Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

New Year’s Resolutions

On the one hand, I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions.  I mean, if you’re going to do something, why wait for New Year’s day to resolve to do it?  On the other hand, the turn of the year allows us to look back and look ahead, assessing where we’ve been and where we want to go.

This year, I resolve to do more bike commuting in the winter, in inclement weather (which in Southern California means rain—usually lots of it—from January through March).  I’m prepared, with a Gore-Tex rain shell, rain pants, and my commuter bike has fenders and a rain cover for my pannier.  I think I’m ready for the challenge and I’ll post about my experiences riding in the cold and rain.

Looking back on my journey, I have accomplished more than I thought possible on my bike.  Four years ago I resolved to replace one car trip per week with my bike, and that resolution has grown over the last four years to the point that I’ve now replaced most of my car trips with my bike (or a combination of bike and transit).  I used to swear that I “needed” my car to commute to work, but I’ve figured out how to do my commute by bus and bike, and I am convinced that many more Americans could significantly reduce their carbon footprint (not to mention improve their health) by reducing the amount of driving they do.

Looking ahead, there is much that gives me hope.  On the one hand, bicycle activism is growing all over the nation.  Bike lanes and even cycle tracks are being installed in cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.  The City of Long Beach, CA has become a model of bicycle friendliness.  Here in the San Gabriel Valley, the City of Temple City has voted to put in a cycle track on Rosemead Blvd. and traffic calming and bike lanes on Las Tunas.  Pasadena has unveiled a new bike plan that modestly increases bike lanes around the city and the LA County bike plan proposes new bike paths along some of the regions rivers and creeks.  The city of Pomona is planning its own “Ciclovia” event for 2013, and there is a growing network of bike advocacy groups in Southern California.  What traffic planners call “mode share” of bicyclists is on the increase wherever bike lanes and cycle tracks exist, showing that there is a demand for bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly streets, and studies show that business districts with bike lanes see an uptick in local economic activity.

On the other hand, it is sometimes difficult to resist the pessimism that comes from an honest assessment of how far we need to go to address the social and environmental problems we’ve created.  Here in California, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a sensible 3-foot passing law, already enacted in several other states, that would have required drivers to give cyclists 3 feet of leeway when passing.  Nationally, Congress cut funding for bike and pedestrian projects, and much more investment is needed in mass transit.  In 2012, the evidence of climate change continued to mount, but we have had very little movement to reduce our reliance on oil and other fossil fuels.  Nor can we just assume that buying a hybrid is the answer if people continue to drive as much as they’ve always done.  In too many ways we’re still in the thrall of the automobile.

Let us resolve to take the courageous steps necessary to redesign the infrastructure of our cities around sustainable transportation—transit, walking and bicycling.  The good news is, kicking our car addiction will combat climate change, enhance the livability of our cities, reinvigorate our public spaces, and make us healthier, in terms of greater physical activity and lower death and injury rates.

None of this will be easy, but should we say to tomorrow’s children, “Sorry, but driving my car less was too hard”?  The good news is, with a little resolve it can be done.

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6 thoughts on “New Year’s Resolutions

  1. Thanks for the post and resolution – I will share it with you and ride my bike with the upcoming rains (Northern California). Every bike rider doing it right serves as a model for others to try it. I did not know that about the Governor’s veto for the 3 feet rule. Keep riding!
    – Michael

  2. Reblogged this on Downtown Pasadena Neighborhood Association and commented:
    For many of us, a fresh start in the new year means a renewed determination to live healthier lives. Improve fitness and health by walking or biking or other exercise.
    Others desire the satisfaction and clean conscience that comes from making lifestyle choices that are better for our planet’s health, or that improve the well-being of the entire community.
    Both of those goals–personal health & community well-being–are met in the context of our walkable neighborhood, as folks resolve to drive less and to instead walk or bike more often for their daily needs.
    The DPNA aims to improve our community’s well-being by making those options safer and easier. Join us!

    • Good idea. When I was much younger (as in junior high), I used to ride my bike to school most every day. The school was approximately 1.5 miles from my house, and at the time I hated it; but it might be a good idea and even be enjoyable if one made up their mind to do so.

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