'Carmageddon' begins: Los Angeles freeway shuts down
A 10-mile stretch of one of the nation's busiest freeways has turned into a virtual ghost road.
Interstate 405, a California freeway normally so clogged that locals like to joke that its name is shorthand for "traffic that moves no faster than 4 or 5 miles an hour," closed for 53 hours for a major construction project beginning early Saturday that will test whether this car-dependent city can change its driving habits for a weekend.
Crews systematically began closing on- and off-ramps beginning at 7 p.m. Friday, then began lane closures at 10 p.m. At midnight Saturday the entire 10-mile section that runs through the Sepulveda Pass was shut down.
For weeks, authorities have urged Los Angeles-area residents to avoid getting in their car, lest they trigger what's been hyped as "Carmageddon."
Such an event could back up vehicles from the 405 to surface streets and other freeways, causing a domino effect that could paralyze much of the city. A blog post on the Los Angeles Times website put the delay at up to 20 miles.
With warnings having been broadcast through television, radio, social media and flashing freeway signs as far away as San Francisco, much of the city's nearly 4 million residents appear ready to stay off the roads.
Friday evening rush-hour traffic was light in the hours before the shutdown. Motorists took to Twitter to marvel at the rare sight of traffic maps showing a sea of green, indicating that traffic was flowing.
"Carmaggedon? More like carmaheaven. No traffic in L.A.," tweeted Chip Dorsh, who said he breezed through a canyon road.
"When I left work, it was like a no-man's land," Dorsh later told The Associated Press.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he thinks traffic will move smoothly if motorists take his advice to stay close to home throughout the weekend.
"We can either say we survived Carmageddon or we survived the Carmageddon hype," he said.
If people listen, there will be no shortage of staycation activities awaiting them.
Video: Surviving 'Carmageddon': 53-hour closure of LA's 405 freeway
They can snag free popcorn at movie theaters along the 405 or drop in on Michael Jackson's dermatologist for 25-percent-off Botox injections so that frazzled commuters won't look quite so frazzled.
Those who do want that real road-warrior look might consider swinging by T-Man's Tattoos (located just off the 405) in the San Fernando Valley.
"If you come on in and mention you're in town because you're stuck from Carmageddon, you can get 15 percent off tattoos and piercings," proprietor Howard Teman said.
For those who do get caught in traffic, LA musician Ken Elkinson is offering free downloads of his boxed set, "Music for Commuting," a collection of soothing tunes.
Story: Real reason for Carmageddon? Smart apes
For those wanting a laugh, Grammy-winning humorist Stan Freberg is planning to visit a mall just off the freeway to sign copies of his latest CD, "Songs in the Key of Freberg," which features a song called "Gridlock."
That is if he can get there.
"We could end up just toodling around in traffic in our Prius, playing 'Gridlock' ourselves," he said of himself and his wife, Hunter.
And for those thinking about using this as a reason to get some exercise, there's a lighthearted attempt by some bicyclists to see if they can beat an airline flier from Burbank to Long Beach — a play on JetBlue's marketing deal to fly passengers on that route for $4.
Preparing for emergencies
Along with all the gimmicky promotions and attempts to cash in ("I Survived Carmageddon T-shirts are being sold all over the place), there have also been months of planning.
Construction crews have been gearing up, but so have police, fire and medical officials seeking to ensure that everything goes smoothly. Or, if it doesn't, to ensure they are prepared to handle any emergency.
Heavy equipment needed to demolish a section of a 50-year-old bridge as part of a $1 billion freeway-widening project, was already in place Friday, hours before the 405's midnight closure.
Sections of the bridge's pilings that are being torn out had been marked and prepped in advance.