Bicyclists Beat Airplane in Carmageddon Race Across L.A.

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David McNew / Reuters

A cyclist passes a 405 onramp from Skirball Center Drive during Carmageddon in Los Angeles, California July 17, 2011.

Angelenos shunned their preferred mode of transportation – the venerable automobile – as the 405 went under repair this weekend.

Fearing the worst behind the wheel, Los Angeles residents traded their beloved freeways for both the friendly skies and healthful bike paths to traverse the city. And because no Angeleno had ever heard of those modes of travel before, it’s only natural that it turned into a race.

Okay, we kid. Perhaps they’d heard of bikes before. But the cross-town flight was a novelty offer from JetBlue, seeking to capitalize on the Carmageddon commotion. The airline offered a $4 flight between Burbank and Long Beach, a 30-mile flight that allowed passengers to fly directly overhead the closed stretch of freeway – bypassing any potential city gridlock.

(PHOTOS: Carmageddon Fails to Slow L.A.)

But some naysayers took issue with the flight, thinking that it would be no faster than dealing with any ensuing traffic jam. A brilliant challenge was soon spawned Thursday in a tweet by Slate transport writer Tom Vanderbilt: “Given airport travel time, security, runway delay, etc., I’d bet a good cyclist could travel BUR to LGB faster than JetBlue.”

His message was heard loudly – and a local cycling group, Wolfpack Hustle, accepted the challenge to race the plane. The ground rules put both teams on a level playing field, with fliers and bikers alike starting at the same intersection in North Hollywood at 10:50 a.m., racing to the same finish line at the Shoreline Aquatic Park in Long Beach. Bike vs. plane – is there even a competition there?

(MORE: Drivers Prevent Carmageddon By Staying Off Roads)

After all, the flight took all of 12 minutes. But the results were stunning – by the time the plane even left the Burbank runway at 12:20 p.m., the cyclists had already arrived in Long Beach. The fliers, delayed by all the extraneous steps required to get on a plane in this era, made the cross-town journey in 2 hours, 54 minutes. The cyclists, following an established bike path along the Los Angeles River and abiding by all traffic laws, sped to the finish line in a mere 1 hour, 34 minutes.

Perhaps pedal power is a method of transportation more Angelenos should consider to beat the daily gridlock. And what about public transportation in this epic Top Gear-style race? It’s a telling fact that no one even attempted to use L.A.’s subway or bus system.

Nick Carbone is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @nickcarbone. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

MORE: Miles Ahead of Schedule: 405 Opens 17 Hours Early

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