Carmegeddon: Can Los Angeles cyclists beat a plane from Burbank to Long Beach? How my idle tweet spawned an epic…

How we get from here to there.
July 15 2011 5:26 PM

Carmageddon Challenge

Can Los Angeles cyclists beat a plane from Burbank to Long Beach? How my idle tweet spawned an epic transportation showdown.

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And that's where I left it, in the dustbin of yesterday's tweets. (I wasn't the only one with the idea: A tweet from the Bike Coalition of Greater Philadelphia @bcgp, at around the same time, as was later pointed out to me, read: "Commuter race? @latimes: 'Carmageddon': JetBlue offers $4 flights between Long Beach & Burbank this Saturday http://lat.ms/obTWE4".)

But when I checked in again this morning, I was pleased—and rather astounded, honestly—to learn (via Bike Commute News) that the challenge had taken on real legs, thanks to the efforts of the Wolfpack Hustle, a loose collective of L.A. cyclists ("we aren't Olympians or roided-out weekend warrior types") dedicated, as their website decrees, "to fixed gear, track and road bike culture in Los Angeles, a city currently dominated by the lowly automobile." They had not only secured cyclists to race the plane, but, thanks to Jet Blue's marketing department, seats for fellow cyclists @ohaijoe and @ezrahorne on the otherwise sold-out aircraft.

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Throughout the day, the race took shape, as much in the twittersphere as with the actual participants. There was some early chatter that the cyclists would depart upon the flyer's check-in time, but, as many, myself included, wondered, wouldn't it make more sense to sync up the actual departures from home? (Who knows how bad traffic might be getting to the airport during carmaggedon?) Then there was the question of rules: Do you present a model of responsible cycle commuting, following traffic rules, or do whatever it takes?

Joe Anthony (@ohaijoe) and crew hammered out the details. AT 12:37 PT, Bike Commute News laid it down:

Ride rules and details (Subject to change, more details as they become available)

Cyclists will depart from a residence near the intersection of Cahuenga and Chandler Blvd. in North Hollywood at 10:55 AM PT (Saturday, July 16) Flight Departs 12:20pm and we're basing the cyclists' departure time on the airline's recommended passenger arrival time of 1.50 hours before departure. (we're doing a little less to be fair)Cyclists will be required to follow all traffic laws.The finish line is the light house at the Shoreline Aquatic Park in Long Beach (adjacent to Acquarium of the Pacific) Ezra and I will take a cab from LGB to the finish line courtesy of GaryRidesBikes FIRST TO ARRIVE AT THE LIGHT HOUSE WINS!

And via Streetsblog LA, a few more details:  The cyclists' route will be more than 40 miles, the riders will be members of "Wolfpack A" (Wolfpack Hustle's elite squad), and they'll be strictly street legal: As Wolfpack Hustle member "Roadblock" explained to Streetsblog: "If you time traffic lights, the average speed of 'Wolfpack A' at twenty six miles per hour is perfect for hitting green lights… If you're running from twenty-two to twenty-eight miles an hour, it should be easy to beat the jet ride."  This assumes, of course, that the L.A. DoT hasn't put in any new traffic signal timing patterns in the face of Carmaggedon.

And so tomorrow, after you've spent the morning watching the Tour de France riders begin a climb through the Pyrenees, you can follow along, via Bike Commute News and the #flightvsbike hashtag, as a group of cyclists takes on an Airbus A320 (or Embraer 190) in a city convulsed by gridlock. In part two of this column, I'll be toasting the winners and providing some post-race commentary.

Correction, July 18, 2011: This piece originally misstated the modes of transport used by Top Gear competitors in their race across London. May took a boat, Clarkson a car, and the Stig public transit. (Return to corrected sentence.)

Tom Vanderbilt is author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do, now available in paperback. He is contributing editor to Artforum, Print, and I.D.; contributing writer to Design Observer; and has written for many publications, including Wired, the Wilson Quarterly, the New York Times Magazine, and the London Review of Books. He blogs at howwedrive.com and lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/tomvanderbilt.