The Numbers: LA Cross-Town, 85% Longer for a Plane Than a Bike

By Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
July 19, 2011
Image courtesy Flickr user waltarrrrr

L.A.’s highly hyped “carmageddon” — the two-day closure of the 405 freeway — was not the apocalypse many feared. But it did provide a great showdown of transit alternatives.

In the starting gates were: bikes, mass transit and a plane (chartered by gimmick-savvy Jet Blue).

The “track” itself: Los Angeles. Specifically, a 40ish mile north to south beeline from North Hollywood to the shore of Long Beach. Approximately: Twin Peaks to Petaluma, the Ferry Building to Palo Alto, or Oakland International Airport to SFO.

And, as Slate’s Tom Vanderbilt reported, the bikes and mass transit enthusiasts smoked the plane. By more than an hour! Based on times reported in Vanderbilt's article, the plane trips (including getting to and from the airports) took 85 percent longer than the bike ride.

Yes, the bikers were a good step above your run-of-the-mill commuter. And, no, this experiment does not actually reflect the calculations people make each day when deciding how to get around a city. But Vanderbilt sums up the value of the stunt:

“…cycling, often taken as a non-serious or marginal or even annoying (to some drivers) form of transportation in the United States, could seem eminently reasonable: not only the cheapest form of transportation, not merely the one with the smallest carbon footprint, not only the one most beneficial to the health of its user, but the fastest.”

For those not ready to hop on two wheels, the day also showed that mass transit could be faster than a plane over short distance. The plane trip took 67 percent longer than the subway and walking.

If policy-makers can take this to heart, L.A.’s experience may point the way for transit planning that provides a future with fewer carmageddons. And maybe fewer cars.

Read Tom Vanderbilt's Slate article >>