Nobody Walks in LA. But We Do Ride Bikes

Photo by Susanna Schick at CicLAvia 2010

Los Angeles has long been known as the ultimate car town. All of the major car companies test their latest products here, it’s the center of R&D for the car industry. So why are bike lanes cropping up all over town? Even the mayor rides a bike to work sometimes. Perhaps it’s because a growing number of citizens are discovering the benefits of cycling in a traffic-choked city.

  • Bicycles don’t get stuck in traffic, and can be faster on short trips, even while obeying traffic lights.
  • Cycling is good for your health, despite the smog factor (as reported in LA Times)
  • Cycling, like any strenuous exercise, increases endorphins (happiness!)
  • Bicycles are very cheap to own and maintain, especially with the presence of places like the Bicycle Kitchen
The big issue in any city is safety. This chart from the ThinkBikeLA presentation shows how cycling in the Netherlands became more dangerous when people started driving cars, then became less dangerous as motorists became more capable of sharing the road. What’s interesting is that it didn’t take a big increase in cycling miles to dramatically improve safety. This can be contributed to both motorist awareness and improvements in cycling infrastructure.
Chart Courtesy of ThinkBikeLA

Last week the LA Department of Transportation hosted ThinkBike LA, where a group of Dutch city planning/cycling experts came to help Los Angeles better serve her cycling community. I attended their opening presentation, where Dutch Transportation Engineer Hillie Talens (and fellow motorcyclist!) presented this Power Point.

The only point I really disagreed with is how “Fear” is so under-represented. These stats are from a country where there are literally more bicycles than people. So of course it’s not scary to ride. But as someone who’s accustomed to having close to 150hp to keep me safe from the steel cages of death, being on a bicycle on the wrong streets can be terrifying. Which is why I’ve bookmarked Google’s bicycle directions on my phone, to ensure I choose the safest route. Google Bike Map of LA

ThinkBikeLA consisted of three working groups of experts, each assigned to come up with the best possible solutions for strategic bike routes in Los Angeles. Below are the presentations of each group:
As a resident of the “Heart” of the Downtown route, I relish the thought of having a bus-free lane to ride in. Playing leapfrog with busses is not fun. Main St is already a recognized Bike Route, although there is no actual bike lane yet.
Photo Courtesy of ThinkBikeLA
The only caveat I have regarding the Dutch presentation is that practically none of the cyclists photographed are wearing helmets. Having crashed a scooter at a speed I regularly attain on my bicycle (40mph) without a helmet, I cannot imagine riding without one. Skull fractures and Grade 3 concussions are no joke. Riding helmetless is safe enough at a leisurely pace in a city where cyclists have safe routes and ride alongside motorists who are also cyclists themselves. But I love this photo above of what I’d call a “Dutch SUV.”
Perhaps someday the streets of Los Angeles will be safe enough for cyclists to carry their children around without helmets. Until then, there’s CicLAvia to give everyone a taste of the pure joy of cycling on streets closed to cars. CicLAvia is coming up October 9th, and it’s an experience not to be missed.  Electric bicycles are welcomed, as are all manner of fascinating customs…

Susanna Schick

Susanna is passionate about anything fast and electric. As long as it's only got two wheels. She covers electric motorcycle racing events, test rides electric motorcycles, and interviews industry leaders. Occasionally she deigns to cover automobile events in Los Angeles for us as well. However, she dreams of a day when Los Angeles' streets resemble the two-wheeled paradise she discovered living in Barcelona and will not rest until she's converted the masses to two-wheeled bliss.