it’s a bird, it’s a JetBlue plane, it’s (huh?) cyclists Wolfpack Hustle!

CARMAGEDDON – what happened when JetBlue was challenged to a race against the cycling group Wolfpack Hustle during the 405 closure this weekend?

First – the official challenge:

As you may have heard, JetBlue is taking advantage of the Carmageddon craziness to offer special $4 flights from Burbank to Long Beach for those looking to escape the traffic snarled city below. Kind of a cool idea. But an LA cycling group called the Wolfpack Hustle came up with an even better one: race!

That’s right, cyclists want to race a JetBlue plane 38.2 miles from Burbank to Long Beach. And according to Joe Anthony of Bike Commute News it’s on.

“JetBlue has gracefully accepted the challenged and has offered me a seat on a flight from Burbank to Long Beach on Saturday. The JetBlue flight departs from Burbank Airport Saturday July 16 at 12:20 PM.”

I called JetBlue to make absolute sure this thing was for real.

“They’re racing us,” a JetBlue spokesperson was quick to clarify. “But we agreed that if they wanted to, it would be fine with us.”

Here’s how it will go down: Anthony will be the one racing against the Wolfpack Hustle in the plane. He’ll be taking video and tweeting throughout the flight. Meanwhile a crew on the ground will be documenting the riders.

Here are the rules of the race:

  • Cyclists will depart the Burbank Airport (exact location TBD – Likely an exit gate for vehicles) at 11:05 AM PST (Saturday, July 16) Flight Departs 12:20pm and we’re basing the cyclists’ departure time on the airline’s recommended passenger arrival time of 1.5 hours before departure. We’re making it 1:15 before departure to be fair.
  • Cyclists will be required to follow all traffic laws.
  • The finish line is the entrance of the Long Beach Airport (LGB)
  • Ezra and I will walk, or RUN, from the Jet Blue flight gate to the airport entrance to meet the cyclists.

So who’s going to win? During the Tour de France, the best cyclists in the world average around 35 MPH in time trials. So, as good as the Wolfpack Hustle may be, we can assume they’ll ride slower than that. Not to mention the bit about following all traffic laws. Stopping at every light from Burbank to Long Beach will undoubtedly slow them down.

The good news for the cyclists is–as you can see from the topo map above–the route is mostly smooth, downhill riding the whole way. If there are any delays, the riders would seem to have a very good chance. If the flight goes hitch-free then the plane should probably win.

But, whatever the result, this is undoubtedly the coolest Carmageddon-related event I’ve heard about thus far. For anyone else out there thinking of trying a similar ride, JetBlue told me that in honor of the Tour de France, all bikes fly for free on their planes throughout the month of July. So if you’re trying to figure out what to do this weekend, ask yourself: what would Freddy Mercury do?

Carmageddon: JetBlue passengers, race participants describe experience by the Los Angeles Times

As JetBlue’s first “Carmageddon Fly-Over” flight touched down in Long Beach on Saturday afternoon to cheers from passengers, those who took the 12-minute ride said it was a memorable event.

“It was what I thought it would be,” said 25-year-old Jeff Merski, who flew in from Phoenix for the sole purpose of taking the $4 Flight 405.

PHOTOS: ‘Carmageddon’ closes the 405 Freeway

The admitted “airplane geek” said he takes various flights around the country just for the sake of flying. He said he logged about 250,000 miles last year alone.

“Several people have told me I’m like George Clooney in ‘Up in the Air, ‘” he said. “I’ve always just been fascinated by planes. I find flying relaxing.”

Merski was set to take the return flight back to Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport later Saturday afternoon.

“I get to repeat the experience now,” he said.

Alfred Pierfax, 36, of West Palmdale said the flight gave him the chance to explore the city, calling it “awesome.”

“I got to see parts of L.A. I’ve never seen before,” he said.

Spirits were high on the flight, which took off at 12:39 p.m. and touched down 12 minutes later. As the plane flew over the empty 405 Freeway, an announcer joked, “I think I saw Paris Hilton walking her dog.”

Though the mood was jovial, some passengers said the flight and freeway closure also made them think twice about L.A.’s notorious freeway system.

Vanessa Lewis, 38, of Panorama City said she liked Carmageddon because it made traffic fairly free-flowing, and hoped the city would have more non-driving events.

Joe Anthony and Ezra Horne — who took the flight as part of a race between the JetBlue flight and the cycling group Wolfpack Hustle — knew almost immediately after the plane landed that the cyclists had them beat. In a cab ride to the lighthouse at Long Beach’s Shoreline Aquatic Park, they said that although they had lost the race, the event highlighted how biking and public transportation were more viable options in Los Angeles than one might think.

“You can get anywhere you need to be in Los Angeles by bike,” Anthony said. “It’s far easier than you can imagine.”

Gary Kavanagh, 27, of Santa Monica, also participated in the race Saturday afternoon. He took public transportation — he walked to the North Hollywood Metro station, then took the Red Line to 7th Street downtown, where he hopped on the Blue Line to Long Beach and walked to the lighthouse from the First Street station. The trip took two hours and two minutes, he said.

“It really became a fun way to illustrate the viability of transportation alternatives in L.A.,” he said.

The race garnered significant attention on Twitter, where many Angelenos followed live accounts of the event. Race participants said they were pleased with the spotlight.

“People were inspired,” said Don “Roadblock” Ward of Los Angeles, who organized the challenge. “It kind of reflects that the car culture is over.”

Anthony and Horne summarized the attention best as they finally approached the lighthouse. As swarms of cyclists and reporters closed in, Anthony paused.

“Hold on,” he said. “I have to tweet this.”

Samples of some post race tweets:

7/16/11 3:37 PM
Cyclists have won the race against Jet Blue from Burbank to Long Beach. #carmageddon#flightvsbike

PlanetDr (@PlanetDr)
7/16/11 9:04 PM
RT @aewright: Cool: 12min @JetBlue Flight 405 LongBeach-Burbank for #carmageddon. Cooler: bikes raced the 38miles & won! #flightvsbike


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