Much has been happening in the bike-sphere, but I’ve been buried under a hectic schedule at my university, and it is only a brief spring break that allows me to break my silence. We’re still fighting bad ideas like Sen. Carol Liu’s ill-considered mandatory helmet law and the multi-billion-dollar 710 freeway tunnels, but there are some hopeful signs here and there. Here in the San Gabriel Valley, the Gold Line extension is nearing completion, and there is potential for this light rail to be a game-changer for commuters in the foothills of the SGV, especially if local cities make an effort to connect bike lanes to the stations.
One of the other bright spots is the growing willingness of cities to consider protected bike lanes (sometimes called “cycle tracks”) that have some form of physical separation, such as planters, curbs, medians, bollards, or other decorative barriers between cars and bikes. For decades, the traffic engineering profession in the US has resisted protected bike lanes, but they have been extremely popular where they’ve been installed, and now they are starting to appear in cities all over the United States. Long Beach was the first Southern California city to install one, and Temple City recently installed another on Rosemead Blvd. There is a proposal by LADOT for the first one in Los Angeles, and I hope that there will be at least one in Pasadena’s pending mobility plan. Once these protected bike lanes begin to proliferate, I believe they will significantly change perception of cycling for transportation in US cities.
Another bright spot is the growth of the “Open Streets” movement throughout Southern California and the US. LA’s own “CicLAvia” is a prime example of an open streets concept that has spread and gained popularity wherever it has been tried. Last weekend, CicLAvia held an open streets festival in the San Fernando Valley, and it was extremely popular (a bad cold kept me from attending). The Valley was in many ways the epicenter of Southern California’s traditional car culture, so the success of a car-free event in the Valley is an indication of how far we’ve moved from the stereotype of American Graffiti. The Valley’s CicLAvia also featured a “pop-up cycle track” on Chandler Ave. that gave people a taste of what it feels like to ride in a protected bike lane. These events are important insofar as they provide people with a vision of street space radically flipped from cars to people and bikes. The popularity of these events underscores the reality that people are hungry for public space that is safe to walk and bicycle in. And where there is popularity, politicians will follow, perhaps even changing their own perceptions.
People who participate in these events often realize they haven’t really seen their city until they’ve seen it on a bike. Businesses realize there is money to be made from clientele on bikes. Open streets events also introduce people to the idea that distance is not really as much a barrier to bicycling as people assume. When you realize that (with car free space) you can easily bike from one end of LA to the other, or one end of the Valley to the other, it erodes the automobile imperative just a little bit more. These events bring people of different backgrounds together in an atmosphere of healthy, active, fun. Every time CicLAvia occurs, I hear someone say I wish it was like this every day. Gliding down the street, free from the fear of cars, free from the noise and the pollution, people begin to imagine car-free space every day.
I’m excitedly awaiting the next iteration of CicLAvia, which will come to Pasadena at the end of May. As it becomes regularized, expected, and anticipated, I think it will continue to grow in popularity and, with it, the subversive idea that streets are not just for cars. To paraphrase Che, we need “one, two, many CicLAvias,” to overthrow the tyranny of the automobile.