.A. River, which reaches down into Long Beach and features a bike path with miles and miles of smooth riding and no traffic signals.

(I took the Red Line subway from the NoHo station and transferred to the Blue Line to Long Beach at the DTLA 7th St. Station)
So I set off on foot, with no bike, like most transit commuters. Since Wolfpack made a pledge of a clean by the book race of no rule breaking or running lights, I pledged no jay walking or funny business on my part as well. I loved Roadblock's humorous insistence in interviews that the jet not break any rules either, no rolling stops or cutting off other aircraft on the runway. For the sake of the drama for our live internet followers, I was really glad I decided to jump in with the transit angle, because it became clear there was no contest between Wolfpack and the air travelers Joe Anthony and Ezra Horne. Wolfpack Team A was halfway across Los Angeles while the plane was still sitting on the runway. The #FlightVsBike was becoming more of a #BikeVsMetro race.

(Once I was above ground again I started catching up with Twitter updates and plotting walking route)
Once I was off the Blue Line train and on foot, getting to the final destination of the Long Beach light house near the aquarium, the bikes had a clear advantage. In the end, I got the call that Wolfpack had won just as I was approaching the waterfront.  However at that time the Jet Blue flight had not even touched down, and so even on foot and transit, it was clear I was going to have a decisive second place. The unofficial times from live Twitter updates placed Wolfpack at arriving in 1 hour 34 minutes, me on foot in 1:44. Then there was a surprise arrival, shortly before the plane travelers arrived, a woman on inline skates, Jenni Armstrong (of , who I saw at the start, and had followed the riders. She clocked in at the finish in 2:40. Finally in 2:55, Joe and Ezra arrived, apparently delayed briefly in the final stretch by a taxi driver who misunderstood where they were trying to go, just as might occur in any real transportation scenario.

Wolfpack victory toast after the race.
I see this as a huge win/win for everybody involved, including Jet Blue which was obviously looking for attention with this flight anyways, and it pushed the discussion on transportation in Los Angeles. Like CicLAvia, it is one of the few events I can think of that has garnered almost unanimous positive press for bicycling in LA. Local advocacy blogs like L.A. Streetsblog, that covered the race, ballooned in web traffic beyond anything experienced before. In a surprise morning announcement, the Santa Monica Airlines skateboard company, announced $100 to the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition for every minute the cyclists beat the plane by. Smart money was on Wolfpack for the win, but I don't think they or anyone else, anticipated just how much of an ass kicking it was to become, but hopefully some kind of deal can be worked out.

I''ll be posting more on this later, my experience as the transit racer, and going through some of my photos and video, as I'm sure many others involved will be doing. Joe over at Bike Commute News is hard at work putting together more info, and Ted Rogers of BikingInLA, always a master of linking things, has a compilation of links of some of the media coverage (P.S. the event was also hyped on the Rachel Maddow show as well). Bicycle culture magic maker and photographer Richie Thomassen assembled a team of cinematographers and gear to capture footage of the Wolfpack racers, and I can't wait to see the final cut of what comes out of this, but that may take some time.

So while the political figures of Los Angeles urged staying in our homes, we went out and had a blast traveling all across this great sprawling Metropolis on an absolutely gorgeous day. For us and many others in L.A., the dreaded Carmageddon became a holiday, one that never produced the feared traffic jams, and something I wish we could do again sometime. As the comedian Thomas Lennon put it on Twitter,  "Apparently the 405 operating normally was the thing that was ruining LA. #nicestdayoftheyear". A sentiment that seem shared by a lot of folks, since it was retweeted and commented upon by many. Here's to hoping as we move forward in L.A., we can move past freeway expansion projects like the one expanding the 405 right now (a billion dollars for a few miles of carpool lane), and start having a rational discussion of transportation choices beyond cars.


rantonette said...

Enjoyed following the "race" yesterday, although from the ground rules that the meet up was to happen at the end of the L.A. River trail, it was apparent that the bikes would win this hands-down. (Big advantage to the bikes by staying on the trail instead of heading inland to LGB.)

Most interesting was how efficient a transit rider could make it across the basin to Long Beach. Well done.

Gary said...

Glad you enjoyed it Ron. The margin of victory was so great though, that I think even with more favorable routing or rules for the plane travelers, Wolfpack would have taken it. They were waiting at the light house for more than an hour before the JetBlue passengers showed up. If we had known the beat down would be so bad, maybe we would have thrown in more difficulty for the cyclists.

Another interesting what if scenario is if I had kept my commuter bike, which is a lot more like a bike most people would have than a racing bike, instead of walking, and did bike + transit. I think in that case I could of won it by catching an earlier train, and cutting down the walk time that slowed me up in the finish.

If we do any kind of crazy commuter race again, I'm sure we'd put in a lot more categories. Everything for this event was thrown together from initial idea being hatched on Twitter, to the execution on Saturday, in 2 days of planning.

James Curran said...

Well, clearly we need to do a bike + transit versus a car on the reopened 405.

Sam said...

I enjoyed following all of this via twitter. It made for a very fun Saturday morning! Thank you.