Boyonabike!

Life beyond the automobile in Southern California

Archive for the month “October, 2013”

Pardon the Interruption

Much has been happening lately, which is one reason I haven’t been posting as regularly as I’d like.  For one, the resumption of the academic year has filled my plate to overflowing with things-to-do.  Second, I’ve been tweeting many of my bike-related thoughts lately, which does not substitute for the longer prose enabled by blogging, but does sometimes allow me to vent, which I have noticed sometimes leaves me less-compelled to vent on my blog.  For example, a recent anti-bike op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that might have sent me a-blogging in frustration, sent me instead to the twitter-verse, where I commiserated with other like-minded tweeters and shared my thoughts there.  The ability to quickly share my thoughts in a time-stressed day and engage in a conversation with others about such issues has its advantages too.  Moreover, the ability of twitter to direct my comments toward a party (in this case to the newspaper) has an advantage over the blog, which, I fear, sometimes goes out into the ether where no one hears it.

All of which is my elaborate way of apologizing for having been absent from the blog for the last few weeks.  It probably won’t be the last time.

As I said, much has been happening lately.  I’m continuing to get to work daily by a multimodal bike-and-bus commute, 22 miles from my home.  As a result, it’s now been almost 5 1/2 months since I filled my car’s gas tank, and I still have about a quarter tank left.  Compared to how much I used to drive, that’s easily 2 tons of GHGs I haven’t pumped into the atmosphere, hundreds of dollars saved, and countless calories not added to my waistline.  I’ve adjusted my schedule to take the bus, and recently purchased a tablet so I can work online while I’m on the bus, making my longer commute time more productive and, since I have many of my books and most of my paperwork on it, lightening the load for the bike portion of my commute considerably.  I’ve become more convinced than ever that we need to promote transit as well as bicycling if we’re going to have a chance of reclaiming our cities and our lives from the tyranny of the automobile, and while these are both daunting challenges, they are definitely doable if we summon the political will.

I’ve been continuing to work in my community to make the streets more bike-friendly.  I recently received a generous mini-grant from my local Rotary club to host a bike safety event for kids with “Walk n’ Rollers” in my hometown next spring, and we’ll be promoting our second annual bike-to-school day as well.  I’ve been working with the PTA and other parents at my daughter’s middle school to purchase some quality new bike racks to make it easier for more kids who bike to school to lock up their bikes safely.  The Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition is up-and-running, and PasCSC is set to have a meeting in a couple of weeks to discuss strategies for getting the city’s DOT to put in more bike lanes, cycletracks and other bike-friendly street treatments.  The university where I teach is also making strides, announcing recently that at least one new bike path is under consideration after last year’s tragic death of a bicycling student on a campus roadway, and a new student bike advocacy group is under formation on the campus that shows lots of positive energy and promise.  Finally, some local advocates in the neighboring city of Monrovia are organizing with Bike SGV to advise the city to install some bike lanes around town as the city prepares to get its very own light rail transit line in 2015.  I’ve been heartened by this energy and enthusiasm to make our streets safer for bicyclists and it makes me hopeful for the future.  As these advocacy efforts begin to bear fruit, I’ll be blogging (and tweeting) about them, so stay tuned.

Why I Didn’t Go To CicLAvia

I think CicLAvia is one of the best things to happen to L.A. since, well, maybe ever.  The open streets event is now completing its third year and shows that people in L.A. hunger for car-free space in which to walk, ride bikes, socialize, and play.  The good news is this popular event has plenty of political support and is destined to become a welcome fixture in L.A.’s cultural scene.  It’s wonderful to see the concept spreading to other cities across the U.S. as well (see, for example, CicloSDias in San Diego).

I’ll never forget the feeling of exhilaration I felt at the first CicLAvia (10/10/10), rolling through downtown with tens of thousands of others laughing, smiling, talking; the noise, pollution, and pervasive fear of cars having been banished for a few hours.  It was a revelation to really see the city for the first time, and to see how easy and relatively fast it was to get from East LA to West LA on a bicycle when one didn’t have to worry about cars.  Another revelation was the way people of all backgrounds and social strata came together once you got them out of their metal cocoons.  CicLAvia and other events like it are, without exaggeration, a radical re-envisioning of street space for people, not cars.

So why didn’t I go to Sunday’s event, held in picture-perfect October weather?

Well, for one thing, I was getting over a cold that had dogged me all week at work, and I was looking forward to a quiet weekend of rest.  Also, when one commutes by bike daily, as I’ve been doing, the urge to go on a 15-20 mile jaunt on the weekend is not as strong as it would otherwise be if I had been stuck in my car all week.

But another, more significant reason is that I’ve noticed quite a bit of backsliding on the part of the LA City Council and the new  mayoral administration of Eric Garcetti on the goal of making L.A. more bike-friendly.  Since the last CicLAvia, LA has buckled to pressure from a film industry lobbying group and removed the green paint and buffers from the Spring Street bike lane, undoing one of the best examples of safe space for bikes on downtown streets.  Spring Street’s green, buffered bike lane made me feel safe riding in downtown traffic, and now it’s gone, thanks to baseless complaints from Hollywood location scouts who didn’t like its aesthetics.  Another innovative project, the plan for cycle tracks on Figueroa, seems to have been sidetracked indefinitely by the unfounded complaints of a car dealership owner.  Most recently, the approved design for a new Glendale-Hyperion Bridge lacked any room for bike lanes, despite being designated for bike lanes under LA’s bike plan.  In each of these cases, there has been a lack of leadership at City Hall, and the safety of cyclists has been too easily sacrificed to special interests.  When the city is taking away bike lanes and stalling on cycle tracks, I’m in less of a mood to partake in a Sunday event that supposedly celebrates car-free LA.

In the midst of these failures to provide for the safety of all the people who actually bike for transportation the other 6 days a week, I’m tempted to tell LA not to do me any favors.   I love CicLAvia, but the minute it’s over, the streets are turned back over to cars and nothing’s changed.  If one of the main ideas of CicLAvia is not to rethink the purpose of streets and show that bikes can be a viable way to move millions of people around LA, then what is it?

Here’s another irony: CicLAvia could be a golden opportunity to stage creative protests against those LA politicians like Eric Garcetti who took cyclists’ votes and now are kicking them in the teeth.  Yet LA’s cycling advocacy community is so enamored of the symbolism of CicLAvia that it allows these pols literally a free photo op at CicLAvia.  They get to use CicLAvia to appear “bike-friendly,” on CicLAvia Sunday while they ignore cyclists’ safety and bow to any lobbyist who doesn’t like bike lanes the rest of the year.  Shouldn’t we at least call them to account at CicLAvia?  I mean, the “heart of LA” route goes right down Spring Street, for crying out loud.  Souldn’t Garcetti at least get an earful when he rides that street?  How about a creative protest, like hundreds of people in green t-shirts lying down on Spring Street in protest as Garcetti rides by?  How about something more ambitious like a DIY guerrilla bike lane installation?  Now I might attend something that made the point that safe streets are needed more than 3-4 Sundays a year.

This is not a rant against CicLAvia.  CicLAvia was an important symbolic step in LA’s still-nascent shift from a car-centered city, and I still encourage everyone I know to go to this wonderful event, but I need to feel safe riding the rest of LA’s streets the other 362 days a year.  This time, I decided to pass on the symbolism, and have decided to call on my fellow cyclists to push the political system for more tangible improvements in the city’s bike infrastructure, instead.

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