Boyonabike!

Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the month “October, 2012”

New El Monte Station

This week transit riders in L.A. got to enjoy the new El Monte Bus Station, under construction since 2010.  Metro boasts that the new station is the largest bus station west of Chicago, and the two-level station certainly has a much larger capacity than any other bus station in Southern California. My first impressions are that the station is attractive and comfortable, with an open, airy design that makes it a model transit hub, second only to L.A.’s classic Union Station.  There are lots of amenities for cyclists, including plenty of bike racks (the good kind that you can lock your frame to, not the cheap, “wheel bender” type of racks) and bicycle tracks along the station’s stairways so you can roll your bike alongside you as you go up or down the stairs.  In the future, El Monte Station will also have a bike station that has indoor storage for bikes, air pumps, and space to make minor repairs or fix a flat.

For the past couple of years, Metro has converted an adjacent parking lot into a makeshift bus terminal while the new station was under construction.  Before that, the old El Monte Bus Station was a dreary, dated structure that was well past its prime.

The new structure, by contrast, offers the commuter a safe, pleasant place to change buses or park-and-ride.  There are easy-to-read LED signs on the bus bays, making it easy to find your bus, and plenty of space to sit.  The top level of the structure has sweeping canopies above the waiting areas, protecting riders from the sun or rain, while providing a pleasant view of the San Gabriel mountains to the north.

The lower level has  been designed with several large atria, so it doesn’t feel closed in and there’s plenty of air circulation, so you never smell bus exhaust.  The restrooms on the lower level have been designed with safety and cleanliness in mind.

Talking to other station users this week, everyone seems to like the new station, including many of the bus drivers.  So far, I can only offer a couple of minor suggestions to Metro officials: the restrooms, though clean and safe, are only located on the lower level, meaning that those with bus stops on the upper level must go downstairs to use the restrooms.  Further, there are only three restrooms for a station Metro says is designed to accommodate 20,000 passengers a day.  During the morning commuter rush on Thursday, for example, I noticed lines of 4-5 people waiting outside each restroom door.  Just hope you’re not in a hurry to catch a bus when you need to use the restroom.  One other minor critique:  the bike tracks have been placed too close to the edge of the stairways, right next to the railings, which means that anything that sticks out from the side of your bike (handlebars, pedals, racks) will catch on the railings, requiring bicyclists to tip their bikes at about a 45-degree angle while negotiating the stairway.  As a bike commuter with a heavy pannier, this makes pushing the bike up the track a more difficult ordeal than it needs to be.  Moreover, at that angle, my bike tires had a tendency to fall out of the track, and I had to wrestle my bike back on the track several times before continuing up the stairs.  After that, I and most other cyclists would simply take our bikes on the escalator or elevator instead.  If Metro could reposition the bike tracks about 6-8 inches away from the railings, it would mitigate this issue.  Otherwise, I’m afraid they’ll rarely be used.

Aside from these small critiques, the new El Monte Station is a clean, comfortable, attractive transit facility that I hope will induce more people to discover the benefits of riding the bus.

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CicLAvia 10.7.12

An estimated 100,000 people enjoyed 9 miles of car-free streets in L.A. yesterday at the fifth CicLAvia, L.A.’s recurring street party.  Those who have experienced it understand what an amazing feeling it is to enjoy the city by bicycle, without fear of having to tussle with cars.  Those who’ve experienced it understand the pleasure of gliding along some of L.A.’s usually-gridlocked avenues absent the constant thrum of engines, where the only sounds you’ll hear are the whisper of bike gears, laughter, conversation, and the occasional bicycle bell.

One of the things that leaves a lasting impression is the sheer volume of bicycles that are able to move smoothly through the streets of the city during CicLAvia.  Consider the traffic nightmare that would result from dumping over 100,000 cars onto 9 miles of L.A. streets all at once and you begin to understand the subtle ways in which CicLAvia changes our perception of what efficient use of street space is.  Indeed, that is perhaps the most radical, if not subversive aspect of CicLAvia:  it alters our understanding of city streets and what they might be used for.  Turns out, if you make some streets for people, not cars, they turn into space for play, exercise, socializing, and efficient transit from one place to another on foot or on two wheels.  It’s this re-imagining of urban space that reflects one of CicLAvia’s greatest achievements.

The other achievement is to break down the invisible walls that separate communities when they are bisected by roads that become impassable rivers of steel and concrete.  More than one participant I talked to yesterday remarked how they had never noticed L.A.’s people, its neighborhoods, or its architecture like they did from the vantage point of a bicycle.  Freed from having to watch for cars, they could look around, listen, and appreciate their surroundings.  For my part, CicLAvia has made me feel a deeper connection to L.A. than ever before.  I especially like the way CicLAvia provides a means for this middle aged white man from the suburbs to get to know the people and communities in South L.A., Boyle Heights, Little Tokyo, Chinatown, and everywhere in between.  It’s not just the places, it’s the people in them that I feel more connected to.

All of which reminds me that, while the automobile has brought certain benefits to society it has also impoverished us in ways we don’t often consider.  We are all enriched by the conversion of some street space to car-free space.

Bicycling to School

This morning I bicycled with my daughter to her middle school.  It was her first bike commute to school, and she was a little anxious, since she’d never done it before (and since Southern California is experiencing a triple-digit heat wave).  But a couple of weeks ago, we’d set a goal that we were going to ride to school today, and by golly, she stuck to it.  I couldn’t be prouder.

I had my own anxieties about this morning’s commute, about a 4-mile ride each way (she and her bike will be driven home from school by my wife, since it’s in the neighborhood of 105 this afternoon).  The middle third of the route is on a bike lane, but that part of the route is on a fairly heavily-trafficked  roadway with some busy intersections.  I was worried that my daughter might get a little spooked by the traffic, and my anxiety wasn’t helped by the fact that a girl my daughter’s age (12) was struck by a motorist while riding to school just up the street from our house only two weeks ago.  I wanted this morning’s commute to be a pleasant experience for my daughter, something she’d want to do with me again.

I needn’t have worried.  She was a trooper, and we had a nice father-daughter conversation on the quieter stretches of roadway near the beginning and ending parts of the route.  When we got to school, I could tell she had pride in a sense of accomplishment, and I told her how proud I was of her.  When I asked her how it felt to ride to school, she said, “good,” and had a big smile on her face.

Most days she’ll still be driven to school, but I hope to make the father-daughter ride to school a regular alternative.  Our steps to freedom from our automobile dependency begin one ride at a time.

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