You may have read my most recent two posts (here and here) on commuting by bike (maybe combining it with bus, and subway as well, which is what I do most times – there are excellent express bus routes through the city: the Metro Rapid system). I’m not the only person cycling in this city. For more on cycling in LA there is a host of resources. There’s the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition for example, the Bike Kitchen, the Midnight Ridazzz, and many more activities and associations. There are maps of cycle routes and cycle lanes on the LACBC site too, as well as recreational bike paths.
Here’s a recent Los Angeles Times profile, written by John Balzar1, of Monica Howe who is a major mover and shaker in the local bike and biking awareness scene. (I borrowed the photo, above right, from the article. It was taken by Al Seib.)
It’s very nice to read about people who are super-enthusiastic about the same issue. It is an uphill struggle, but I think I see more cyclists on the roads these days.
One thing that is mentioned a lot in the article and in other discussions of this sort is the safety issue. For what its worth, in my opinion the danger risks are often overstated, or perhaps not properly represented. While there are accidents due to careless drivers not paying attention, etc., I have to say that there’s not enough mention in these discussions of the far too many cyclists who are doing stupid things. I can’t help but wonder how many of those stupid acts contribute to the number of accidents that people count in the stats. Yes, we need to get motorists more used to us on the roads, but we need to get them used to us following the rules of the road. This includes signalling what we are about to do before we do it, stopping at stop signs, and waiting until traffic lights are green, even if we think nothing is coming. In short, we should behave as though we are in a car, and not as a jaywalking pedestrian from the countryside running after a squirrel. There will still be motorists who are idiots, but if cyclists are perceived by motorists as unpredictable idiots too -as a result of some spectacularly erratic, bad or aggressive behaviour- then we’ll simply lose the battle overall, since motorists will not be sympathetic to us as fellow road users – vunerable ones.
And then you have to be defensive – why are there so many cyclists out there without lights (bright ones front and rear) or helmets, I wonder? And to head off the possibility of mistakes on the part of the motorist a bit more, I try to make eye-contact as much as a I can, making sure that the person who is about to turn their car into my lane or across my path has actually seen me. Even when driving I don’t assume that a motorist is going to do what they seem to be about to do until I get more confirmation, and I certainly don’t do that on a bike. You have to be attentive to what’s going on all the time (I still am amazed how many times have I seen cyclists wearing headphones), and can’t treat your ride in traffic as a time to mentally balance your bank accounts, solve a mathematical problem, or ponder the details of the Iraq War. Wait until you get to your destination, or at least a quieter street.
I’m not living in a fantasy-land here. I realize that there is a chance that I might get hit by a car one day. In hundreds of journeys, it can happen, of course. It just takes one careless driver, even if you are being careful yourself. But the same is true for crossing the road, or even driving your car. But I think that people overstate the safety issue too much, and it scares people away from doing even a half mile journey on their bike, on a side street. It gives people the excuse to use their car for another unnecessary journey. Most neighbourhood roads are very safe to ride a bike on, and in some cases you can get yourself to the subway or the bus stop using your bike, and then take it onto the train or bus, finishing your journey with another neighbourhood ride. If unhappy with the roads initially, or if there is a particular stretch of road that you consider too busy for your tastes, find another route (there are so very many roads going roughly the same way), or even just hop onto the sidewalk for a stretch. Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing wrong or illegal about this (at least in LA). It is discouraged only when it is disruptive to the pedestrians. This is seldom a problem in LA, for obvious reasons, and if you do see a pedestrian, don’t surprise or run them down. Instead, slow down and let them know you’re coming, and thank them for letting you pass.
Please get your bike out, pump up the tyres, check the brakes, (or take it to the Bike Kitchen to get help) and use it from time to time. You don’t have to replace your entire commute with it. Just cut out some of those unneccessary car journeys… Or just use it to see your neighbourhood with new eyes from time to time, and get a bit of exercise at the same time.
(See some of my posts, below, about cycling, and public transport. The ones entitled “commuting” are about cycling from (roughly) my neighbourhood into work at USC, and what I saw along the way. I’ll be doing more of these.)
1 Thanks Jeff!
Some Related Asymptotia Posts (not exhaustive):