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LA avoids feared 'Carmageddon' traffic jam

Southern Californians were making the ultimate sacrifice to avoid the dreaded "Carmageddon" — leaving their cars in the garage.

Unusually light traffic flowed freely on Saturday through America's second-largest city despite fears of epic traffic jams spawned by the 53-hour shutdown of a 10-mile (16-kilometer) stretch of one of the car-dependent region's most critical freeways.

Authorities closed the segment of Interstate 405 on the western side of the metropolis to allow partial demolition of a bridge, warning motorists to stay off the roads or plan alternate routes.

Officials were optimistic that the public far and wide had gotten the message, though there was some concern that the lack of gridlock would make the public complacent and that drivers would get behind the wheel before the freeway's scheduled reopening early on Monday.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa flew over the city in a helicopter and said it was clear there were far fewer cars on freeways and streets than normal, but he cautioned at a mid-afternoon news conference that there were hours to go.

Not everyone was cooperating, though.

California Highway Patrol Officer Charmaine Fajardo said a 74-year-old man was arrested for jogging on the closed freeway after police told him he couldn't do so, and one or more bicyclists also were intercepted on the route. Fajardo said officers now have orders to arrest anyone trying to enter the shuttered freeway.

Additionally, a suspected drunken driver was arrested after going around barricades to enter the freeway, Fajardo said.

Progress on demolition of the half-century-old Mulholland Bridge was on schedule, Villaraigosa said. Powerful machines with long booms hammered away at the south side of the span, which is being removed to allow the interstate to be widened. The plan is to leave the north-side lanes standing until the south side is rebuilt.

Authorities looking at the potential impacts of the $1 billion interstate project spent months giving the public dire warnings. The event got its name when Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told an early June press conference that "this doesn't need to be a Carmageddon" if people avoided driving.

In what was projected as the day's last big test, Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy, featuring David Beckham, played Spanish heavyweight Real Madrid at Memorial Coliseum south of downtown.

The event saw some typical traffic tie-ups common at the stadium, but no major problems.

A crowd of 56,211 attended, compared to nearly 90,000 who watched the same two teams play at the Rose Bowl last August. Galaxy President of Business Operations Tom Payne said the drop in attendance was at least partly due to fans' traffic fears.

The drumbeat of "Carmageddon" warnings triggered an instant industry of businesses trying to capitalize on the phenomenon. JetBlue offered special flights from Burbank in the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach, with seats for the short hop costing just $4 or $5.

A cycling group saw that as an opportunity for a race. The cyclists started their ride 90 minutes before the flight's departure time to simulate the time that passengers would have to arrive at Burbank. Another member of the group took the flight and all were to meet at a Long Beach park.

Cyclist Stephan Andranian said it took the bikers one hour and 34 minutes to complete the ride from Burbank to Long Beach, largely following the Los Angeles River. Flight passenger Joe Anthony's total travel time including cab ride from Long Beach Airport to the park was just over 2 1/2 hours.

"We want to show that using a bike in LA is not only possible but that it can be faster than other modes of transportation," Andranian said.