Boyonabike!

Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Advice for a new bike commuter

One of my friends, a former student, asked me for some advice on social media for getting started bike commuting to the Gold Line commuter rail here in L.A.:

“What’s the best way to get started taking public transportation? The gold line is great, but I currently live 8 mi away from the closest station and another 1.5 miles from my work. I have so much gear that I bring to work (purse, lunch, gear for softball, etc.) so that’s a huge concern of mine with biking to and from stations. Any thoughts on how to get started? What equipment do you suggest?”

It’s great question, of course, and one that a lot of people have probably considered at one time or another. I wanted to use this opportunity to provide some thoughts on getting started and on equipment that would be useful to anyone thinking about bike commuting with transit.

The main concern my friend has is transporting gear on her bike, in this case “purse, lunch, gear for softball, etc.”). I’m assuming that softball gear includes a uniform, glove, and pair of cleats. She also might have undergarments, towel, water bottle, and batting gloves, in addition to a purse and a small lunch bag. These items will pack into a couple of utility panniers (one for each side of your rack). My personal favorite is the Banjo Brothers market pannier, which holds quite a bit and comes with handles and a shoulder strap, so you can carry your gear from your bike to the softball diamond. There are other similar products out there, and they really are versatile. A water bottle cage mounted to your bike frame will hold your water bottle.

Banjo Brothers market pannier (photo: Banjo Brothers).

 

My Trek XM700 e-bike with my swim gear in a Banjo Brothers market pannier.

Now, if you also need to carry a batting helmet and bat, that does create a little more of a logistical challenge. Your softball duffel bag can probably be bungee-corded to your rear rack, but you’ve got to make sure it’s secure, so several bungee-cords or a bungee net may be necessary.  I’ve rigged a carrier made from PVC pipe for my trekking poles for hiking in the local mountains (see photo), which could also work for a bat.

I rigged a holster for my trekking poles that can be attached to the rack via zip ties and/or bungees. Pannier holds my hiking gear. Something similar might also work for softball bat.

Another possibility for gear and a softball bat is a trailer. Most bike cargo trailers are too big for the Metro, but one product that would work is the Burley Travoy trailer, which would hold all your softball gear, and detatches quickly and would be no bigger than a luggage carrier when on the train. I’ve not used the Travoy, but reviews are overwhelmingly positive. Baskets are also good for carrying bulky items. Some of them fit on the back and others on the front.

What kind of bike? Well, that’s a loaded question. You see, bikes aren’t a one-size-fits-all type of thing. Different tire sizes, different frame styles and materials, different frame geometry, different drivetrains, different brakes. The list goes on. Generally speaking, commuter bikes tend to be a bit sturdier (and just a little heavier) than a lightweight racer. Some people modify mountain bikes, but this is only a good idea if the bike has eyelets on the frame to mount a rack and fenders.

For commuting, the essentials are (in no particular order): lights, white light up front and red light in the rear. I recommend a rack, usually mounted on the rear of the bike, but some bikes can be outfitted with front racks and baskets, too.

Gears: if you’re going to be riding in a hilly area or carrying stuff (especially uphill), you’ll want a bike with a wide range of gears. On the other hand, some people like the simplicity of lightweight single speed bikes.

Fenders are definitely a good idea if you’re going to ride in wet weather, since they keep you dry when the pavement’s wet. Take an extra bungee cord to help secure your bike on the Metro, especially if you’re going to be on the train for a while. Otherwise, you can just stand with your bike.

Helmet? By law only riders under 18 are required to wear one. I almost always wear one, but I don’t scold people who don’t.  Exceptions: if I’m going for a slow, short ride in my immediate neighborhood, or the bike path at the beach or an open streets event like CicLAvia. Otherwise, I wear one.

Try different bikes. If you go to a local bike shop and they have a bike you like, sit on it, try it out for size and comfort. They should let you take it for a test ride. Try changing the gears while you ride and get the feel for the bike.

The important thing to remember is this: you should feel comfortable on the bike. The advantage to  buying your bike from a bike shop (as opposed to a general sporting goods store or online) is that they are trained to find the right fit for you.

The other thing to remember is that bikes are to a surprising degree adjustable and customizable. The saddle, handlebars, and pedals are very important, as these are your “touch points” on the bike. You want these to be comfortable and practical for the type of riding you’re going to do. Handlebars uncomfortable? they can usually be raised, lowered, or swapped for a different kind of handlebar. I find that relatively upright, swept back bars are most comfortable for me. They give me an upright riding position, which reduces neck strain and gives me a good view of the road. Saddle uncomfortable? They can be raised, lowered, moved forward and back, tilted up or down.  You can also find a wide variety of after market saddles that suit a variety of riding positions and body types. Don’t be afraid to ask your bike shop to try different kinds. Pedals? There are a wide variety. I use platform-style pedals that don’t require special shoes. Cycling is a part of my regular daily routine transportation, so I don’t want to have to buy special shoes to ride my bike.

Bike security. Let’s face it, bike theft is a problem. If you need to leave your bike at the Metro station or outside while you’re at work, you’ll need a good lock. When I take my bike on the bus, I lock one of my wheels, so the bike won’t roll if somebody tries to steal it off the front rack on the bus (it’s a very rare occurrence, but it sometimes happens). Never use a cable lock as your main bike lock–they’re too easy for thieves to cut. You can use a cable to secure your seat or a wheel, but your frame should be locked to something stationary (here’s a good article on proper locking technique). I recommend a good quality U-lock or chain lock.  They’re a bit heavy, and not cheap, but worth it if you value your bike. If you leave your bike outside and out of sight for any length of time, use a mini cable lock to secure your seat to the frame. This will make it harder for thieves to steal your seat.

Tips for riding your first time.  Unfortunately, the relative scarcity of good bike infrastructure (i.e., bike lanes) means you need to do some research first. The route you take in your car may not be the best route for cycling. Pick a day when you’re not in a hurry to test a route to the Gold Line station. Google maps has a “bicycling” route finder that works pretty well most, but not all the time. For example, to get from my house to the Gold Line, Google tells me to go down Santa Anita Ave, because it has bike lanes part way. However, The bike lanes end and dump you into heavy traffic and a freeway onramp. No thanks. Instead I use an alternate route with less traffic about 2 blocks east that takes me right to the station. It may take some experimentation to find lesser known routes that are pleasant and less stressful to ride. But that’s part of the fun! And, better yet, you’ll learn about your neighborhood and community much better than in your car. Start riding one day a week until you get the hang of your new commute routine. Then, as you get more comfortable, go for two days a week, then three, then…? Actually, once you’re doing two days a week, it’s very likely you’ll notice the way the endorphins from your ride put you in a good mood during the day and you’ll be hooked on the fun and freedom of riding your bike and you’ll look for more opportunities to ride.

Riding safe. Here’s a great quick safety guide for safe bicycling. In addition, I highly recommend taking a bike safety course at some point. They are usually free and offered by local bike advocacy groups. The LA County Bicycle Coalition and Bike San Gabriel Valley are both great resources for such classes. Taking one of these classes will improve your confidence on the road and your knowledge of the laws, both of which are important.

It’s very important to remember that bicycles are considered “vehicles” under the California Vehicle Code (CVC), and people on bikes have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of motor vehicles. In other words, you’re not legally considered a second-class road user (even if some motorists assume you are) and you’re expected to follow the same traffic laws. The rules for positioning on the road are, unfortunately, not as clear as they could be and bike advocates like the California Bicycle Coalition are working to change that.  The key section of the CVC dealing with riding on the road is CVC 21202. It says that you must ride as far to the right as “practicable,” which is not the same as “possible,” and there are exceptions, when you may “take the lane” for your own safety. In short, you are not required to ride in the gutter. I usually ride at least 3 feet from the curb for visibility and to avoid debris and about 3.5 feet from any parked cars (i.e., the “door zone”). When there’s room, I always try to ride out of the way of moving vehicles, along the right side of the road, but not in the gutter. Ride predictably, and don’t weave in and out of parked cars. If you need to merge or turn look first and signal with hand signals. When the lane width is “substandard” (i.e., not wide enough for a car to pass safely), you are allowed an exception, and may ride in the lane to prevent an unsafe pass.

In California, drivers are required by law to give cyclists a minimum 3 feet of space when passing (CVC 21760). Some motorists seem to be confused by this rule. It’s really quite simple: slow down, then pass with at least 3 feet of room when it’s safe. See? It’s not hard! If you have a bike lane to ride in, great! If there are road hazards in the bike lane, however, it is legal to exit the bike lane when it’s safe and ride in the roadway. Obey traffic signals at intersections and I always watch motorists’ eyes if possible to make sure they see me.

What about riding on the sidewalk? Some people assume it’s illegal, but that is not always true. The law varies by city, so in some places it’s legal, others not. It’s also not necessarily safer than riding in the road, as drivers coming in and out of driveways and shopping centers aren’t looking for cyclists on the sidewalk. However, even with my experience, I sometimes will ride a short distance on a sidewalk if I don’t feel that a particular street is safe for me. If you feel you must ride on the sidewalk for part of your ride, go slow, yield to pedestrians, and be especially careful around intersections and driveways. Most of the time, using safe cycling techniques on the road is the best way to go, but use your good judgment. To me, sidewalk riding is always a sign that the road doesn’t feel safe for cyclists. Instead of criticizing sidewalk riding, I wish cities would use it as a sign they need to install bike lanes (preferably protected if the traffic is over 40 mph).

I’d also recommend joining a local bike advocacy group, going on local group rides, and speaking in favor of more bike-friendly streets in your community.  Things are getting better for cycling in Southern California, but we still have a long way to go and it won’t happen without advocates.

Finally, smile! You’ve made a choice to be part of the solution. You’re doing something super healthy, economicalgood for the planet, oh, and the best part, it’s fun, too!

Ride on!

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Bike Share!

Red roses for Bastille Day … and Pasadena!

 

July 14—Bastille Day—Bike Share came to Pasadena, with a grand opening celebration in front of Pasadena City Hall.  It was a cause for celebration and a step forward in Pasadena’s efforts to be bike and transit friendly.

Bike share can be a game-changer, insofar as it helps solve the “first mile/last mile” connection to transit and encourages more people to ride.

Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition in the house!

 

The more people ride, the more it normalizes bicycling and helps people shift their thinking about bikes as a mode of everyday transportation.

MetroBike rolling the streets of ‘Dena.

 

Bikeshare allows more people to discover how biking saves money, reduces traffic and pollution, and helps people stay healthier. It also spreads the joys of cycling in the city: the way the bike helps people move through the city at a pace that enables them to see and experience so much more than they can from inside a car.

Bikeshare riders head up Marengo Ave.

 

Initially, bike share stations are mostly clustered in Old town and Downtown Pasadena, with an easternmost kiosk at PCC, and none north of the 210 freeway.  As an initial rollout, this makes sense, but I’d like to see Metro expand this program northward and eastward, and I also think it makes it imperative that the city expand its network of bike lanes and use traffic calming measures on more streets to make this program successful.  As I’ve written about before, too many of Pasadena’s streets are still not friendly for cyclists and too many drivers treat the streets as speedways.

Let’s ride!

 

Bike share can help people discover there is a world beyond the automobile, it expands the realm of the possible for those who want to go car free for a day–or more. From the looks of the smiles on the faces of people riding the Metro Bikes, I’d say the city is on its way.

Sierra Madre Villa Bike Lanes

When local governments do little to make their cities bike and pedestrian friendly, I have often been quick to criticize. Sometimes I do a lot of criticizing, because so much still needs to change to enable the transition to a healthier, safer, more sustainable, more equitable transportation system.  But when cities do the right thing, as Pasadena did last week, I want to give credit where it’s due and offer fulsome praise in the hopes that it encourages additional positive steps. Sometimes both happen at the same time, and thus my praise will be tempered with some constructive criticism.

The good:

Pasadena recently painted new buffered bike lanes on Sierra Madre Villa in east Pasadena between Foothill and Orange Grove north of the Gold Line Station. This road diet improves safety along a notorious stretch of road, and provides buffered space for cyclists to ride to and from the retail and residential zones to the north of the station.  Some may recall that this blog has called for a road diet on this street, so it is nice to see the city make this street safer for all.

This safety improvement is especially important with the Metro Bike bikeshare program set to expand into Pasadena.  The retail area is still way too car-centric and these lanes abruptly end at Foothill and Orange Grove, limiting their usefulness for those who might not feel confident riding on those busy surrounding streets, but it is most definitely a step in the right direction, and Pasadena DOT and Councilmember Gene Masuda are to be complimented for their support for this project.

Southbound Sierra Madre Villa south of Orange Grove.

Northbound Sierra Madre Villa, north of Foothill Bl.

 

If bike lanes are extended north to Sierra Madre Blvd and South to Colorado Bl. extended east and west on Orange Grove and Rosemead Bl., a network of bike-friendly streets would exist for the first time in east Pasadena. Once this happens, the area would become bikeable not only for self-identified “cyclists,” but for everyone.  There is much latent demand for bike friendly streets in east Pasadena. There are parks, schools, offices, and a major shopping/dining area nearby. With the eventual addition of more transit-oriented development (TOD) around the Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line Station, the demand for walkable, bikeable streets in this part of Pasadena will likely grow.

The Bad:

Despite improvements such as Sierra Madre Villa, Pasadena still lacks a connected network of bike-friendly streets. Riding on N. Hill in central Pasadena recently (see photo), within the space of two blocks I was aggressively passed by two motorists, one of whom impatiently honked at me for good measure. I was legally riding on the right half of the right-hand lane, but there is no bike infrastructure on north-south streets in this part of town, and the low-level aggression from motorists makes the experience unpleasant for anyone on a bike.

N. Hill, Pasadena. Parked cars on the shoulder forced me to ride the right-hand lane.

 

I brushed the incidents off as a “normal” part of riding in the city (I even gave the honking motorist a friendly wave), but the city cannot expect most people to feel comfortable on streets where they may be subject at any moment to vehicular harassment—or worse. The only way to accomplish this is to create a contiguous network of complete streets, well marked and intuitive to follow. This network must allow people to get to desirable destinations safely on foot or by bike.

Yes, education, encouragement, and enforcement are elements of a bike-friendly city, and I don’t suggest ignoring those, but the contrast between the streets with and without bike lanes shows there is no substitute for bike and pedestrian friendly infrastructure. In short, good things are happening in Pasadena, but we still have a way to go before city officials can claim city streets are “bike friendly.”

 

Book Review: Holy Spokes

You don’t have to be religious to enjoy Laura Everett’s delightful book, Holy Spokes: The Search for Urban Spirituality on Two Wheels (Eerdmans, 2017), but it helps to be a cyclist.  This is a book about cycling, but it’s also about one’s physical and spiritual journey on the bike. Bicycling everyday for transportation, she reminds us, requires discipline and intentionality, mindfulness and awareness, a connectedness with the world around you and with your own body.

Everett, a minister in the United Church of Christ, cleverly uses the various parts of the bike (frame, saddle, handlebars, lights, etc.) as metaphors for the various spiritual elements of bicycling.  The frame represents the “rule of life,” the saddle “endurance,” the lights “visibility,” and so on. Throughout the book, she refers to the writings of “Brother Lawrence,” a 17th century monk, who sought communion with god in the mindfulness with which he approached the prosaic tasks of life. Lawrence “was convinced that mundane tasks done with intention bring us closer to the holy,” and Everett uses her daily bicycle commute as “a way to cultivate that same awareness in me.”

Author Laura Everett on her daily commute. (photo: AP News)

Everett shares a number of insights that regular cyclists will recognize.  She writes of the intentionality and discipline that cycling requires, and regards these as elements of a spiritual life as well.  She illuminates the way cycling forms a “habit of our daily life” that shrink our cities “into more manageable places.” I thought of this insight recently as I waved to the crossing guard I see on my ride to the train station and the groundskeeper I always say ‘hi’ to as I ride by the Episcopal church.  I don’t know their names, but they are familiar to me in a way that makes me feel more connected to my neighborhood. Locked inside metal boxes speeding along at 40mph, we are strangers. On the bike, on foot, or even on the bus, we become human to one another. The bike lifts the veil of alienation that surrounds so much of our modern life, helps us see the details of our surroundings and think through the big picture of our small but meaningful place in the world.  In this way, urban cycling is not about escape, like bikepacking for example, but rather is about openness to and engagement with the troubled yet beautiful urban world around us.

She struggles with her feelings of anger and frustration at drivers who yell at her or whose dangerous driving imperils her life (oh, sister, I share that struggle!). But she also revels in the simple and myriad joys of cycling–the sights, sounds, and connectedness to our surroundings when we’re on our bikes. The way the rhythm of our breathing and pedal strokes and the wind in our faces makes us happy and alive, helps us develop, in her words, “a deeper internal life and greater attentiveness.” One might even say riding a bike is one way to experience what some call grace.

If you’re a person who gets around by bike and thinks about the bigger questions of why we do it, Everett’s book will resonate with you and delight you with insights, as it did for me. There’s also an element of light-heartedness, as when she compares different categories of cyclists to various religious sensibilities. There are “velo-orthodox” (who only travel by bike), “velo-conservatives” (who make rare exceptions for the car), and “velo-liberal” (the least observant). As she explains, the “velo-religious” frame their lives around the bike:

How shall we get there? The rule is always “by bike.” [The velo-religious] make few exceptions for inclement weather; they just wear better rain gear or warmer mittens. The bicycle is their frame for all transit, and then all activity. These people keep kosher.  (p. 14)

Everett connects the way she journeys through life on two wheels to life’s spiritual journey.  I found her analogy resonant in a way I hadn’t expected. I’d never consciously thought of riding my bike as both a physical and a spiritual discipline before but having been made aware of it by Everett, it makes sense.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about sharing this journey with others. I find the journey by car hollow, soulless, even a bit depressing. The journey by bike is so much more fulfilling. The bicycle makes us stronger, freer, happier, and it can give us a deeper appreciation for all creation around us. The bike doesn’t pollute and denigrate creation. It doesn’t let us ignore the human crises around us, either. We can’t just roll up our windows, turn up the radio, and ignore the homeless as we drive to church on Sunday. The bike helps us see and feel what it means to be alive, to be more fully human–and humane–in a troubled world.

This book is a wonderful gem, worth reading whatever your religious persuasion (or lack thereof).  If there’s a church of two-wheels and the Rev. Everett is preaching, count me in.

Bike Week at Cal Poly

Our Bike Week events last week at Cal Poly Pomona were modest, but they underscored a sense that this longtime car-centric campus may be turning the corner when it comes to transportation.

For one thing, providing parking on campus is getting more expensive, and student parking fees will top $400 a year next year.  No wonder, since the university’s new $40 million parking structure is one of the most expensive buildings on campus, and must be paid for–plus interest–with parking fees.  For many students from low and middle income families, the parking fees are a big burden, especially with tuition and housing costs rising as well.  And then there’s the traffic congestion that makes everyone’s life miserable and a little thing called climate change (emissions from motor vehicles are by far the largest portion of the university’s carbon footprint).  Then there’s safety.  Cyclists and pedestrians have been killed and injured by drivers in and around campus.  Meanwhile an increase in students living on campus has meant more of them getting around on bikes.  The time is ripe for new thinking about transit and bikes, and new campus leadership seems to be taking the issue seriously.

The university’s new President, Dr. Soraya Coley, has been supportive of efforts to encourage alternative transportation (the previous campus president once threatened to ban bikes from campus). The campus installed new bus shelters last summer and this year we’ll be getting new bike racks and bike repair stands at several locations on campus.  Even bigger changes may be just around the corner, however.

This year the president created a new campus Transportation Advisory Committee that will take a more holistic approach to mobility, and next year’s update of the Campus Master Plan could provide a blueprint for a more bike- and transit-friendly campus.  Better transit connectivity to campus and discount student transit passes will be a priority, but it is in bike infrastructure that we may see some of the most sweeping changes.  I still can’t believe I’m writing these words, but the President recently approved installation of protected bike lanes on a stretch of Kellogg Drive that is being realigned to accommodate new student housing. Yes, you read that right.  By September 2017 there should be protected bike lanes and improved intersections on a roadway where a cyclist was killed by a distracted driver a few years ago.

Friday May 19, our Bike Week was capped by what we hope will be an annual “Town & Gown” ride from the university to downtown Pomona, some 5 miles to the east. The ride, sponsored by the Pomona Valley Bicycle Coalition, included students and faculty from Cal Poly Pomona as well as community members and special guests like Pomona Mayor Tim Sandoval and Javier Hernandez, transportation coordinator for County Supervisor Hilda Solis.  We were also joined by John Burton from the LA County Department of Public Works.

Town & Gown ride in downtown Pomona

Along the way we saw some new bike lanes and sharrows on some of the area streets, and were told by Mayor Sandoval that busy Holt Ave. is slated to get bike lanes when it is resurfaced in the next year or so.

Room for bike lanes on Holt Ave in Pomona.

Most significantly however, the passage of Measure M last year and the County’s new greenways initiative, spearheaded by Supervisor Solis, means that nearby San Jose Creek flood control channel may get a bike path along the levee access road that would connect the campus directly to the city to the east (and all the way to the San Gabriel River to the west).  As part of Friday’s ride, Hernandez and Burton temporarily unlocked the gates to the creek and the Town & Gown riders got a sneak peek at the proposed greenway.  It is just a fenced dirt access road now, but with some asphalt and a couple of intersection upgrades, in a few short years it could be a bicycle superhighway that would enable hundreds–perhaps even thousands–of students to ride between downtown Pomona and the campus quickly and safely.

Javier Hernandez (L) and John Burton open San Jose Creek to bikes!

Cal Poly Urban and Regional Planning Professor Gwen Urey, who has championed this bike path for years and who helped organize the ride, noted that her longtime dream may finally be coming true. “Visions of doing the ride on a San Jose Creek route,” she wrote on Facebook after the ride, “have shifted from the stuff of pipes to the stuff of real planning.”  Who knows? Pipe dreams may just come true.

After riding along San Jose Creek

 

Book Review: Can Cycling Save the World?

The eye-catching title of Peter Walker’s new book, How Cycling Can Save the World (2017), would probably have been enough to pique my curiosity, but my familiarity with the author’s excellent bike blog for The Guardian compelled me to snag a copy of the book.  I was not disappointed.

Is the title hyperbolic? Perhaps a little. But it is certainly true (and Walker has the data to back it up) that whether we’re talking about public health, road safety, social equity, air pollution, climate change, stress reduction and general happiness, or just overall livability, more people switching from cars to bikes would be a major improvement.

Walker lays out the health, economic, and environmental benefits of cycling in a compelling manner, drawing on a growing body of studies that support his thesis. The more cities turn to cycling, the more data we have to show the benefits of a shift away from car-centric cities. While his grasp of the academic literature is impressive (far too much to summarize here), it is often the personal stories that resonate the most.  For example, how riding to work makes him feel “not just physically invigorated but more cheery, with a greater sense of mental balance and well-being,” or how he can feel his body “untensing” when he moves from a street without bike lanes to one with them.  These and many other personal reflections make the book not only enjoyable, but personally relevant to many people who ride. These personal insights will also help those who don’t ride understand what the fuss is about.

He addresses the resistance of the political culture as well as anti-bike attitudes embedded in popular culture and media representations. One of my favorites was his chapter entitled “If bike helmets are the answer, you’re asking the wrong question,” which skewers the pervasive blame-the-victim mentality that accompanies many “safety” campaigns. If your answer to vehicular violence is to make vulnerable road users dress for combat, you’re designing your streets wrong. Time and again Walker returns to his central theme: the beneficial and transformative importance of building separated, continuous, and intuitive bike infrastructure in cities as the foundation of any effort to shift toward healthier, happier, safer, and more sustainable communities.

If all of this seems like the ultimate no-brainer (and it does to me), then why aren’t we moving more quickly to build what has been shown to work everywhere it has been tried?  Walker suggests it can be boiled down to vested interests, inertia, and lack of political vision (or as I like to say, the lack of leaders who “get it”).  Bogged down by the these all-too-real barriers to change, we are left with an excruciatingly slow process of ever-so-timid incrementalism that leaves us with partial, piecemeal scraps of half-assed bike infrastructure and huge gaps where bike infrastructure is nonexistent. And if that weren’t bad enough, we have to fight like hell for the scraps while multi-billion-dollar freeway projects and car-centric developments seem to move forward on autopilot.

Part of the problem of incrementalism, as Alex Steffen has written, is that it maintains the ills of the old system while not yet providing the goods of the new system.  In other words, you don’t get a truly bikeable community until you actually have a network of bike infrastructure that works for cyclists from ages 8-80 (protected, continuous, and intuitive) and is integrated into a good public transit system.  These have to be knitted together in communities (not just streets) that are oriented around walking, biking and transit.  In this respect, ambitious steps are preferable to incrementalism.  In the absence of a bold—dare I say revolutionary—vision, inertia and even reactionary reversal may become appealing political modes. We don’t have decades to dawdle.

Since WWII, we have given our minds, bodies, and public space to the automobile monoculture.  I would argue that acting boldly to reverse this is imperative given the looming intemperance of climate change. The good news, as Walker shows, is that people in cities all over the world are pushing for change, slowly remaking their cities around bikeability, and it works.

Yes, it would seem that in a variety of interconnected ways it’s not a stretch to say cycling just might be able to save the world, or at least make it a much better place.  Peter Walker “gets it.”  Read his book and you will too.

Good Rides

Last week was a week of good rides.

My regular commute now takes me to the Metro Gold Line station that is a 15-minute ride from my house (20 minutes on the uphill return trip).  About halfway through my morning ride early last week, I noticed how smooth the ride was going.  The reason?  Spring break at two nearby schools. Streets normally choked with cars during the morning drop-off time were blissfully—almost eerily—empty of cars.   The difference was huge.  Several intersections that are normally stressful because of traffic and impatient drivers were virtually stress free.  With no cars blocking my lane I was able to fly down to the train station in record time.  It made the entire week’s commute a breeze and stands as a reminder of just how much traffic danger (and pollution) is generated by parents driving their kids to school.  The added stress of these additional cars on the streets is, in turn, a deterrent to more kids walking and biking to school.  It’s a stark illustration of how the car culture itself is a self-fulfilling reinforcement of the dominance of the car, which in turn deters the number of people willing to walk and bike.

This morning’s ride to the farmer’s market was also a good ride.  Saturday morning traffic was pretty light and, in addition to waving to neighbors along my route, I fell into a nice conversation with another cyclist at a stoplight.  The ride home (almost all uphill) was invigorating in the cool morning air, and I returned home with fresh fruit and vegetables and a mood much improved from my morning grouchiness (caused by reading the day’s news).

It’s been a good week. Now, if we could just lighten the traffic every day.

Dangerous Drivers, Dangerous Roads

Approximate spot where driver cut me off

Approximate spot where driver cut me off

This morning I was on my way back from my ride to my daughter’s school, about to stop off at the local Trader Joe’s to pick up some groceries.  I was on a four-lane stretch of road that is clearly marked as a “Bike Route” (see photo).  I took control of the right-hand lane as state law allows, because the shoulder was intermittently occupied by parked cars and trash bins and the lane was not wide enough for a car to safely pass (In compliance with CVC 21202, sec a3-4).  It was daylight on a sunny day and I had my rear flasher on for safety.  Visibility was not a problem.
As I approached the intersection, I could see a white mini-van gaining on me in my rear view mirror. At the last minute he passed dangerously close to me and then swerved back into my lane, cutting me off with about a foot to spare (violating CVC 21760).  It was a straight intimidation move, designed to send a message that I don’t belong on his roads.  His life-threatening driving got him to a red light at the intersection literally 2-3 seconds earlier than he otherwise would have.  He was a white male about 65-70 years of age with his wife in the passenger seat next to him.  When I got to the intersection, I pulled up to the passenger side of his car and matter-of-factly said that he needed to give me three feet (I may have been talking loudly, because his window was initially closed, but I was not being hostile, despite the fact that he had nearly killed me and my adrenaline–not to mention my anger–were running high). As I explained the law, he rolled down the window and told me that I was “in the middle of the street,” and that I have to “get over to the side of the road.”  I tried to explain that there were parked cars and trash cans that prevented me from doing so, and he growled “fuck you, asshole” and then immediately sped off when the light turned green.  His intimidation tactic won’t keep me off my bike, but drivers like him are an effective deterrent to many more people riding their bikes for everyday transportation.  Until we protect bicyclists from motorists like him, we won’t see significant changes in mode share.
It’s sobering to think there are motorists, licensed to drive by the state, who don’t know the law and would kill you to save themselves the trouble of easing their foot off the gas for a few seconds.  When I got to Trader Joe’s, my legs were wobbly from the realization of how close I had come to serious injury or death because of someone’s reckless, ignorant, entitled operation of a motor vehicle—a potentially deadly weapon.  Moreover, I’ve had another close call in the bike lane less than half a block from that spot.  The streets in that part of Pasadena are dangerous for cyclists because of high traffic speeds and a lack of good bike infrastructure.  The City of Pasadena needs to make it safer for bikes, but I’m sure DOT staff get tired of hearing me complain.
Will they wait until I, or someone else, get killed before acting?

2016 Highlights

As 2016 comes to a close, it’s time for taking stock of the year’s developments in car-free transportation in the San Gabriel Valley.

Arcadia Gold Line station.

Arcadia Gold Line station.

At the top of my list is the opening of the Gold Line extension from Pasadena to Azusa.  This brought the Gold Line closer to my house, and allows me to take the train for part of my commute to work at Cal Poly Pomona.  The rest of the trip is on Foothill Transit‘s extensive bus service in the east San Gabriel Valley.  The Foothill Transit 280 and 486 buses run every 15 minutes during peak times, and their new buses are quite comfortable.  The new commute cuts about 15 minutes off my old route through El Monte Bus Station and allows me to bypass the infrequent service of the Metro 487 bus line.  The bike portion of my new commute is also shorter, which makes it more manageable on a regular basis. The easy bike ride to/from the Gold Line now allows me to get around car-free much more easily.  I’ve been heartened by the ridership I’ve seen–including many more people doing multimodal bike-transit commuting east of Pasadena.

Cal Poly bus stop before and after.

Cal Poly bus stop before (top) and after (bottom).

busstop2

New bus shelters at Cal Poly Pomona.  For too long, Cal Poly’s bus stops on Temple Ave. provided no shelter and little more than a splintered old bench for bus riders (see pictures).  As a result of student activism and new campus leadership, there are two new bus shelters at the main campus bus stops on Temple Ave.  This is certainly a step in the right direction and I’m modestly hopeful for additional progress on transit and bike access to campus.

Thanks to the work of many local advocates, progress toward new bike plans have been made in Pasadena, Monrovia, and La Verne.  With better infrastructure, I’m confident we’ll see an uptick in bike ridership, which in turn should lead to even more bike infrastructure in the future.  Despite these small victories, the pace of change in the SGV is so slow and incremental that it barely registers today. Too many streets are unsafe for cycling and too many destinations are hard to get to by bike and when you arrive, they often lack basic bike amenities like bike racks.  It’s easy to feel angry about the lack of good bike infrastructure that places people at risk and deters others from riding in the SGV, but there are good people working to change this, and they must be given due credit.  The advocates at BikeSGV, for example, have done some wonderful work organizing community rides, setting up the Bike Education Center in El Monte, advocating for complete streets, and bringing a multi-city open streets event to the SGV.  They honored me this past year with an award for my bike advocacy, an award for which I was hardly worthy, but profoundly honored, nonetheless.  I draw hope and inspiration from these fellow advocates.

More protected bike lanes, like this one in Santa Monica, are needed in the SGV.

More protected bike lanes, like this one in Santa Monica, are needed in the SGV.

Education and outreach.  In 2016 I was involved in an alternative transportation project at my daughter’s high school and an alternative transportation conference at Cal Poly Pomona. I also was privileged to speak on “cycling and social justice” to a group of inmates in a Prison Education Project at the invitation of one of my fantastic colleagues at Cal Poly, political science professor Dr. Renford Reese.  In general, I found many of the people I spoke to open to the message of bicycling, walking, and transit for healthier communities. Spreading the message of the many benefits of car-free alternatives was deeply gratifying.

Scott Schultz of BUSted Los Angeles speaks to students at Cal Poly's alternative transportation conference in November.

Scott Schultz of BUSted Los Angeles speaks to students at Cal Poly’s alternative transportation conference in November.

Measure M.  The half-cent sales tax for transportation passed in Los Angeles by a healthy margin (approx. 70 percent voted yes).  This will mean expansion of Metro rail, local bus service, and bike and pedestrian infrastructure.  Measure A, a countywide tax for parks, also passed, which means LA County will have funds for turning many of its now-barren flood control channels into “linear parks” with multi-use paths. Such victories give me hope.

Notable Books and Films of 2016:

  • Frackopoly: The Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment by Winona Hauter. Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand why hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of oil and natural gas is neither safe nor a “bridge fuel” to sustainable energy.
  • Routes of Power: Energy and Modern America by Christopher F. Jones.  Technically, came out last year, but it was new to me this year, so I’m including it here.  Jones, an historian at Arizona State University, weaves a fascinating story of how the infrastructure of fossil fuel was created in the United States, and offers a deeper understanding of how energy transitions take place–essential knowledge as we transition away from a carbon economy. His research also underscores the central importance of pipelines for the delivery of fossil fuel and the expansion of the carbon economy, and thus the importance of blocking the construction of new pipelines in the fight for a livable climate and clean water.
  • Street Fight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution by Janette Sadik-Khan.  The lively story of how Sadik-Khan, former transportation commissioner for NYC, overcame opposition and redesigned many of New York’s streets to be more bike and pedestrian friendly.  Essential reading for any alternative transportation advocate.
  • Before the Flood (documentary film) directed by Leonardo DiCaprio.  Surprisingly good climate change documentary that doesn’t let Westerners’ high-consumption lifestyle off the hook.
  • Bikes vs. Cars (documentary film) directed by Fredrik Gertten.  Technically released Dec. 2015, but wasn’t available until this year.  If you want a good primer on why bikes are and must be a key component of sustainable urban transportation as told through the eyes of several bike advocates in cities around the world, this film is for you.

Thought for 2017: Every bike used for transportation is an instrument of peaceful revolution, every car-free trip a step towards a more equitable, sustainable future.

Remembering a Tree

ralphs_parking

This week I rode down to my local grocery store and noticed the little island where an oak tree once stood had been paved over.  No more oak tree. Asphalt for more cars. It seemed like a metaphor to me.

A tree is a little thing, really.  Seems silly to mourn its loss when its destruction frees up more space for parked cars.  Is this what they mean by “creative destruction”? Besides, as one of my suburban neighbors once told me, “you can’t go to the grocery store on a bicycle.”  The store seems to agree, since they don’t provide a decent bike rack if you brave the streets lacking bike lanes and ride your bike to the store.  Hardly anybody I know rides their bike to the store (even though some of them think climate change is real). Too hard, I guess.

Nevertheless I used to lock my bike to a signpost in the shade under that tree.  It was nice.

But the oak tree wasn’t making the grocery company any money.  It just sat there, doing what trees do.  This way, a few more people will be able to park their cars close to the store. I’m sure they’ll think it was worth it. Maybe some of them drive Priuses.  That will make it alright, won’t it?

But I’ll remember that tree.

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