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Carmageddon, Day 1: Cyclists, Joggers, DUI Suspect Brave Empty 405 Freeway; Rest of L.A. Stays Home

The Wolfpack, high off their big win against JetBlue (and a city of cars) today.
The Wolfpack, high off their big win against JetBlue (and a city of cars) today.
John M. via Foursquare

The first day of the big 405 closure was disgustingly sunny, carefree, car-free, and otherwise lovely.

We'd go so far as to say there's been a magical warm-and-fuzzy feeling in the air -- maybe even fuzzier than the feel-good Royal visit last weekend. (And that's bad.)

L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the guy who first uttered the word "Carmageddon" in June, in reference to the mayhem that would ensue from a 10-mile closure of the nation's busiest roadway, changed his terminology to "Carmaheaven" today...

... much to the delight of the Twitter community and, especially, bicyclists and public-transit heads who had claimed this day as a chance to show L.A. a better way to get around.

Even the California Highway Patrol found some room in their hearts to scold-and-release some curious cats who decided they wanted a closer look at the 405 in its unnatural state of calm. Though one man who pushed past cones and signs to get onto the 405 today was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, according to CHP spokesman Saul Gomez, all other pedestrians and bikers have merely been given citations.

They included one 70-year-old jogger, one photographer who "scaled the perimeter" and two shirtless guys on bikes (who other news outlets reported also had their "vehicles" impounded). From the Los Angeles Times:

Caltrans District 7 Director Mike Miles said a few people have tried to get onto the 405, including a jogger wearing a helmet camera and skateboarder who got onto the side of the freeway that was still open in the early hours of the morning.

But, as Gomez told us, only one arrest so far. (And the one, for good reason: Seriously, who gets drunk and tries to joyride past the most highly publicized freeway construction project in the history of L.A.? Even BBC News got word.)

And these guys were merely given a warning:

 

Then there were those who didn't get caught at all, like amateur videographer Heather Grimmer.

Gomez says a group of 200 cyclists who had gathered at Santa Monica Boulevard and Century Park West -- presumably the same ones who had been planning a flash mob for Carmageddon -- were "deterred" by CHP officers, on the ground and in helicopters, just after midnight this morning. So "they never made it on," he says.

"[It] could have been a big breach," adds Gomez. "The danger is there's a lot of big heavy equipment on scene that's being transported. Pedestrians and bicyclists are a big danger to everyone involved. [They could] end up hurting one of the employees."

As for the rest of the city: Motorists have apparently been so inundated by city officials' and the media's depiction of an apocalyptic traffic crisis (decidedly yellow journalism, but for a good cause) that they were scared to even look out the front door. "So LA, how's the traffic?" Tweeted Kim Kardashian from the Valley. "I'm so curious if its as bad as everyone imagined it to be w the 405 closed!"

Despite the Carmageddon anxiety in our gut, we did a tour of the 10, 110 and 101 freeways today, and never braked once. Honestly, it was tempting not to speed. We haven't seen an L.A. freeway look so peaceful in broad daylight since... pretty much ever.

A few more people than usual used the subway, which made Metro officials happy as larks today (that, on top of their second-place win in the bike-train-plane race to Long Beach), but in general, taxi drivers and businesses watched in dismay as the city turned quiet and a tumbleweed all but rolled by.

The only real chaos so far was a near-accident at the final closure point last night:

After that -- smooth sailing. "We had hoped this would happen," L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said after a helicopter ride over the city today. "People have answered the call. They have stepped up to the plate in recognizing that the best way to do this is to stay out of their cars."

So it was the end of the world -- just more in the "28 Days Later" sense.

The Times asked sociologist Dennis S. Mileti how it was possible to frighten millions of drivers into changing their midsummer weekend plans:

"The public doesn't change its behavior on its own," Mileti said. "It behaves on the perceptions formed by the information people are provided."

Without such extensive coverage on television, radio and newspapers, it would have been impossible for Metro, Caltrans, the mayor or Los Angeles County officials "to break through the clutter of everyday life to reach so many people."

As one Weekly commenter put it, "What if the media threw a disaster of apocalyptic proportions and no one came?"

Here's what: The city would turn into a virtual utopia of parties, cheap stuff and neighborly love. We've never heard so many meanderers taking in the day outside our windows, or so many cyclists whizzing by on empty streets.

We'll see if the PR campaign for Carmageddon 2, planned for next summer, will be as successful. Though the big sigh of relief this year could backfire (and it still could for tomorrow, Sunday, Day 2 of the 405 closure), we're thinking everybody might have loved the day off from driving so much this time around that they'll be asking for a sequel. L.A. just found out the hard way: The Rapture totally rocks.

From the scene of Saturday's only Hollywood-worthy action, longtime LA Weekly photographer Ted Soqui watches the Mulholland Bridge come down:

Carmageddon, Day 1: Cyclists, Joggers, DUI Suspect Brave Empty 405 Freeway; Rest of L.A. Stays Home
Ted Soqui

[@simone_electra/swilson@laweekly.com]


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